Organisational Culture

There are many approaches to describe and define culture. Different organisations have different organisational culture which profoundly influences how learning is viewed in these organisations. The effects or this culture however, are often underestimated by all parties and are difficult to identify and articulate. There are different definitions of organisational culture. A commonly definition describe organisational culture as the personality of a given organization, comprising the assumptions, norms values and tangible signs of that organisation. This culture differs from one organisation to the other and the culture of any oganisation encapsulates what it has been good at and what has worked in the past. Through tradition and history, the organisations build up their own culture thus giving their members a sense of identity. Thus it determines the way in which things are done around any organization (Albert, 2002, p.56).

According to Linda (2003), the organizational culture as determined through the organisation’s legend, rituals, beliefs, meanings, values and language, is highly accepted by the long serving members of that organisation without question (p.34). In any given oganisation, the culture of such organisation is promoted by its vision, structure, mission, systems, job design and leadership behavior with an ideal culture. It is seen by some organisations as the shared values, expectations and norms that guide the organisation members in terms of how they should relate to their customers, how they approach their work and how they deal with each other at their work place.

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In his study, Ronald, (2002) has argued that organisational culture is the key driver of the staff performance and the outcome of the customers. It relates to the kind of goals the members should pursue and ideas about the kind of the appropriate standards of organisational behavior that the members should use to achieve the objectives of the organization (P.68). There has been a bit of research done regarding the concept of organisational culture especially in learning how to change it.

Marshal (2004) has argued that, there are different genres of cultures in any given organisation. They range from power culture, role culture to a person culture. Other kinds of culture has been defined and known to exist in any given organization (P.46). Power culture is based on the dominance of one particular organisation. This individual or individuals are the one charged with the role of making key decisions in the institution. This culture may exist both in the small business world but also in the large business world. On the other hand, role culture exists in larger organisations in which individuals have clear role differentiation and specific jobs to perform. In this case, individuals tend to follow the rules rather than operating in a creative way, sticking closely to their job description. Other forms of organisational culture include the task cultures, which exists when teams are developed to complete particular tasks. This form of culture can be creative owing to the fact that the team is usually empowered to make decisions. A person culture is another kind of organisational culture and is the most individualistic form of the culture that exists when individuals are fully owned to make decisions and express themselves. Owing to the fact that it is the most individualistic, it can only exist in organisations that are quite loose such as a self employed organization (Russell, 1995, p.31).

            The concept of culture is quite important in the knowledge of how the organisation and in knowing how to take it through change. In this regard, it becomes important to change the culture of an organisation as well as the way we change the structures and the processes in making development plans. Changes in the organisational culture have been rumored to fail most of the time and this failure is usually accredited to lack of understanding about the role of such culture. Thus many strategic planners have now taken to understanding strategic values as much as they do with the mission and the vision. It has been argued that where there exists a strong culture, employers in an organisation will tend to do things or act because it is the right thing to do as per the culture. However, culture has been seen as the most difficult attribute of an organisition that can easily be subjected to change. It is known to outlast the products, the founders, the services if any and the leadership skills of any organisation. This is inclusive of all other physical attributes of such an organization (John, 1994, p.14).

According to Jean (2003), there are different approaches that have been derived to help organisations in changing their culture. The classical approach is one of them and it is based on two basic assumptions (p.28). The first assumption is that organisations are usually in one state or another. This assumption implies that the change process requires an organisation’s equilibrium to be disturbed so that the change can be realized while it is unstable letting it to settle in a new equilibrium state close to the expected or the ideal balance. The second assumption according to this approach is that by effective analysis, proper planning and appropriate action, change can be easily realized within an organisational culture. The approach also holds the view that it is not the culture that necessarily should be changed but that what needs to be addressed is the stability of such a culture (David, 1998, p.54).

However, provided with knowledge from other approaches, some organisations are moving away from this approach by concentrating on changing the structures, processes and the systems of their operations. In this view, the organisation with such an undertaking uses a lot of its resources in trying to perfect the change programme. This is done by organizing workshops for its members, consultations and so forth. The resulting change is close to the one that was there ad with little lack, a few changes are realized.

Other approaches hold different views from the conventional approach. For example, it has been argued that it is the leadership that affects culture rather than management and that it is the style of leadership that explains or accounts for the differences in the various forms of culture in an organisation. Thus, changing the culture of an organisation poses as a long term project rather than a mere short term project. In this context, efforts to change the culture of an organisation should first address the kind of leadership in that organization (Jerry, Elaine, 2002, p. 73). A clear vision of the new strategy, the shared values and the behavior in the organisation would among other things be needed to make effective cultural change. In addition, it has been argued that for effective cultural change, change should be managed from the top as this will show the management willingness to change.

According to Pascal, (2004), the top of the organisation should be in favor of and willing to change in order to implement this change to the lower part of the organisation. Additionally, the change implemented should be first notable at the top or at this level first for the rest of the employees to follow suit (P.21). The behavior of the top management symbolizes the kind of behavior, norms and values that should be realized in the rest of the organisation. Therefore, the management holds the duty of showing the strengths of the current culture and putting it clear to the rest of the organisation that changes need not be radical but continuous.

Modification of the structures of the organisation to fit the newly expected changes should then follow. In essence, change may not at all be realized or implemented if the existing structures do not pave way to these new changes. Thus it is the duty of the organisation management to make the necessary change that will allow the adoption of the new culture.

In his research study, Daniel (2003) found that cultural change within an organisation will also highly depend on the willingness of the members to change and adopt new culture (P.77). The management therefore has the obligation of socializing new members in the organisation and to connect them to the new culture and also to reconnect the existing members to the newly expected culture. It then becomes inevitable for the dismissal of those who feel that they cannot follow and adopt this new culture. To avoid tensions and the resulting ethical and legal problems, it is important to change the employees’ integrity and control. It is also important to arrange for equitable treatment and job security.

Another approach holds the opinion that change is emergent. In this context, cultural change is viewed in coming as a result of the interactions between the agents in the system. In this regard, the complexity theory suggests that when the connection between the different agents is strong, emergence is likely to occur spontaneously. This theory also holds that it takes more or less the same energy to create a small emergence as it is needed to create a large one. The approach also holds that the size and frequency of changes follow a ‘power law’. This is to suggest that there are a lot of small changes, less middle sized ones and few large changes (David, Michael, 1997, p. 22).

Therefore, the size of the response is non dependent on the size of what stimulate the change or simply the stimulus. Thus according to this approach, once the system is in its critical state, even the smallest stimulus is bound to cause large and major changes. The profound effects are therefore in deterministic and the solution is then to move away from trying to change organisations but instead prepare them to embrace and be ready for the change (Samson, 2006, p.41).

This focus (focus on organisational change) moves away from planning to facilitating emergence. Thus the role of the change agent becomes once again crucial. This agent should develop according to this approach, personal relationship with which he is supposed to facilitate its change. The understanding that change cannot be forced but rather assisted is then crucial to this agent as well as the understanding that it is important to deal with the already established systems and processes. In general, the complex general approach postulates that we should work in the system and not strive to comprehend its complexities but adopt more modest aims (Michael, 1993, p.79).

Another approach, the epidemiological approach, is of the opinion that the members and participants should become change agents; try to spread change through engaging in conversations with their colleagues. The objective here is to build greater connectivity between these members and to encourage them to derive new meanings about their day to day work lives (Howard, 1007, p.36). Another aim is to help the organisation to remove existing barriers and to open up channels so that it could organise itself to the critical position and become vulnerable to change. The approach tends to disorient itself with both the top to down approach and the bottom to top approach of the management. Instead, the approach tends to involve everyone and to offer any point as the starting point. The approach recognizes that resistance to the new change will be experienced and that this is the point at which the senior management should intervene.

In conclusion, a big ground has been covered and the probability of there being much more and many more topics are open. Many of these approaches tend to revolve around the same issue trying to offer solution for a workable organisational change. The aim of reviewing this is to open up some more avenues of understanding change in any organisational culture and to explore and come up with a more comprehensive approach that can be used to initiate change in any given organization. The various approaches that has been suggested and has long been put into test, though yielding some results for some of the organisation do not offer a clear and wholly workable means of realizing change in the organization (Ellen, Susan, 2005, p.52). In fact, the few results that have been yielded as a result of applying this approaches have long been stagnated and the organisation besides having come up with reasons for this have given up trying to change their culture. Others have attempted to give a second chance to these approaches but the ultimate truth is that none of this seems to offer a solution to the needs of these organisations.


Albert Mills (2002) Gender, Identity, and the Culture of Organizations. London, Routledge, pp.56

Daniel Denison (2003) The Handbook of Organizational Culture and Climate. Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol.48, pp.77

David Collins (1998) Organizational Change: Sociological Perspectives. London, Routledge, pp.54

David Nadler & Michael Tushman (1997) Competing by Design: The Power of Organizational Architecture. Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp.22

Ellen Ernst & Susan Lambert (2005) Work and Life Integration: Organizational, Cultural       and Individual Perspectives. New York, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp.52

Howard Oden (1997) Managing Corporate Culture, Innovation and Implementation. Westport, CT, Quorum Books, pp.36

Jean Mills (2003) Making Sense of Organizational Change, London, Routledge, pp.28

Jerry Hedge & Elaine Pulakos (2002) Implementing Organizational Interventions: Steps, Processes, and Best Practices. London, Jossey-Bass, pp.73

John Burk (1994) Shared Lenses: General Semantics and the Organizational Culture Perspective. A Review of General Semantics, Vol.51, pp.14

Linda Putnam (2003) Organizational Culture: Mapping the Terrain. Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol.48, pp.34

Marshal Scott (2004) Handbook of Organizational Change and Innovation. Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp.46

Michael Diamond (1993) The Unconscious Life of Organizations: Interpreting Organizational Identity. Westport, CT, Quorum Books, pp.79

Pascal Joel (2004) Understanding Organizational Culture. Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol.49, pp.24

Ronald Sims (2002) Managing Organizational Behavior. Westport, CT, Quorum Books, pp.68

Russell Samuel (1995) Organizational Politics, Justice and Support: Managing the Social Climate of the Workplace. Westport, CT, Quorum Books, pp.31

Samson Walter (2006) Models of Business management. Westport, CT, Quorum Books, pp.41


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