Organisational culture and the implications for managers

According to Robbins (1998: 613) Organisational culture is regarded as an intervening variable in the sense that the employees will form an overall subjective perception of the organisation based on various factors such as degree of risk tolerance, support of people, team emphasis as well as the support of people. This overall perception, in effect will now become the organisation’s culture or personality. This becomes stable over a period of time and becomes strong and difficult for management to change.

The main lesson to be learned by managers is that organisational culture is real and that, in the short term, organisational culture should be treated as relatively fixed. This in turn has major ramifications in the hiring process as individuals whose values and beliefs are not aligned with those of the organisations are very likely to lead to a lack of motivation and commitment as well as a sense of dissatisfaction with their jobs and the organisation as a whole. This leads to excess stress levels, loss of productivity, and high staff turnover rates. Managers need to take cognisance this influence of socialisation on the employee and be aware that proper socialisation becomes a significant factor in influencing both actual job performance and how it is perceived by others.

Organisational Culture

Culture and change

Golden (1992) concludes that the most prevalent conceptualisation of culture in the management literature is a functional one. The emphasis is on what culture does for the individual and the organisation, with the view that a strong culture, in contrast to a weak culture, preserves and strengthens the organisation and integrates the individual into that organisation. “Cultures are essentially about the control of people’s behaviour and beliefs; ultimately they are about the control of people’s behaviour” (Payne 1991:27). Furthermore culture needs not only to be strong but also right for the time and circumstances. This then suggests that there needs to be adaptation and so the notion of a string culture implies stability, and begs the question, how or what leads then to culture change?

  • Today’s modern dynamic organisations are constantly undergoing changes all over the world in response to competition, technological change, and globalisation, to mention a few. The response to these environmental influences has according to Byham (1987), Cascio (1995), Druker (1988), Easteby – Smith (1988), Godsell (1981), &Keidel (1994) been a plethora of organisational design ‘solutions’ including among others, delayering, downsizing, re – engineering, and rightsizing. These changes are leading to ‘new organisations’ that are flatter and leaner, more flexible, process and customer driven, and with accountability for the work being located closer to the work. Reimann &Wiener (1986) suggest that the effectiveness of culture is tested when the organisational environment changes and that failure to change culture is problematic in respect to a changing environment.
  • Robbins (1996) poses questions about organisation change and argues that it is culture bound. He suggests that it is about the extent to which people believe it is possible, the time frame within which it takes place, the varying degrees of resistance (influenced by societal culture), and the change strategy employed. Hysamen (1996) offers a further possibility of degree of involvement and reward as factors sustaining culture change. With the ever increasing changes in the environment, organisations need to increasingly manage culture to ensure ongoing commitment and organisational effectiveness. Harrison (1993), Pascale (1985) and millar (1994) note that failure to give attention to this, potentially results in culture becoming a liability and an obstacle to change. Schein (1971) observes that if conformity to organisational norms is through entrapment, then individual creativity is stunted. Godsell (1981) and Cartwright & Cooper (1993) commenting on existence of a gap between individual values and those of an organisation, note that where this is too wide the ‘cultural’ incompatibility can be dysfunctional seriously jeopardising the effectiveness of mergers for example.
  • The extent to which culture influences organisation effectiveness is hotly debated. However there is agreement that it is one factor that impacts performance. In acknowledging this Thornhill (2000:64) says that there is no denying that organisational culture is an objective entity, and in particular that it is ‘something which an organisation has’. The implication is that it is something that can be manipulated and managed. There are varying views as to how this can be achieved but common to these views is that it is ling term and complex!
  • Brown (1995) notes that just as there is no comsensus on the definition of culture, so too, no universally accepted model of culture change exists. Indeed even the subject of ‘change’ has not been universally defined or conceptualised. For this reason he argues that the issues of definition, scale of change, locus of change, the nature of change and the time scales should be considered. It is not in the scope of this study to discus these in any detail but merely to note that in any organisational change ‘allowance’ will need to made for these factors.
  • Of relevance is the role of learning and unlearning in organisation culture change. The need to take on or dispense with particular behaviours is likely to result in heightened anxiety. Brown (1995) refers to the need people have to reduce any work related pain. The start up, ‘winding down’ or restructuring of an organisation is going to lead to uncertainty, which in turn will be associated with trauma, and lead further to anxiety. According to Brown (1995) the avoidance of ‘pain’ can be problematic in that in these circumstances it is not only difficult to undo but is potentially a barrier to improved culture and organisation effectiveness.
  • The need to change culture is often precipitated by an economic, social technical or political event that requires a change in strategy and culture need to be congruent for it to be effective. Further, culture may serve different functions at different times. In the formative stage of an organisation it serves as the ‘glue’ that holds the organisation together and attempts to change this will be strongly resisted. It takes on its own meaning and life which if not in synchrony with the environment the organisation will sink. A mature organisation that might need to change in response to environmental influences will also encounter resistance from its members. The process will, in any event, be painful and may even necessitate removal of certain of the people to make the changes possible. Further, it is noted that no single successful change technique exists and that these may range from subtle persuasive approaches to issuing of edicts. In any event the resultant feeling among members will be pain.


Organisational culture is a complex phenomenon, usually related to shared values and shared meanings in an organisation, but also related to common ways of dealing with, or ignoring commonly experienced problems. It is a form of commonsense, an outcome of cultural processes at work in a particular setting. The benefits of paying Attention to culture are that it focuses on people but in particular on the symbolic significance of almost every aspect of organisational life. It emphasizes shared meanings, even if implicit, and alerts us to the influencing potential of values, beliefs, ideology, language,  norms, ceremonies, rituals, myths and stories. It constructs leaders as shapers of meaning. It also emphasizes the importance of how others perceive us; and it alerts us to the fact that organisational environments are also socially constructed.

From this evaluation one can only conclude that corporate culture is a very real and powerful force which must be recognised by employer and employee alike. The individual must assess the culture of a company in order to determine whether they will “fit in”.  Similarly a company must carefully select its employees. Failure to recognise the power of corporate culture in an organisation will surely lead to the demise of the business. Companies can no longer treat corporate culture as a soft cost.

Management needs to take heed and cognizance of the organisation’s culture and learn how to effectively manage it to ensure sustainable profitability and long term success.

Aligning culture with strategy presents a strong challenge. The first step is to diagnose which facets of the present culture are strategy-supportive and which are not. Then, there must be some innovative thinking about concrete actions management can take to modify the cultural environment and create a stronger fit with the strategy. It is recommended that a “culture audit” be undertaken as part of the Strategic Planning Process.

CORPORATE CULTURE – Use it with care, ignore it at your peril.

If cultural management is not a standard part of business practice then so much of the so-called: improvement, streamlining, revision of business practices and all the other myriad changes involved in the development and flourishing of an organisation, are doomed to fail. This is because they will always be sabotaged by the unstated prevailing presuppositions of the old culture and its habits.

In short, for any business to begin to thrive, for any public service to begin to efficiently serve, for any nation to take its place as a player on the world stage, the cultures at work within its industries, businesses, unions, government departments, and even within the nation as a whole must be examined, understood and managed, to deliver the results its people are striving for.”


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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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