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Updated: Jan 30

The Cultural Imperative

Organizations exist. So do cultures. As organization grows so do cultures. Yet growth in organization and growth in culture does not mean similarities or incongruent aspects of the culture. As organizations grows so do its people and more particularly so do its leaders. As time passes these leaders in turn begin to influence the organization culture. While it is possible that home grown leaders influence culture in a particular way so do direct mid level hires who do their own influences. Effectively organizations, cultures and leaders co exists. Any study would have necessarily connected the way organizations, cultures and leaders connect and influence one another. Basically, organizational culture is the personality of the organization. Culture is comprised of the assumptions, values, norms and tangible signs (artifacts) of organization members and their behaviors. Members of an organization soon come to sense, feel and experience the particular culture of an organization. Culture is one of those terms that are difficult to express distinctly, but everyone knows it when they sense it. For example, the culture of a large, for-profit corporation, driven by performance and competition is quite different than that of a hospital, driven by its voluntary nature and that that is quite different from that of a university, with its focus on the intellect and knowledge. You can tell the culture of an organization by looking at the arrangement of furniture, what they brag about, what members wear, etc. -- similar to what you can use to get a feeling about someone's personality.

Corporate culture can be looked at as a system. Inputs include feedback from, e.g., society, professions, laws, stories, heroes, values on competition or service, etc. The process is based on our assumptions, values and norms, e.g., our values on money, time, facilities, space and people. Outputs or effects of our culture are, e.g., organizational behaviors, technologies, strategies, image, products, services, appearance, etc. The concept of culture is particularly important when attempting to manage organization-wide change. Practitioners are coming to realize that, despite the best-laid plans, organizational change must include not only changing structures and processes, but also changing the corporate culture as well.

There's been a great deal of literature generated over the past decade about the concept of organizational culture -- particularly in regard to learning how to influence, impact or change organizational culture.

There are different types of culture just like there are different types of personality. Research findings of Dr Pradip Khandwalla, Professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and the author are detailed below:

Power Culture is where the key relationship exists between the person who wields power and influence, and those who work for them. It depends on the figure at the center that is the source of power. Everyone else draws their strength, influence and confidence from this centre and requires its continued support to ensure prosperity and operational viability. Government, Bureaucracy and large Industrial houses typically symbolize this culture.

People/person culture exists for the people in it: for example, where a group has decided that it is in its own overriding interest to band or form together and produce an organization for its own benefit. This may be found in certain research groups; university departments; family firms; and companies started by groups of friends (Dot com) where the first coming together is generated by the people involved rather than the matter in hand.

Organizational Culture to Sustain Managerial Effectiveness

When trying to understand how organizational cultures are built up it is worth reflecting that Edward Hall's assertion that "culture is the answer to questions of survival" is as pertinent to organizations as it was to ethnic groups and nations. Culture develops over time as the organization grows; it is built as the group learns answers to questions of how to survive and succeed. As Schein writes "ways of thinking and behaviour that are shared and that work become elements of the culture".

In new organizations the original founder often imposes his or her personal values and beliefs on the people that they hire and, if the organization thrives, these beliefs become seen as correct and adopted. If there is no strong leader at inception then the original group members bring in their existing values and try to impose them, with the values of those that are perceived as successful becoming accepted. We can begin to see that it is success that incubates cultural values and it is not possible to say whether any particular type of culture is ‘right’. It is only ‘right’ if it helps the organization succeed in its primary task and only ‘wrong’ if it hinders.

Other key influences on the evolution of a culture are the organization’s size, location, goals and objectives, primary function and location, and the prevailing market conditions. Within industries there are certain cultural features that can be found in common across the member companies. Deal and Kennedy identified two key factors that affect the culture of industries; the degree of risk associated with the business and the speed of feedback on business decisions.

The history of the concept

The most well-known definitions of organizational culture fall into one of two camps; either an interpretation that primarily describes how the organization works, or a definition that is based on shared values and beliefs.

The first definitions, which gained popularity from the mid-1970’s to the early 1990’s, produced models describing how organizations structured themselves and operated. Weisbord's model of the organization dates from 1976 and is a model of behaviours and structure.

Task cultures are to be found in project teams, marketing groups and marketing-oriented organizations. The emphases are on getting the job completed, keeping customers and clients satisfied, and responding to and identifying new market opportunities. Such cultures are reasonably flexible, adaptable and dynamic. Example: Infocom Project Teams, NASA Installations

Role cultures are found where organizations have gained a combination of size, permanence and departmentalisation, and where the ordering of activities and preservation of knowledge, experience and stability, are both important and present. The key relationship is based on authority and the superior-subordinate style of relationships, it is steady and a degree of permanence is envisaged. Example: Railways, Airlines, World Bank

Focus Elements Culture is where the organization identifies one key element as its cultural base. These are to be found in such areas as safety and learning cultures, whereby the particular point- safety or learning, for example- is placed at the centre of the organization’s commitment to standards. This is whereby everything is designed, built, structured and organized so that accidents and disasters cannot happen. Example: Nuclear War Ships, Chemical Plants, Disaster Management Sheds

Tribal Culture is where organizations create a tribal concept. This is usually accompanied by strong visions from the top. Its purpose is to unleash strong creative forces and generate high levels of enthusiasm, ethics, energy and fun. This is the stated position above all in some groups. It is also to be found in some people cultures. It may also be found as a feature of other creative and dynamic pockets of organizations. Some examples are single product Idea Company, Internet organizations.

Pioneering cultures are the extension of the process of constant improvement and innovation into constantly questioning the ways in which things are done, continuously seeing new markets, projects and opportunities. It involves attention to processes and practices, technology, organizational form and structure, customers. Example: Det Norske Veritas a Global Certification Corporation with its emphasis on pioneering standards.

Intrapreneurial Culture involving enterprising individuals who work within organizations rather than creating their own- is hired by organizations as change and development agents. They gravitate to those places that give the space and direction needed for their qualities of creativity, dynamism, vision and energy an inside the firms. The most successful intrapreneurial cultures are those that combine an overall clarity of vision and purpose with the ability to enable high-quality individuals to operate with the freedom and space that they need. Motorola University or Citibank Credit Cards Division.

Academy Culture Employees are highly skilled and tend to stay in the organization, while working their way up the ranks. The organization provides a stable environment in which employees can development and exercises their skills. Examples are universities, hospitals, large corporations like Infosys Corporation, etc.

Baseball team cultures where employees are "free agents" who have highly prized skills. They value individualism, risk prone, yet work in teams effectively, value service and high performance and sell every day as they work. They are in high demand and can rather easily get jobs elsewhere. This type of culture exists in fast-paced, high-risk organizations, such as investment banking, advertising, etc.

Club Cultures most important requirement for employees are to fit into the group. Usually employees start at the bottom and stay with the organization. The organization promotes from within and highly values seniority. Examples are the military, some law firms, old ownership firms, auditing firms, artisan factories, craftsman roles etc.

Fortress Cultures is when employees don't know if they'll be laid off or not. These organizations often undergo massive reorganization. There are many opportunities for those with timely, specialized skills. Examples are savings and loans in banks, large automobile companies, IT specialist organizations etc.

The Working Cultures is a culture for that there is no significant incremental performance need or opportunity that would require it to become a team. The members interact primarily to share information, best practices, or perspectives and to make decisions to help each individual perform within his or her area of responsibility. Such an example would be Pfizer Research and Development Team or the Narottam Lalbhai Research Center or ATIRA the center for textile research. The scientists ring in specialized experience and would rather work by themselves.

Pseudo Performance Cultures is a group for which their could be a significant, incremental performance need or opportunity, but it has not focused on collective performance and is not really trying to achieve it. It has no interest in shaping a common purpose or set of performance goals, even though it may call itself a culture. Pseudo Performance Cultures are the weakest of all groups in terms of performance impact. Human Capital Specialists of some firms would fall into this category. These are politically motivated organization with poor ethics and values that symbolize in its inter actions with people, process or clients. Appearing to be performance driven has been more important to this group than truly building value and a lasting proposition.

Potential Performance Culture is a group for which there is no significant incremental performance need, and that really is trying to improve its performance impact. Typically, however, it requires more clarity about purpose, goals or work-products and more discipline in hammering out a common working approach. It has not yet established collective accountability. Strategic Outsourcing and Shared Services Group of BNP Paribas or the HDFC Bank combined venture with I Flex, a Citibank - HDFC venture focuses on driving growth through high potential business opportunities.

Knowledge Cultures is a small number of people with complementary skills who are equally committed to a common purpose, goals and working approach for which the hold themselves mutually accountable. Business Consulting Practice at Andersen is significantly a knowledge driven culture where competencies are placed and combined together to deliver a solution to a client problem.

High Performance Cultures is group that meets all the conditions of real teams, and has members who are also deeply committed to each other's personal growth and success. That commitment usually transcends the team. The high performance team significantly outperforms all other like teams, and outperforms all reasonable expectations given its membership. Hindustan Lever is perhaps one of the finest examples of ever lasting performance driven organization, where end and means equally matter no matter the consequences. Unilever would rather take a short-term loss to build a long term sustainable business.

The Mechanistic Organizational Culture exhibits the values of bureaucracy and feudalism. (Burns and Stalker 1961). Organization work is conceived as a system of narrow specialists, as among craft guilds. Authority is thought of as flowing from the top and information and instructions follow formally through prescribed channels. Reliance Industries with its size, scope and project management emphasis is one such culture.

The Organic Culture (Burns and Stalker 1961) is a contrast to the mechanistic culture with formal hierarchies of authority; departmental boundaries, rules and regulations frowned upon quite severely. It is an informal, learning culture that is encouraged. There is an emphasis on getting tasks accomplished, ensure transparent flow of information, build equity in processes, ease of communication strongly advocated. Example: Satyam Computers.

The Authoritarian Culture (Likert 1967) is power centric towards the superior with reinforcement mechanisms created to follow orders. The actions are directive dominant, focused upon actions, delivered to obtain results, lack sensitivity and with limited scope for dissent and command and control forms the basis of management. The army drives a command and control organization.

The Participative Culture believes in the human nature to cooperate, share, derive mutual value, bring ideas together, form teams to participate in decisions than to have them imposed upon them. Group problem solving, collaboration instead of conflict are some practices. Example: NGO’s strive to participate and disaster management organizations.

The Management Systems (Churchman 1968, Clelland and King 1972, Daniels and Yeates 1988) Culture depends on the technical nature of work and consequent engineering emphasis to management. Actions involve analysis, research for more effective ways to handle issues, processes are streamlined and established, standardization is encouraged and overall effort to bring in method to management actions is key to this culture. Example: Boeing Manufacturing Plan or the QA systems.

The Entrepreneurial Culture (Peterson 1982) defines spirit to growth, individual initiative, risk taking roles, vision and the willingness to work through building capability and attitude towards the organization. Example: Apple Computers

The Paternalistic Culture (Dayal 1977) identifies with the promoter who often is also the owner of sorts given their early start up history. The organization follows with the family trail, their beliefs, values and practices and imbibes many as its own. The organization values loyalty and in return provides security and stability to its employees on the job. Example: Tata Group in some situations.

The Altruistic Culture (Greenleaf 1977) revolves around an institutional format with its basic beliefs in favor of good for the society and the larger environment. Selfless service, the desire to contribute to a larger well, make individual and institutional contribution substantive in both intellectual and wealth generation focus drive the organization. Example: Missionary of Charity.

The Operator Culture (Schein 1992) has been defined as that which involves a strong human interaction, team working and passion to work to a vision. This culture is the most difficult to describe because it evolves locally in organizations and within operational units. Thus one can identify an operator culture in the manufacturing plant, in the chemical complex, in the appliance manufacturing plant, in the cockpit, and in the office, but it is not clear what elements make this culture broader than the local unit. Operators are found in organizations where human interaction receives higher importance than mechanical processes.

The Executive Culture (Schein 1992) of management to be explored is the “executive culture,” the set of shared tacit assumptions that CEO’s and their immediate subordinates share worldwide. This executive worldview is built around the necessity to maintain the financial health of the organization and is fed by the pre-occupations of boards, of investors, and of the capital markets.

The Engineering Culture (Schein 1992) in all organizations there is a group that represents the basic design elements of the technology underlying the work of the organization and has the knowledge of how that technology is to be utilized. This occupational community cuts across nations and industries and can best be labeled the “engineering culture” Kunda, (1992). He visualizes how culture works as an alternative organizing principle to rational legal bureaucratic authority. Because Of High Technology no lay off rule, burned out employee’s stay on, aware that they have failed according to known and well accepted standards.

The Evolving Culture (Shermon 2001) organization values history and tradition. The organization is built upon stories that lasts over time and that is believed and revered by people as important learning of the past. In the organization time is not an important consideration, as it is perceived to be relative to the tasks and is managed appropriately as long as basic human processes are followed. The organization emphasizes an appropriate management style that foster learning. The organization focuses on learning environments that involves brings together intellect, knowledge, systemic processes, personal mastery and role models. The climate is conducive and non threatening to share successes and failures and is not a performance consideration. The organization believes in creating effective structures and hierarchies that provides clarity to roles, responsibilities, tasks and actions. The organization has effective communication channels, with and without boundaries, people enjoy communicating in relation to business and tasks to be accomplished. A leadership and management that pays attention to high performance lead the organization. The organization believes in swift and effective communication, work long hours to conclude tasks, people live at work, identify with winning and use all resources at one’s disposal to accomplish tasks. The organization emphasizes an appropriate management style that foster learning. The organization focuses on learning environments that involves brings together intellect, knowledge, systemic processes, personal mastery and role models.

Organizational revitalization and change efforts are rumored to fail the vast majority of the time, yes rumored. Usually, that failure is credited to lack of understanding about the strong role of culture and the role it plays in organizations. That's one of the reasons that many strategic planners now place as much emphasis on identifying strategic values as they do in defining mission and vision, not just commercial goals and objectives.

An organization's culture is not just the espoused or an articulated list of values developed at an offsite by the executive team and framed on the wall in the office and factory lobby. These are ideals. Perhaps at best hope. What the organization aspires to be and what values one hope to endorse, may be different from the values, beliefs, and norms expressed in the organizational actual practices and behavior. It is critical that we find out who we really are as well as striving for who we want to be. Awakening the emperor to the fact that he/she has no clothes is often a risky and delicate first step in closing the gap between the real and the ideal. Or the financial controller, who brings the bad news of poor bottom line when the SBU Heads should have actually been called, accounted for and dispensed with. Cultural assessment can provide measurable data about the real organizational values and norms that can be used to get management's attention. It can dispel some of management's illusions about what really matters in the organization and will tell them how far off the mark things really are. Management may find that it is not practicing what it preaches. However, telling the CEO the truth about the organization he/she has built, can often be dangerous to your career progress. Delivering such a message takes skill as a coach and a willingness to take risks and confront conflict.

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