Organizational Culture Essay

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A Critical Approach towards an Integrative Dynamic Framework for Understanding and Managing Organizational Culture Change

The concept of an organizational culture virtually started in the 1970s. However, it started to gain momentum and prominence in the 1980s after researchers established the significant role that culture played in the workplace. A lot of authors argued that culture is both the source of problems and the basis for solutions. Therefore, studies on organizational culture centered on how people behave in an organization based on the organization's shared beliefs and values. In simple terms, organizational culture is the social and psychological environment of an organization. In fact, the culture can be shown in the manner in which employees are treated in work organizations as well as customers. Organizational culture can also be observed through the communication flow of the organization, and the level of commitment in the employees toward the organization’s collective objectives.

Culture is a complex and multifaceted concept. Therefore, the concept of organizational culture can be understood through three different contextual approaches, the first is the Sociological approach, then the Anthropological approach, and the last approach is the Psychological approach. Culture develops in organizations due to external adaptation and internal integration. External adaptation reflects an evolutionary approach to organizational culture and suggests that cultures develop and persist because they help an organization to survive and flourish. If the culture is valuable, then it holds the potential for generating sustained competitive advantages. Additionally, internal integration is an important function since social structures are required for organizations to exist. (Schein, 1992 as cited by, Wanjohi, 2012)

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The Sociological Approach to organizational culture is seen through the employees as social beings, for example, employees’ continuous participation in workplace activities. Sociologists understand culture as the symbols, language, beliefs, values, and artifacts that are part of any society (Barkan, 2016 as cited by Umuteme, 2018) And the Anthropological approach is seen through the complex nature of interpersonal relationships. Anthropologists see culture as “customs and rituals that societies develop over the course of their history” (Schein, 2004, as cited by, Umuteme, 2018)

Both these approaches believe that the concept of organizational culture centers on shared values and objectives. However, these approaches do not provide an explanation of how these interactions affect organizational culture. Thus, this limitation created a need for a psychological approach that examines the correlation between shared values and objectives and the organizational culture. Although, no concept is in itself “right” or “wrong”. They all represent different worldviews and have diverse advantages and disadvantages. But arguments against conceptual models of organizational culture have been made on the grounds that they oversimplify complex phenomena; such models serve an important role in guiding empirical research and generating theory. (Hatch, 1993)

Each organization has its own unique culture, created over time through the shared attitudes, values, beliefs, language, perceptions, and customs of its members. The cultural dynamics model shows how culture is learned, passed on, and changed over time (Tricker & Tricker, 2014) Culture evolves and solidifies over time, as members preserve and evolve the history, rules, and norms of the organization. Cultures perpetuate themselves through socialization, particularly when new members are admonished for violating cultural norms or are rewarded for adherence or assimilation. There are times when a leader recognizes that the present organizational culture will not adequately support (or may be detrimental to) the achievement of the organization’s vision. It is at this point where a cultural shift is not just desired or hoped for but is essential for the organization to achieve its goals and desired future state. (Mierke & Williamson, 2016)

In an era where globalization is fast trending, every author in organizational culture agrees that change is not optional, its velocity will increase exponentially in the next 10 years and its influence is both ubiquitous and unpredictable (Hannah, et al., 2003 as cited by Constantinou, 2018). Therefore, an integrative dynamic framework was recommended as an effective means of managing culture change and organizational effectiveness. The Integrative Dynamic Framework serves as a lens through which the impact of culture change on organizational growth can be seen.

Constantinou (2018) argues that the emergence of culture occurs while four different processes are in operation, as follows: manifestation, realization, symbolization, and interpretation. The Integrated Dynamic Framework systematic process is an objective path that can encourage both management and staff members to voice their concerns without fear of prejudice. (Umuteme, 2018)

According to Schein, culture exists simultaneously on three levels: On the surface are artifacts, underneath artifacts lie values, and at the core are basic assumptions. Assumptions represent taken-for-granted beliefs about reality and human nature. Values are social principles, philosophies, goals, and standards considered to have intrinsic worth. Artifacts are the visible, tangible, and audible results of activity grounded in values and assumptions. (Hatch, 1993)

Manifestation is when cultural assumptions such as perceptions, emotions, etc. are translated into recognizable values, this process of translating is called manifestation. However, the model does not address the active role the assumptions play in creating the organizational culture. The realization process is when expectations or values are transformed into reality. And the symbolization process is when symbols and artifacts interact. A symbol is considered to be anything that represents a conscious or unconscious association with some wider, normally abstract concept or meaning (Dandridge, et al., 1980 as cited by Constantinou, 2018). These symbols are subjective, and therefore subject to unique interpretation. And this is the last process.

These processes involve interactions between cultural assumptions, values, artifacts, and symbols, which continuously operate in specific ways leading to the emergence of a stable culture, but also the creation of its inherent change when the time and conditions are appropriate. However, it is important to note that for one process to exist it requires the other three processes. In other words, all the processes are interconnected although they occur separately. And that the entire process should be repeated in order for change to occur. Therefore, this entire process provides an effective means of managing culture change and organizational effectiveness. This concept of cultural dynamics originated in cultural anthropology, where it refers to such issues as the origins and evolution of cultures, enculturation processes, and the problem of change versus stability (e.g., through diffusion, innovation, cultural conservatism, and resistance to change), although a few studies dealt directly with culture and tradition in the work organization.

Although the cultural dynamics model does not outline a sequential process of change implementation, it does explain many of the underlying cognitive transformations at work within the sense-making mechanisms implicated by efforts to implement organizational change. (Latta, 2009)

Organizational leaders play an integral role when it comes to facilitating cultural management, especially in the context of the recommended integrative dynamic framework, particularly transformational leaders. Transformational leaders help to create and manage culture. These leaders create a common language and share the organization's values and objectives with their subordinates, the subordinates make assumptions about what they think the value and vision ought to be. And when planning for organizational culture, these leaders implement initiatives in a strategic manner and part of this initiative is explaining to subordinates why the organizational culture needs to change in order to achieve the desired outcome. As well as provide positive organization- wide support during this transition period, since most organizational cultures are deeply rooted and therefore changing these traditions can be taxing emotionally and sometimes physically.

A multisource approach was used to collect survey data from 32 Taiwanese companies in the electronics/telecommunications industry in 2011. The findings support a direct and positive link between a style of leadership that has been labeled as ‘‘transformational’’ and organizational innovation. They also indicate that transformational leadership has significant and positive relations with both empowerment and an innovation-supporting organizational climate. The former is found to have a significant but negative relation with organizational innovation, while the latter has a significant and positive relationship. (Jung, 2003)

Change triggers emotions as employees experience the processes and outcomes of change, including cultural change. An organization’s effective culture, which shapes the way emotions are experienced and expressed, plays a particularly important part during changes to the culture or to any other significant aspect of organizational life. (Smollan & Sayers, 2009) Thus organizational leaders provide support by engaging and empowering organization members. People will support what they help create because they develop a sense of belonging and (Williamson, 2016)ownership.

Smollan and Sayers (2009) carried out a qualitative study to examine the relationship between culture, change, and emotions. The study indicated that when participants’ values were congruent with those of the organization they tended to react to change more positively. The cultural change provoked emotional reactions, often of an intense nature. When emotions were acknowledged and treated with respect, people became more engaged with the change.

Engaging employees in determining what the workforce could look like in the future creates significant buy-in, energy, excitement, and commitment to that future vision. It can challenge members to envision themselves as part of that future state, who then in turn inspire others to share in that vision. Those employees who cannot, for whatever reason, identify with the direction that the organization has set may feel compelled to find another organization they can better identify with. (Mierke & Williamson, 2016)

The understanding of organizational culture is fundamental to understanding what goes on in organizations, how to run them, and how to improve them (Schein, 1992). Therefore, these organizational leaders play another significant role in assessing the practical value of a recommended integrative dynamic framework for managing organizational culture change and organizational effectiveness.

Several empirical studies have been carried out across the world on organizational culture change and effectiveness. And one of the widely used tools is the Organisational Culture Assessment Instrument, which examines six aspects of organizational culture and the desire for change. And the six aspects are Dominant Characteristics, Organisational Leadership, Management of Employees, Organisational glue, Strategic emphases, and Criteria of success.

According to Maximini (2015), the Organisational Culture Assessment Instrument or the “OCAI” is based on the Competing Values Framework, which is founded in the work of Quinn and Rohrbaugh (1983) and places organizations in a continuum of four core values, called Flexibility, Stability, Differentiation, and Integration. “What is notable about these four core values is that they represent opposite or competing assumptions. Each continuum highlights a core value that is opposite from the value on the other end of the continuum”.

A meta-analytical test was carried out by three researchers from the University of Arizona on the relationship between three culture types and three major indices of organizational effectiveness (employee attitudes, operational performance [i.e., innovation and product and service quality), and financial performance). The test revealed that culture types are significantly associated with organizational effectiveness. These findings support the widely held proposition that organizational culture is an important organizational variable and reinforces the value of conducting quantitative investigations into the function of organizational culture. (Hartnell, 2011)

During the OCAI assessment, a participant divides 100 points over a number of descriptions that correspond to four organizational culture types. The Clan Culture is where the organization is held together by loyalty and tradition. In the Adhocracy Culture, where experiments and innovation are the blocks that hold together the organization, the third culture type is the Market Culture. This is the type of culture that is competitive, and thus winning keeps the organization together. And the final type of culture is the Hierarchy Culture, where the structure is paramount to keep the organization together. This division of points is done according to the participant’s experience with the organization. This process assesses the mix of the four culture types that dominate the current organizational culture. After this process, participants are required to answer the questionnaire again except this time the 100 points are divided according to their preferred future organizational culture; change can be measured after this process. Then the 100 points are divided into four types of culture. By averaging all individual OCAI scores, a collective organization score can be calculated. (, 2018)

Although the OCAI is a widely used tool, a few researchers have expressed concern in regard to its psychometric properties, especially the factor structure. A study was carried out in Australia to examine the factor structure and criterion validity of the OCAI using a robust analysis method on Australian employees. The study indicated possible weak criterion validity. (Heritage, 2014) I contend that further examination should be carried out on the validity of the OCAI. As well as developing other tools that will measure the different processes involved in cultural dynamics and organizational culture change.

Despite the foregoing influences of culture in organizations, while some organizations are willing to address cultural imperatives within the sphere of their operational goals, others have not given the subject the attention it deserves (Schein, 2004). This discrepancy can be attributed to the following: the bias towards the impact of culture on performance (Kotter & Heskett, 2011), monotonous objectives that do not recognize the changes in the business landscape (Hall, 1981), over-reliance on historical successes (Gino & Staats, 2015), not recognizing the importance of a defined culture on employees’ sociability and solidarity, and how it affects their performance (Goffe & Jones, 1996), and fear of failure which makes it difficult for the organization leaders to accept culture change, but will rather become glued to their tested and old ways of managing the organization (Carucci, 2016). The implication of not taking cultural determinants seriously is even more in mergers and takeovers and can lead to failures (Barclay, 2015) from a transformational integrative leadership perspective, which should build formidable employee relations. (Umuteme, 2018)

Considering all that has been defined in this paper it is evident that leaders who desire to introduce an integrative dynamic framework for understanding and managing organizational culture change are encouraged to passionately observe the following:

  1. Intentionally develop a transparent, clear, friendly, genuine, effective, and consistent communication strategy at all levels of the organization about performance enhancement and the role of culture. For example, scheduling regular sessions during which two-way communication is encouraged, plans are clarified, rumors are exposed and resolved, and answer questions are dealt with.
  2. Introduce policies that will build and enhance motivation and participation throughout the organizational culture change process. Participatory approach centered on flexibility and adaptability would trigger unwavering buy-in at all levels of the organization.
  3. Recognizing the importance of a defined culture on employees’ sociability and solidarity, and how it affects their performance bearing in mind that employees are the core asset of any organization. As such care, sensitivity and diplomacy should be practiced in good faith and beyond a reasonable doubt.
  4. The importance of considering the fit or match between strategic initiatives and organizational culture when it comes to determining how to embed a culture that produces a competitive advantage.
  5. That any organizational culture requires continuous monitoring and assessment to ensure effective management. This should be consistent with the design and implementation tools of the intended organizational culture change and management.

In sum, it has been established that organizational culture is dynamic and therefore it requires consistent monitoring and assessment to ensure effective cultural change. Therefore, it is important for organizational leaders to recognize culture as the root of the problem as well as the solution to the problem. This recognition will ensure increased production in the workplace.

As companies adapt to changes in markets, consumer expectations, and varied and new regulations, they are being forced to develop new strategies and change their structures. However, for those changes to be successful the organization’s culture needs to be in alignment with its strategy and its structure a process that often requires a culture change.

Some leaders believe that cultural change is too complex to be managed or that it takes too long to yield measurable results to make it worth dealing with. This can be good news for wiser leaders who understand that cultural change can be planned and managed: they can gain an advantage over their competition. To manage culture change, the first step is to observe and understand your organization’s culture as it is now, and to determine which values will best align with your strategy and structure. Once you decide what your values need to be, design a Cultural Change Plan using the action steps below. (Barsade & Bernstein, 2014)


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