Culture is a descriptive Term

Organizational culture is concerned with how employees perceive the characteristics of an organization’s culture, not with whether or not they like them. That is, it is descriptive term. This is important because it differentiates this concept from that of job satisfaction.

Research on organizational culture has sought to measure how employees see their organization. Does it encourage teamwork? Does it reward innovation? Does it stifle initiative? In contrast job satisfaction seeks to measure affective responses to the work environment. It is concerned with how employees feel about the organization’s expectations reward practices and the like. Although the two terms undoubtedly have overlapping characteristics keep in mind that the term organizational culture is description, while job satisfaction is evaluation.

Do Organizations have Uniform Cultures?

Organizational culture represents a common perception held by the organization’s members. This was made explicit when we defined culture as a system of shared meaning. We should expect, therefore, that individuals with different backgrounds or at different levels in the organization will tend to describe the organization’s culture in similar terms.

Acknowledgement that organizational culture has common properties does not mean, however, that there cannot be sub-cultures within any given culture. Most large organizations have a dominant culture and numerous sets of sub-cultures. A dominant culture expresses the core values that are shared by a majority of the organizations members. When we talk about an organization’s culture we are referring to its dominant culture. It is this macro view of culture that gives an organization its distinct personality. Subcultures tend to develop in large organizations to reflect common problems, situations or experiences that members face. These subcultures are likely to be defined by department designations and geographical separation. The purchasing department, for example, can have a subculture that is uniquely shared by members of that department. It will include the core values of the dominant culture plus additional values unique to members of the purchasing departments. Similarly an office or unit of the organization that is physically separated from the organizations’ main may take on a different personality. Again, the core values are essentials retained, but they are modified to reflect the separated unit’s distinct situation.

If organizations had no dominant culture and were composed only of numerous subcultures the value of organizational culture as an independent variable would be significantly lessened because there would be no uniform interpretation of what represented appropriate and inappropriate behavior It is the shared meaning aspect of cultures that makes it such a potent device for guiding and shaping behavior. That’s allows us to say, for example that Microsoft’s culture values aggressiveness and risk taking and then to use that information to better understand the behavior of Microsoft executives and employees. But we cannot ignore the reality that many organizations also have subcultures that can influence the behavior of members.

Contrasting Organizational Cultures:

Organization A

This organization is a manufacturing firm. Managers are expected to fully document all decisions and good managers are those who can provide detailed data to support their recommendations. Creative decisions that incur significant change or risks are not encouraged. Because managers of failed projects are openly criticized and penalized, managers try not to implement ideas that deviate much from the status quo. One lower level manager quoted an often used phrase in the company: If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Organization B

This organization is also a manufacturing firm. Here, however, management encourages and rewards risk taking and change. Decisions based on intuition are valued as much as those that are well rationalized. Management prides itself on its history of experimenting with new technologies and its success in regularly introducing innovative products. Managers or employees who have a good idea are encouraged to run with it. And failures are treated as learning experiences. The company prides itself on being market driven and rapidly responsive to the changing needs of its customers.