Essay: Managing Organizational Culture: Definitions

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Managing Organizational Culture

Organizational Culture: Definitions and Characteristics

Whenever people from different backgrounds with different beliefs, values, and norms converge as a group, a new culture is created that gives the group a distinct characteristic and dynamic. What happens, in effect, is the formation of an organizational culture that is unique from other cultures because it has a specific setting and specific set of people with a common goal in mind. More often than not, convergence of people from different backgrounds occurs in organizations and institutions, such as schools, public gatherings, and more commonly, in the workplace.

Indeed, the formation of a unique culture in a business organization is a different phenomenon altogether, since different people would have to work towards achieving a common goal. This may be increasing production targets, meeting a specified deadline, improving a process that would increase profitability of the company; whatever the business goal or objective, employees or members of the organization agree to achieve this goal through their respective roles and functions in the organization.

Organizational culture is noticeably easier to describe than define. This is because organizational culture is never the same in organizations, and its highly dynamic nature makes it susceptible to everyday changes, therefore the culture is changed almost immediately after a new one has been created. Thus, researchers and managers alike, in centering their efforts to understanding organizational culture, must include in their approach an 'exploratory' attempt to determine all extant cultures in an organization. Further, all dimensions surrounding each culture's nature and dynamics must be uncovered to further enable the researcher or manager evaluate the dynamicity of his/her organization.

LaGuardia (2008) presented an interesting "definition" of organizational culture by identifying it based on what it is and what it is not. For the researcher, organizational culture is finite ("not encompassing"), "lack broad links in understanding each other," "dynamic," "easy to adapt," and "interpretive" (58). Interestingly, describing organizational culture as finite and dynamic seemed to be contradicting descriptors; however, upon closer analysis, what LaGuardia meant was that given the finite or limited setting from which the culture is created or formed, it is highly dynamic and changes everyday, still within the same setting (within the organization). Further, organizational culture is 'interpretive,' which means that this concept is highly dependent on the individual's subjective understanding of the culture as s/he has witnessed it, either as an insider or outsider in the organization.

Dixon and Dougherty (2010) further expounded on the concept of organizational process by describing it as a dynamic process. For the authors, organizational culture "emerges as human beings interact with each other and give meaning to the symbols that surround them. Because the interactions of humans are individual, the resulting culture of organization is equally distinct" (7). Just like LaGuardia, the authors did not recommend a specific definition of organizational culture, as arriving at a definition would defeat the essence of the concept itself. Thus, in the discussions in this paper, organizational culture would be, at best, describe rather than defined. More specifically, this paper will discuss multiple descriptions of organizational culture as deemed appropriate in the cases and examples presented in this paper.

II. Why manage organizational culture?

Ultimately, in the business/corporate setting, the challenge is not on defining or describing organizational culture, but mainly on how to manage these cultures given their nature and dynamics. Managing different cultures in one setting is not challenging -- it is difficult. What the manager would like to know, however, is that in the process of managing these cultures, would there be a resulting effect that will benefit the organization? Intuitively, managers know that effective handling of groups with different cultures in an organization would be beneficial, but empirical evidence supporting this may not be readily available to him/her. Thus, in this paper, the rationale for managing cultures in organizations is explicated, specifically, the overall effect cultural management would have on the organization in the short- and long-term.

Looking at extant literature on organizational culture and its management in businesses and organizations, two important resultant changes emerged. From most studies, managing organizational culture meant increased improvement in employees' functional competencies. This means that a relationship is established linking organizational culture management with improvements on the manner by which employees carry out their roles, functions and responsibilities in the organization. Another dimension that emerged is the increased employee morale as a result of effectively handling organizational cultures. Moreover, improvement functional competencies and increased employee morale are also linked inasmuch as these factors are directly linked with organizational culture management. The sections that follow look at each factor and its relationship with organizational culture.

a. Effects on Functional Competency

One of the challenges that organizational culture presents to businesses is defining and describing the nature and dynamics of each. Thus, attempts to develop a standardized and quantitative instrument to determine and measure organizational culture have been ongoing for most scholars and researchers on organizational culture per se. One of the interesting developments in organizational culture research is the creation of a Balanced Scorecard (BSC) that provides standardized measures that identify, for management, the organizational culture of their companies in general. Once this culture is identified, companies and businesses will then use this characteristic as a guide in developing employee-oriented programs and process improvements based on this identified culture.

Using self-assessment/self-report surveys (also called Organizational Culture Survey Instrument or OCSI), the BSC developed looked at four (4) prevalent themes/characteristics that consistently emerged across companies and organizations specializing on specific fields of expertise. The proponent of the research, Deem (2010), identified these themes as follows: Learning and Growth, Internal Perspective (Process Improvements), Customer Perspective (Customer Satisfaction) and Financial Perspective (Performance Improvement) (34). Further establishing organizational culture's relevance to businesses, the study tested the BSC against concepts that are related to organizational culture. The study found out that BSC significantly and positively related to (employee) involvement, consistency, adaptability, and mission trait (36-7). An important caveat that Deem mentioned in his report, however, is that the BSC will only be useful and appropriate for organizations that support the abovementioned organizational concepts.

The BSC is a useful tool for managers who would like to evaluate organizational culture objectively, and would like to create management decisions in the same manner. The BSC, however, is more than just a tool that characterizes the organization's business culture; it is also just as useful in determining the functional competencies of the groups it identified as having a distinct culture in the organization. Through the four themes mentioned earlier, management would know whether their organization is Learning and Growth-driven, Process Improvement-driven, and so on.

Liu (2009) presented a good case in illustrating how characteristics of an organization can indirectly influence culture creation and improving employees' functional competencies in the organization/company. Like Deem, Liu developed her own thematic groupings in determining organizational culture formation in the context of new services development (NSD) companies. NSD is a rapidly emerging industry as more companies are offering more service- and knowledge-based products, particularly for professional employees (like engineers, accountants, medical professionals). These thematic groupings that emerged were the following: market orientation, learning, innovative supportive, and customer communication. Statistical analyses of these different kinds of culture showed that in the NSD industry, 'innovative supportive' and 'customer communication' cultures were identified to significantly contribute to improved NSD performance (374-6).

From these results in Deem and Liu's studies, a preliminary conclusion can be drawn about organizational culture: that it contributes to improving employee performance, especially when cultures are clearly identified from the onset of the study.

b. Effects on Individual Morale

As discussed earlier, inasmuch as organizational culture is identified and studied to determine its role in influencing employee performance, the culture's effect on employee moral is just as critical. Studies have shown that self-reported morale level from employees is one of the key drivers that contribute to employee performance, satisfaction, and retention in the organization. It goes without saying, then, that emotional benefits perceived by the employee and reflected in the culture s/he belongs to in the organization would have a direct and significant impact to organizational effectiveness in general.

One of the important organizational culture concepts that linked employee morale with employee performance and organizational effectiveness is person-to-job fit, as perceived by the employees themselves. According to Newton and Jimmieson (2009), perceived "subjective fit" to the company is one of the ways (or measures) by which an employee evaluates his/her oneness with the organization (or to directly link with organization culture, one's fit to the overall organizational culture). Subjective fit is critical in determining organizational culture because within this concept lies other concepts very critical to employee morale and performance, such as "feeling of being valued," "psychological commitment" and "oneness" with the organization (1773-4).

Ultimately, if an individual perceives himself/herself as having a low subjective fit with the organization, it is highly likely that s/he does not identify with any of the cultures in it, and would eventually experience low morale that could eventually lead to his/her poor… [END OF PREVIEW]

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