Creating and sustaining a culture


An organization’s culture doesn’t pop out of thin air. Once established, it rarely fades away. What forces influence the creation of a culture? What reinforces and sustains these forces once they’re in place? We answer both of these questions in this article.

How a Culture begins

An organization’s current customs, traditions, and general way of doing things are largely due to what it has done before and the degree of success it has had with those endeavors. This leads us to the ultimate source of an organization’s culture: its founders.

The founders of an organization traditionally have a major impact on that organization’s early culture. They have a vision of what the organization should be. They are not constrained by previous customs or ideologies. The small size that typically characterizes new organizations further facilitates the founders’ imposition of their vision on all organizational members.

Culture creation occurs in three ways. First, founders hire and keep only employees who think and feel the same way they do. Second they indoctrinate and socialize these employees to their way of thinking and feeling. And finally, the founders’ own behavior acts as a role model that encourage employees to identify with them and thereby internalize their beliefs, values and assumptions.

When the organization succeeds, the founders’ vision becomes seen as a primary determinant that success. At this point, the founders’ entire personality becomes embedded in the culture of the organization.

The culture at Hyundai, the giant Korean conglomerate, is largely a reflection of its founder Chung Ju Yung. Hyundai’s fierce, competitive style and its disciplined, authoritarian nature are the same characteristics often used to describe Chung.

Other contemporary examples of founders who have had an immeasurable impact on their organization’s culture would include Bill Gates at Microsoft, Ingvar Kamprad at IKEA, HerbKelleher at Southwest Airlines, Fred Smith at Federal Express, Mary Kay at Mary Kay Cosmetics, and Richard Branson at the Virgin Group.

Keeping a Culture Alive

Three forces play a particularly important part in sustaining a culture: selection practices, the actions of top management, and socialization methods. Once a culture is in place, there are practices within the organization that act to maintain it by giving employees a set of similar experiences.

The selection process, performance evaluation criteria, training and development activities, and promotion procedures ensure that those hired fit in with the culture, reward those who support it, and penalize (and even expel) those who challenge it. Three forces play a particularly important part in sustaining a culture: selection practices, the actions of top management, and socialization methods.

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  • Maj B K Sharma

    Very good very informative thanks