The formation and growth of companies around the globe mainly depend on organizational culture. Organizational culture is an asset to an organization. Much has been written about organizational culture in the past years. This interest had widely grown by acknowledgment of the fact that an organization’s culture could notably control its short and long-term success. Herb Kelleher, former CEO of southwest airlines said that culture is one of the most precious things a company has so it must work harder at it than anything else (Bird, 2003).
Defining and Understanding Culture
In its simplest form organizational culture is a set of shared values and beliefs that underlie a company’s identity (kinicki & Kreitner, 2003). Espoused values, beliefs, observable artifacts, basic assumptions, language, customs, ceremonies, etc. all are the words that can be said to be part of the culture. Everything that an organization does or is done within it is a part of its culture. What products to make, what strategies to adopt, what technology to use, openness to new ideas or not, etc all represent an organization’s culture. As nothing can be excluded from a nation’s culture, the same goes for organizations. The difference here is that in organizations, cultures can be changed. If changing the culture improves performance then we can exclude the concepts that were hindering the performance from the culture.
Organizational vs. National Culture
Some people say that organizational culture is more or less the national culture prevailing in the country of the organization. While comparing national and organizational culture, one first must know that national culture is related to our widely accepted values concerning, for example, the difference between good and evil, normal and abnormal, safe and dangerous, rational and irrational, etc. These are values that we learn in our early lives and only change over time with generations (Mead, 2005). Organizational culture, on the other hand, is only related to guidelines that are relevant to one’s job, not to one every day lives. A person’s attitudes, style of communication, how he perceives relationships with others, etc are some of the things which are part of the national culture. Getting away from an individual perspective, industry norms, economic factors, market competition, and forces, etc are even a part of a national culture which an organization can not change on its own. The baggage of national culture is usually taken to the workplace by people. The management may try to harness these informal systems but it cannot influence the national culture. That is why multinational corporations have to adjust to local cultures and then set their organizational culture.
How Culture Affects Employees
A culture gives members an organizational identity, facilitates collective commitment, shapes behaviors, and promotes social stability. Organizational cultures determine how employees should act and behave in the workplace. From different researches, organizational culture does certainly have an impact upon employees. However, it might affect managers and workers differently. For example, when Mitsubishi took over Chrysler, the culture at Chrysler was quite disruptive (Monk, 2000). The management had an authoritarian style and the culture was only committed to the production of cars. The employee culture was of resentment, however, as a result of the treatment they had been getting over the years. The employee commitment was more of criticizing the management and hanging on to their jobs at the same time. Such situations create distrust amongst managers and employees and the culture can do nothing about it. Mitsubishi on the other hand had the total opposite culture; no employee would be sacked for any fault of his own. Thus, after the merger, it took five years to change the mentality at Chrysler (Monk, 2000). It would be right to say that managers are influenced by the culture; the culture is not governed by anyone. Over the ages, it might transform, but it cannot be changed completely.
From the above example, we see that cultures can be transformed but not completely erased. There can be several reasons why leaders or managers might want to change the culture of an organization. For example, when mergers happen the acquiring company would want its culture to prevail, or a new CEO would see some of the rules of the organization as a mere burden. Usually, changes occur when the management or employees are not happy with the way things are being carried out in the organization. The transformation even is not rapid, it just cannot be. One of the main reasons for this is that human nature is not susceptible to change. People do not admit and adapt to changes quickly as they are a disruption in their normal routine which they have been following for years. The more the employees are committed to the organization’s values, the more difficult it is to change the culture and their attitudes. The only way to change or modify a culture is to change the way people think. As discussed in the case study, employees at Chrysler were not fond of the new culture as there was distrust and ambiguity. However gradually with time, the employees at Chrysler saw that the promises made by Mitsubishi were not just words (Monk, 2000). This changed their thinking, and they adapted to the culture which Mitsubishi was trying to incorporate.
The Role of Leaders
It must not be forgotten that in the transformation of cultures, leaders play a pivotal role. Leaders influence workers and their behavior and can deliberately change the norms of an organization if they see that the existing norms are not in alignment with the organization’s values and goals. At times changing strategies and business environments also require that old norms be relinquished to cope up with the new challenging environment. Thus what leaders do in situations like these is an example for the whole organization. If employees see a difference between what is stated and reality then they get confused. They might not adapt to new rules easily and might get uncertain or suspicious about the actions that are being taken. Thus, what leaders pay attention to, measure and control are important for changing the culture of an organization. Their decisions and reactions in serious matters are important for employee morale. Thus leaders play the role of mentors towards changing routines and norms of an organization.
Culture is the platform that unites the workers of an organization. It provides them with an identity and organizational identity. Cultural dominance and coherence have proved to be an essential quality of good companies. An encouraging and positive culture enables employees to foresee the work environment as constructive and reinforcing mg and at the same time helps to manage change and conflict effectively. Culture helps employees to understand why a corporation does what it does. Strong cultures create goal alignment, employee motivation, and needed structure and controls to improve performance. As a brain is vital for a body to perform its functions efficiently and effectively, culture is important for an organization to smoothly carrying out different activities within the organization.
Kreitner, R and Kinicki, A. 2003. Organizational Behavior. International Edition. Mcgraw Hill Publishers.
Mead, R. 2005. International management: cross-cultural dimensions. Third edition. Blackwell publishers.
Monk, R. 2000. Culture Clash: takeover of car maker changes culture. Organizational Development Journal. Volume 18.
Bird, J. 2003. Herb Kelleher: An Entrepreneur for all Seasons.