Organizational Culture


Basically, organizational culture is the personality of the organization. Culture is comprised of the assumptions, values, norms and tangible signs (artifacts) of organization’s members and their behaviors. Members of an organization soon come to sense the particular culture of an organization. Culture is one of those terms that are difficult to express distinctly, but everyone knows it when they sense it. For example, the culture of a large, profit corporation is quite different than that of a hospital which is quite different than that of a university. You can tell the culture of an organization by looking at the arrangement of furniture, what they brag about, what members wear, etc. — similar to what you can use to get a feeling about someone’s personality.

Corporate culture can be looked at as a system. Inputs include feedback from, e.g., society, professions, laws, stories, heroes, values on competition or service, etc. The process is based on our assumptions, values and norms, e.g., our values on money, time, facilities, space and people. Outputs or effects of our culture are, e.g., organizational behaviors, technologies, strategies, image, products, services, appearance, etc.

The concept of culture is particularly important when attempting to manage organization-wide change. Practitioners are coming to realize that, despite the best-laid plans, organizational change must include not only changing structures and processes, but also changing the corporate culture as well.

There’s been a great deal of literature generated over the past decade about the concept of organizational culture — particularly in regard to learning how to change organizational culture. Organizational change efforts are rumored to fail the vast majority of the time. Usually, this failure is credited to lack of understanding about the strong role of culture and the role it plays in organizations. That’s one of the reasons that many strategic planners now place as much emphasis on identifying strategic values as they do mission and vision.

Key Characteristics of Corporate Culture

Innovation and Risk Taking: The degree to which employees are encouraged to be innovative and take risks.

Attention to Detail: The degree to which employees are expected exhibit precision, analysis and attention to detail.

Outcome Orientation: The degree to which management focuses on results or outcomes rather than on the techniques and processes used to achieve those outcomes.

People Orientation: The degree to which management decisions are take into consideration and the effect of outcomes on people within the organization.

Team Orientation: The degree to which work activities are organized around teams rather than individuals.

Aggressiveness: The degree to which people are aggressive and competitive rather easy going

Stability: The degree to which organizational activities emphasize maintaining the status quo in contrast to growth.

Some Types of Culture( Jeffrey Sonnenfeld)

There are different types of culture just like there are different types of personality.

Authoritarian Culture

There is centralization of power with the leader and obedience to orders and discipline are stressed. Any disobedience is punished severely to set an example to others. The basic assumption is that the leader always acts in the interests of the organization.

Participative Culture

Participative culture tends to emerge where most organizational members see themselves as equals and take part in decision-making.

Mechanistic Culture

The mechanistic culture exhibits the values of bureaucracy. Organizational jobs are created around narrow specializations and people think of their careers mainly within these specializations. There is a great deal of departmental loyalty and inter-departmental animosity. This sort of culture resists change and innovation.

Organic Culture

In this case, authority hierarchy, departmental boundaries, rules and regulations, etc. are all frowned up. The main emphasis is on task accomplishment, team work and free flow of communication. The culture stresses flexibility, consultation, change and innovation.

Sub-cultures and Dominant culture

Each department of an organization may have its own culture representing a sub-culture of the system. An organizational culture emerges when there is integration of all the departments into a unified whole.

Academy Culture

Employees are highly skilled and tend to stay in the organization, while working their way up the ranks. The organization provides a stable environment in which employees can develop and exercise their skills. Examples are universities, hospitals, large corporations, etc.

Baseball Team Culture

Employees are “free agents” who have highly prized skills. They are in high demand and can rather easily get jobs elsewhere. This type of culture exists in fast-paced, high-risk organizations, such as investment banking, advertising, etc.

Club Culture

The most important requirement for employees in this culture is to fit into the group. Usually employees start at the bottom and stay with the organization. The organization promotes from within and highly values seniority. Examples are the military, some law firms, etc.

Fortress Culture

Employees don’t know if they’ll be laid off or not. These organizations often undergo massive reorganization. There are many opportunities for those with timely, specialized skills. Examples are savings and loans, large car companies, etc.

Creation of a Culture

The founders of an organization generally tend to have a large impact on establishing the early culture. The organization’s culture results from the interaction between the founder(s) biases and assumptions and what the original members of the organization learn from their own experiences.

  1. An organization’s culture comes from what it has done before and the degree of success it has had. The ultimate source of an organization’s culture is its founders.
  2. The founders of an organization traditionally have a major impact on that organization’s early culture.
  • They had the vision; they are unconstrained by previous customs or ideologies.
  • The small size of new organizations facilitates the founders’ imposition of the vision on all organizational members.


1) Understanding Organizational Culture by Mats Alvesson


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