Culture and values

A common theme in any discussion on culture is the reference to values. According to Harrison & Stokes (1992) it is widely held that organisation culture involves a notion of shared meaning by members that distinguish one organisation from another. The effectiveness of an organisation is not only determined by the abilities and motives of the people that make up the organisation or by how well the groups work together, but as Hellriegel, Slocum, & Woodman (1998) suggest, there are other influences such as values. Othters support this view are  representative of the basic beliefs that one way of doing things is preferable to another. It follows that values refer to preferences for a particular process or outcome and that the extent to which organisation values differ from personal values is a measure of organisation cohesiveness.

Schmikl (1989) concludes after an examination of Schein’s (1983) definition of culture that organisational and society cultures are imbued with values.

Organisational Culture

Values – a definition

Moola (1998: 54) suggests that values are cultural standards for desirable and worthwhile goals ‘for organised social life’. They legitimise and prescribe the minimum specifications for th conduct of social and behavioural interaction. According to Allaire & Firsirotu (1984) values are symbolic interpretations of reality, which provide meanings for social actions and standards for social behaviour. Further’ Kluckhohn (1951:397) defines a value as, “a conception, explicit or implicit, distinctive of an individual or characteristic of a group, of the desirable that influences the selection from available modes, means, and ends of action”. These includes cognitive and affective elements through the use of the words ‘conception’ and ‘desirable’. The definition also suggests that values are both explicit an implied, and although not always verbalised should be capable of being expressed in words.

Kluckhohn (1951:400) goes further to say, “  a social life and living in a social world both require standards ‘within’ the individual and standards roughly agreed upon by individuals who live and work together”. It seems therefore that a major function of values is to “add and element of predictability to social life”. Where these values are share there is a possibility of social unity, common purpose, and a basis for co – operation.

Schmikl (1989:3) postulates that in the work place values will ten to –

  • Provide a sense of common direction for all employees, and serve ad guidelines for day to day behaviour.
  • Tell people who to work together: and
  • If they are strong, they can command people’s attention, influence their beliefs, suggest the standards they should live by and therefore also shaper personal lives.

The term ‘values’ has a variety of meanings due to the varying perspectives and context within which people attempt to explain it. At a personal level it could include concepts like freedom, equality, autonomy, generosity, philanthropy and so on.

In the context of work an example of values is drawn from the Wenerian concept of the Protestant ethic which includes notions like; hard work, pride, loyalty and ambition to progress.

At an organisational level Collins & Porras (1996:74) state that values are often expressed in a statement that is simple, clear, straightforward and powerful. They relate to issues like quality, leading – edge innovation, and customer care, all of which are fundamental, and “deeply held that they will change or be compromised seldom, if ever” Harrison (1993) includes values that relate to leadership, management and career opportunity.

Molla (1991) notes that a problem with definition is that the term is often used interchangeably with the  term mission, belief, and culture. To overcome this he examines arrange of definitions from the social sciences and concludes, “that in most cases, firstly emphasis is placed on means and ends, on actions and goals.

Secondly, values are organised in some form of priority. Furthermore, these definitions reflect evaluative (right or wrong) descriptive (true or false) and prescriptive (preferred states) qualities” (Moola 1998:56).

Brown (1995:20) suggests that values are closely connected with, “moral and ethical codes, and determine what people thing ought to be done”.

Values thus represent a, “basic conviction that a specific mode of conduct or end – state of existence is personally or socially preferable to an opposite or converse mode of conduct or end – state of existence. (Robbins 1996:174)

Closer examination of the definition reveals firstly an element of evaluation between ‘what is right, good and desirable’. Secondly there are attributes of content and intensity which reveal the importance and the degree thereof. According to Robbins (1996) the ranking of the intensity of values will result in a ‘system’.

Value systems

Some of the earliest work on values and in particular their categorisation was carried out by Allport, Vernon & Lindzey (1951). They identified six types of values, which became the basis of a questionnaire and based on the replies a ‘system’ for each respondent is identified, they further found that people in similar occupations had similar value systems in relation to their categorisations.

Rokeach (1973) developed a survey to establish the preferences people had for life values and means of achieving these. The findings revealed that the responses were capable of being arranged into patterns or ‘systems’.

Robbins (1996) found that whilst work values differed between individuals there were patterns that correlated with a broader category relating to time of entry into the workplace. Each of the above supports the notion that a value system is a “hierarchy based on a ranking of an individual’s values in terms of intensity” (Robbins 1996:174)

Work by Hofstede (1979, 1980, 1991), in which the values of employees in multinational corporations in a number of different countries were examined, led to the identification of five value system dimensions. These dimensions which were unique to each country were labeled as follows:

  • Power distance. This relates to the extent that there is an unequal distribution of power that concentrates more to center of a hierarchical organisation and conversely diminishes in an autonomous decentralised organisation.
  • Uncertainty avoidance means the extent to which members of a culture are able to cope with the unknown
  • Individualism vs collectivism. This dimension represents the extent to which ties exist between individuals within and between groups.
  • Masculinity vs femininity. This refers to the clarity of gender roles with suppositions made about what males and females should or can do.
  • Confucian dynamism. This last dimension,” refers to the degree to which long and short term time orientation is the dominant orientation in life, and is linked to the confucian conception of ‘virtue’ which Hofsted contrasts with the Western preoccupation with truth” (Brown 1995:44)

Scores plotted on these dimensions would, he argued, reflect different value systems for different groups of the population and would be due to factors such as economics, technology and history. These would in turn influence and extend into organisational differences. As an example large power distance plus strong uncertainty avoidance would lead to a bureaucratic ‘top down, command control’ type of organisation. He further suggests that democratic, participative attempts that aim to create a more egalitarian order among the organisation member are less likely to succeed in high power distance societies since the ‘power holders and the subordinate’ value systems will be against this ‘open, progressive’ organisation and individual values which, further indicates that where there is an imbalance there is a likelihood of conflict.

Brown (1995) cautions against placing too much emphasis on the notion of a national culture because of the assimilation of cultures and the re – defining of nationality through the means of a boundary. However there is, according to Hofstede (1991) sufficient ground in practical terms to research on the basis of national boundaries.

Ronnie Lessem, in his foreword to “Managing the Developing Organisation” by Bernard Lievegoed (1991) identifies four domains of management theory. Three of these in recent times are derived from an American framework. Each has its own ideological underpinning. The first of these is the ‘rational’ or ‘scientific’ viewpoint advocated in the main by Peter Druker. The second domain popularised by Tom Peters, suggests a ‘back to basics’ (primal) approach that ‘thrives on chaos’. These two propositions, lessem suggests represent East and West Coast perspectives respectively whilst a third Southern domain has emerged in the name of ‘corporate culture’. A central tenet of this position, advocated by Harrison Owen, is the role of myth and ritual rather than structure or individual enterprise.

The fourth domain has its origins in Europe but has been widely applied through Britain to Japan. Promoted by Lievegoed (from the Netherlands Pedagogical Institute) this approach emphasises and applies developmental concepts to individual, organisational and social evolution. Drawing on a Central European philosophical foundation it encompasses notions of individual enterprise and notional interdependence. Of primary interest id the unfolding and development of the individual and the organisation in a holistic and organic way. Drawing from ‘social ecology’ there is the postulation that this growth process involves stages usually preceded by some form of crisis, As individuals and organisations grow through the phases of ‘birth, youth and maturity’ so they will need to develop of the individual and the organisation in a holistic and organic way. Drawing from ‘social ecology’ there is the postulation that this growth process involves stages usually preceded by some form of crisis. As individuals and organisations grow through the phases of ‘birth, youth and maturity’ so they will need to develop appropriate responses. The response will be dependant on the sense of existence and what it means in terms of creation, survival, stability, pride and reputation, uniqueness and adaptability, and contribution. Each of these phases will be described in term of a set (system) o values that gives them uniqueness.

Harvard University Professor Larry Greiner (1972), following the theme of ‘growth’, maintains that the history of an organisation will provide the clues to future success. He describes a series of stages (five) through which an organisation will develop. Each phase will contain a time of stability and calm (evolution), followed by a period of crisis (revolution). Knowledge of the past practices and ‘traditions’ (value system) will influence the response to the extent that crises can be anticipated and appropriately managed.

Roger Harrison (1972) makes the link between the ‘character’ of an organisation and its ideology noting that this will determine the compatibility of an organisation’s interests and those of its members and an organisation’s ability to cope with the environmental influences it faces. These ideologies are categorised in terms of orientations toward role, task, power and people in the workplace and form a framework for studying organisation. Each of these typologies is a value – laden concept and indeed reflects a system a system of values in the organisation. He notes that to change the ideology will call in question the values of the organisation members.

Bridges (1992) also considers the ‘character’ of organisations as influencing the ‘organisational life cycle’.  He likens ‘character’ to the “grain in a piece of wood”, being neither good nor bad but each with its purpose. Extending the metaphor he describes it as the “DNA of the organisational life form”. Writing from a Jungain perspective (introversion and extraversion), he categorises the varied characters into sixteen basic personality types, combinations of which type the organisation. He also describes the phases that an organisation goes through from inception, ‘the dream’ to ‘ making it’. He argues that for there to be effective transition from one stage of the cycle to the next an understanding of the ‘character’ appropriate to the phase is necessary for the right development activity to help the organisation move. The origin of the ‘character’ is “set in large part by its founder – an institution is the lengthened shadow of one man” (Bridges 1992:6). Other factors will play a part, however the influence of leadership is rooted in the value system of the ‘boss’.

The ‘organisational and individual life cycle’ perspectives from the above would seem to suggest a relationship with value systems. The writings are however fragmented with no single common integrated explanation of the relationship between individual and organisational value systems. What emerges is a theme of an unfolding, in stages, of physical and psychosocial processes at an individual and organisational level over the period of their respective ‘lives’. These are represented in a heirarchical format and relate to ‘existence’ and ‘being’ and to their response thereto.

Moola (1998) in a comprehensive review of the literature on the humanistic, existential, and phenomenological perspectives in psychology notes that there is a common origin. Despite certain differences, they are all founded on a view that promotes the better side of humankind as part of a dynamic, organic, and opened process and the subjective and  qualitative nature of life experiences. Maslow (1962) held that life’s struggles served to strengthen healthy growth toward a higher order, Graves (1966),(who years before had become increasingly disenchanted with the ‘rightness or wrongness’ of the differing schools of thought in psychology) proposed an open system which had different levels of human existence and values related to these levels.

Graves’ (1974:72) “levels of existence” was premised on the basis that:

  • “Man’s nature is not a set thing, that it is an open – system, not a closed system.
  • Man’s nature evolves by saccadic, quantum – like jumps from one steady state to another.
  • Man’s values change from system to system as his total psychology emerges in new form with each quantum-like jump to anew state of steady being.”

Hersey & Blanchard (1977) elaborate on this by postulating that individuals will display behaviour and values consistent with a level and that over time people will move from a lower ‘subsistence’ level to a higher level of ‘being’ or distinctly human level of existence. This phenomenon they suggest will impact on the nature of social organisation.

Moola (1998) citing Myers & Myers (1970) suggests that research had found that supervisory and production problems in business organisations were symptoms of clashing of poorly understood value systems. Of particular relevance is the further finding that the work ethic, for example, differed between employees within the some business and was changing. At a broader social level it was noted that changes in values were also taking place in religious, government and trade union circles. Resistance to bureaucratic and control issues were some of the examples cited.

Graves (1970) provides a framework to understand how these values change, suggesting that there is adevopment through consecutive levels of ‘psychological existence’s that id descriptive of personal values. Beck and Linscott (1991:32) describe how Graves technology (‘open systems theory of values’) deals with spirals of change – when, why and how people, organisations and societies deal with transition and transformation.

Beck & Linscott (1991:32) further cite Graves (1974) as saying “ the psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emergent oscillating, spiralling process marked by progressive subordination of older lower-order behaviour systems to new higher-order systems as man’s existential problems change”. This proposition in effect means that individuals will function at different psychological levels at various stages of development and that their values and behaviour will differ at each level. It is further suggested that individuals may not have the capacity to change in a normal upward direction. However they do have the freedom to choose the extent to which they move or remain t a particular level.

Grave’s thesis is illustrated by means of the ‘Double Helix’, the  first representing problems of existence and the second reflecting methods of coping with these. Graves, according to Beck & Cowan (1996:9) would summarise his constructs on the basis that in this ‘open system’ the following pertained:

  • “Human nature is not static, nor is it finite. Human nature changes as the conditions of existence change, thus forging new systems.
  • When a new system of level is activated, we change our psychology and rules for living to adapt to those new conditions.
  • We live in a potentially open system of values with an infinite number of modes of living available to us. There is no final state to which we must all aspire.
  • An individual, a company or an entire society can respond positively to those managerial principles, motivational appeals, educational formulas and legal or ethical code that are appropriate to current level of human existence.

Beck & Cowan (1996) describe this emergence of human systems through levels of complexity as a ‘spiral vortex’ with each succeeding level of value systems, world views and mindsets presenting a higher order of the preceding level and product of the time and conditions.

In his early work Graves (1966) described seven levels of existence. These he refined over a period to include a further level and the concept of a ‘neurological system’ that is activated at each level to solve the problem of existence at that level.  Beck & Linscott (1994:38), by way of summary note that Graves suggests that “at each stage of human existence the adult man is off on his quest for his Holy Grail, the way of life he seeks to live. The lessons learned here are that there are no homogenous people but rather a diversity of people and societies whose levels are all mixed.

The importance of values, and in particular a ‘system’ of values that are shared, is that they bring stability and order to a system through some common core that unites a group or organisation. These in turn give rise to the concept of culture’. No discussion on culture is complete without some reference to ‘climate’; a term often used interchangeably with culture

 Culture and climate

“The South African workplace generally remains an extreme example of a low-trust working environment. Workplace forums have the potential to break down these low-trust relationships, but only if and when managers successfully harness the distinct forms of organisation and culture in the South African environment”

Eddie Webster

The concept of organisational culture is not Always clearly demarcated from the concept of organisation climate. At first glance the terms appear to be used interchangeably. However distinctions were made on the basis of ‘psychological climate’ as suggested by Tagiuri (1968) who defines climate as the relatively enduring quality of an orgaisation that is, firstly experienced by employees, and secondly influences their behaviour. Later Dyer & Dyer (1986) describe organisational climate as the prevailing emotional state shared by members of a system. For example, it may be formal, relaxed, defensive, cautious, or trusting. However as an example of the lack of clarity, Robinson (1987) suggests that the superficial manifestations of the culture are what are usually referred to as organiational climate. This would suggest a degree of commonality. Moola (1998) notes that there is a concurrence between a number of writers, namely Ott (1989), Hunt (1991) and Denison (1996), that both concepts have been defined and operationalised in a variety of ways but stillmake the link between the individual and the organisation. Brown (1995) in his work does not make a clear distinction between the concepts and suggestions that the interest in organisational culture originates from sources including, amongst others climate research.

Early work made the distinction on the basis of the research method used. Work by Schwartz & Davis (1981) supported this view by asserting that to study culture, qualitative research, that took into account the uniqueness of the individual social settings in terms of time place and setting, was needed. Further, the study of climate required quantitative research that involved factors across social settings and which could be generalised to a wider population.

A different perspective is offered by Hofstead, Bond & Luk (1993) who make the distinction on the premise that the climate is about the way an organisation treats its people, that it is short term, tactical and is of concern to lower management levels. On the other hand culture is concerned with the type of people employed, and it is a long-term concern of top management.

Denison (1996), in a comprehensive examination of the literature concluded that there were indeed differences. In addition to reinforcing the views outlined earlier, the data indicated that culture studies were concerned about underlying assumptions, individual meaning and the insiders unique insight into the organisation; culture studies were concerned with social construction and critique. Climate studies, on the other hand, focussed on the surface level ‘observable’ practices and procedures of the organisation; and are rooted in the studies of experimentally constructed social climates and settings by Kurt Lewin (1951)

Denison (1996) supported the work of Schneider, Brief & Guzzo (1996) concludes further that the distinguishing feature between organisational culture and organisational climate is the that, firstly culture is about the deep structure of organisations which is rooted in values, beliefs and assumptions held by organisational members. The process of socialism of individuals in the workplace determines meaning and paradoxically through symbols, the stability of the culture is in tension which is potentially unstable state arising from the dependence on the individual cognition and action. It encompasses a less conscious more subtle psychology of the workplace. Secondly by way of contrast, climate is considered as being rooted in the value system of the organisation. This tends to be presented in relatively static terms and fixed dimensions and as a consequence is seen as temporary, subject to control and restricted in the main to “those aspects of the social environment that are consciously perceived by organisational members” Denison (1990:626). It is concerned with policies, practices, ad rewards that are observable.

Despite the case for differences, Moola (1998) in an extensive review of the literature, notes that there are strong arguments for both ‘similarity’ and ‘difference’. Although the strong arguments by Glick (1985) and Denison (1996) indicate that these concepts are now more similar than different and in effect are about the same phenomena, there appears to be no conclusive position in the debate, suffice to say that they are separate but yet related phenomena. As organisations become increasingly exposed to a wide range of competitive challenges and strive to develop an advantage over the competition so then connection between culture and strategy takes on more importance

The following is said of Toyota: 

“The climate in the company is conducive to easy interaction between people. At the same time, exceptionally high performance demands are made. In other words, Toyota is a company espousing a winning and team culture,” says the 36-year-old top executive.

Source: F&T Weekly, 8 November 1996, p 55.


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A vast formless, machine is quickly and tirelessly wrapping its itself around the earth like a “virtual glove”. It is being built from an endless array of electronic components whose power, range, and size are far greater than the sum of its parts. This titanic but largely hidden structure is the nervous system of “cyberspace”. Why? Is there a purpose to this expansion of cables and underground infrastructure? The answer is simply, yes, and can be summarised in one word Communication.

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