Organizational culture is fundamentally about symbolic meaning and as such cannot be managed. Discuss. If there Is one thing that everyone Is a part of, It Is Culture. It Is universal, different around the world, but in can be found In every group of people, regardless of the scale. Culture is the customs, skills , Ideas , arts, language and history shared by a given people, at a certain time. Culture Is also found In organizations, where It Is called ‘corporate culture’ , also known as organizational culture.

Culture Is very Important In the sense that Is helps communication skills and In the work place, hose type of skills are primordial and have a great Impact on companies. These impacts can be positive or negative, depending on weather the corporate culture is being used correctly by managers. This brings us to the critics made for using such means to manage people claiming it is too symbolic. The different opinions infers problems in terms of management regarding corporate culture. But is organizational culture just about symbolic meaning ?

If organizational culture is simply about symbolic meaning, why can’t it be managed ? Firstly, we will see what is Organizational Culture’ and its different meanings. Then we will see how Organizational Culture cannot be managed. And finally, we will see how, to a certain extent, it can be managed. Organizational culture is a controversial concept. It is for this reason that many academics have different views as to how to define it. The different views can be divided in two “clans” : the Functionalist approach and the Social Constructionist approach according to Smirch (1983).

Edgar Henry Scheme (1928 – 1985) Is recognized as one of the most influential academic writer on Organizational Culture. His functionalist perspective led him to ether most of his data through Interviews and researching history. He defines culture as ” a pattern of basic assumptions- Invented, discovered or developed by a given group learning to cope with Its problems of external adjustment and Internal Integration-that has worked well enough to be regarded valuable and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel In connection with those problems “.

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Chine’s analysis on organizational culture concluded In three different levels. The first level Is Artifacts and Creations, which Is he visible part of culture, elements that one can observe such as norms, language, symbols, rites and ceremonies, dress-code, etc. The second level is Values and have to ‘read between the lines’. Generally , they are brief statements that dictate how one should behave. The third level is Basic Assumptions, almost invisible, it mostly consists in thoughts and feelings that are almost second nature, like who makes decisions.

Greet Hefted (born in 1928) is another influential researcher in regarding organizational culture. His theory of cultural dimensions depicts the effects of a given society’s culture on the values of its members which impact behavior. Hypotheses research also allowed him to measure the differences between cultures on the values dimensions. He conducted his research with massive surveys on national values in many different countries : cross-national study. Throughout his extensive study, the Dutch researcher identified five dimensions of culture.

The first dimension is the Power Distance Index (also known as PDP), he describes it as ” the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions accept and expect that power is distributed unequally ” . For example, cultures who approve a low power distance tend to a have a more consultative perspective to the relation with power. It resembles the democratic system, where people see others as equal to themselves regardless of the hierarchy. And vice versa for cultures with high power distance.

Meaning it is closer to the autocratic system where people do not act out of their ‘bound’ and vigorously respect the hierarchy. The second dimension is Individualism (also known as DIVIDE). For example, in an individualistic culture, what counts the most is personal achievements and individual rights. It is self-centered and people are left to do whatever they see right for themselves. To the contrary of individualism, Collectivism, according to Webster Collegiate Dictionary, is the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups.

This means that people will act as a member of a group. The third dimension is the Uncertainty Avoidance Index (also known as AJAX). Hefted describes it as “a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity ” It measures the level to which a certain culture copes with anxiety by reducing uncertainties. For example, cultures with a high uncertainty avoidance tend to be more sensitive. People in that culture will attempt to avoid uncertain situations or unknown experiences in order to suppress any anxiety that can emerge from such situations.

These people will be less prone to taking risks and will make decisions after a lot of consideration, etc. And vice versa for culture with a low uncertainty avoidance tend to feel more comfortable in uncertain situations and will be willing to take risks and are more tolerant of change. The fourth dimension is Masculinity (also known as MASS), contrasted with femininity. Greet Hefted describes it as “the distribution of emotional roles between the genders”. For example, in masculine cultures, the focus is put on certain values such as materialism or competitiveness, ambition and most of all power.

In addition, in the masculine culture, gender roles much more stressed : the men work while women are stay at home mothers, the women is dependent of her husband. On the contrary, in feminine cultures, values are more centered on relationships or quality of life and women seek more and more independence. To a certain extent, masculinity and femininity are, in this case, a correlation of quantity and quality. The fifth dimension is Long Term Orientation orison’ of a given culture. Logically, long term oriented societies plan ahead and constantly think of the future.

Whereas in short term oriented societies, people tend to stay in the past or/and the present. Living in the moment. The Carper Diem thinking for example is a result of short term oriented culture. Organizational culture suffers from a disagreement amongst cultural researchers regarding its definition but also from a conceptual problem, creating a debate as to how it can or cannot be managed. Professor John Van Mean states that “culture is made visible only through representation and created by writing”. As we have seen, there is no ‘one best way (Frederick Winslow Tailor’s expression) theory : ‘one best universal culture’.

And so there is not a universal applicable theory about corporate culture. Indeed, the functionalist’s approach has its limits. Being a complex concept, measuring organizational culture or even managing it is incorrect. Culture is an abstract concept and therefore its application in day to day situations by managers is inaccurate. In addition, studying organizational culture by gathering history data is a reductionism and invalid method. Indeed, organizational culture is not quantifiable, it is not ‘static’ ND therefore conclusions and theories cannot be drawn out of them.

It is dynamic, in the sense that it is interactive, it is constantly changing and evolving and any conclusion is somehow outdated. As a consequence, managers do not have control over corporate culture, contrary to what they think. Also, functionalists admit that culture, in an organization, is given to its employees. Social constructionists disagree, as it is the members of the organization who create the culture, who shapes it. In British- Canadian organizational theorist’s words “Culture is a living and evolving reality’

Another flaw of studying organizational culture through symbolism is that the meanings given to a symbol by the researcher are not necessarily the meanings inferred by organization members. This flaw is linked to the almost scientific approach and techniques used to determine levels of culture or dimensions of culture whereas a scientific approach is meant to be used on machines in Odder to determine their functionality, etc. The use of corporate culture encounters another problem ; when members of a given culture encounter symbols , they read them through their own individual eyes.

There is a ‘mainstream’ opinion of it, but successiveness primes over universal meaning. For example, when shown an image of an iceberg, a person could be reminded of a trip through the Atlantic Ocean, Just as another person could simply be reminded of the movie made about the sinking of the IRS Titanic directed by James Cameron. This example clearly shows how a symbol can easily be interpreted differently by different people and that different people attribute different meanings to the same symbol.

The instability and dynamic aspect of corporate culture is overlooked by previous theorists and managers choose to live they can manage it because they seek clarity explored in the “one best way” theory earlier. The main problem is that theories on organizational culture are used organizational culture is complex and how it cannot be clearly defined ; and according to Robert Kaplan, professor at Harvard Business School : “Just as you cannot manage what you can measure, you cannot measure what you cannot describe” .

Although the use of organizational culture in order to manage has been greatly criticized, managers cannot ignore the Work culture’. And so, managers use organizational culture to improve the organization’s performance. According to Brown, managing corporate culture can be fruitful in companies if it is used well and can strengthen a companies’ competitive advantage by intervening in the recruitment process and making sure it is in the favor of the culture. It helps explain behaviors and thoughts in companies and patterns can emerge from them, giving managers more insight.

Also, its use in interpersonal communication is very beneficial whether it is a vertical communication or a horizontal one. Different companies with different cultures will communicate according to the established organizational culture. This will also have a direct impact on how employees behave. Indeed, steering the corporate culture towards performance is very common amongst managers. Companies with a strong organizational culture are more successful on the international market and are more performance.

Having knowledge on organizational culture for a manager can come of help to focus on certain values or attitudes of certain members of a company. In conflicts, such knowledge can be used to solve the problem. As a consequence, less time is wasted in conflict and more time is given to work : improving the performance. Certain companies may also establish a reward system in order to reinforce positive behavior, Just as it can have a ‘ enmeshment’ system in order to achieve the same thing, but in a different manner. Leaders will also embody certain values of the company to show the example and to incite employees to behave as such.

In addition, one of the best places to start improvements in a company is with an examination of the organization’s work culture because organizational culture is the central driver of the business’s performance . A great use of organizational culture to enhance performance is through what is now known as “Corporate Religion”. It is a set of attitudes as well as beliefs which are strongly believed in by the whole organization. For example, Apple employee MBA John stated that even if many students moved on from Apple and went in other companies, they all shared Apple’s culture, as it has ‘become a part of our DNA’.

The corporate culture has been given to them and it it strongly rooted in them. Some of the Apple religion practices are accountability, hire the best , consistency, excellence above revenues and treat employees well. The beliefs clearly sets ground rules on behavior, it sets objectives for employees and it defines interpersonal communication. It is to that extent that organizational behavior can be managed. By attempting to define organizational culture in depth, this essay has shown that many definitions and theories have been made around this concept and therefore demonstrates how complicated and complex it really is.

We have seen how it can be controversial and how disagreements on its definition make it very abstract and how corporate culture cannot be managed as it presents flaws , it was found reductionism and and had illegitimate objectiveness regarding a ‘universal theory. Then, we have argued that organizational behavior can, to a certain extent, be managed because it cannot be ignored by managers and by showing that it can even dead to better performance.


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