What do cultures do?

It is already attributed to organizational cultures impact on behavior. A strong culture should be associated with reduced turnover. In this article, we will further review the functions that culture performs and assess whether culture can be liability for an organization.

Culture’s Functions:

Culture performs a number of functions within an organization. First, it has a boundary-defining role; that is, it creates distinctions between one organization and other. Second, it conveys a sense of identity for organization members. Third, culture facilitates the generation of commitment to something larger than one’s individual self interest. Fourth, it enhances the stability of the social system. Culture is the social glue that helps hold the organization together by providing appropriate standards for what employees should say and do. Finally, culture serves as a sense making and control mechanism that guides and shapes the attitudes and behavior of employees. It is this last function that is of particular interest to us. As the following quote makes clear, culture defines thru less of the game

Culture by definition is elusive, intangible, implicit and taken for granted. But every organization develops a core set of assumptions, understanding and implicit rules that govern day-to-day behavior in the workplace. Until newcomers learn the rules, they are not accepted as full fledged members of the organization. Transgressions of the rules on the part of high level executives or front line employees result in universal disapproval and powerful penalties. Conformity to the rules becomes the primary basis for reward and upward mobility.

The role of culture in influencing employee behavior appears to be increasingly important in today’s workplace. As organizations have widened spans of control, flattened structures, introduced teams reduced formalization and empowered employees. The shared meaning provided by a strong culture ensures that everyone is pointed in the same direction.

Who receives a job offer to join the organization, who is appraised as a high performer, and who gets the promotion are strongly influenced by the individual organization “fit” that is, whether the applicant or employee’s attitudes and behavior are compatible with the culture. It’s not a coincidence that employees at Disney theme parks appear to be almost universally attractive, clean, and wholesome looking with bright smiles. That’s the image Disney seeks. The company selects employees who will maintain that image. And on the job, a strong culture, supported by formal rules and regulation ensures that Disney theme park employees will act in a relatively uniform and predictable way.

Culture as a liability:

The culture is treated in a non-judgmental manner and we are not saying that it is good or bad but only that it exists. Many of its functions, as outlined are valuable for both the organization and the employee. Culture enhances organizational commitment and increase the consistency of employee behavior. These are clearly benefits to an organization. From an employee’s standpoint, culture is valuable because it reduces ambiguity. It tells employees how things are done and what’s important. But we shouldn’t ignore the potentially dysfunctional aspects of culture, especially a strong one, on an organization’s effectiveness.

A Case:

High turnover even in the managerial ranks is fairly common in the restaurant industry. So the fact that Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., a seafood restaurant and chain with 14 locations lost no general managers during 2002 was quite a feat. How did the company do it? Company president and chief executive, Scott Barnett, gives credit to Bubba’s strong culture.

He says “we believe that people make the difference. Almost every decision we make has a people elements to it. People are discussed some might say, ad nauseam. But it is so critical to us that we have people in the right places”.

The company is obsessed with finding individuals who will embrace the chain’s strong devotion to food and respect for people. They have tried to create an atmosphere where people feel respected by people in the company and by the people that run it. People need to feel they can make a difference. Then you are empowered and that counts for a lot. There has to be integrity about the company. People are excited about being there. If they feel they are getting some thing and doing something they want to do and the organization is behind them, issues about long workdays and all that become less of a problem.

A powerful device for hiring the right people at Bubba Group is the job interview. The firm calls it a working interview. Job candidates are required to work on the floor. They greet customers at tables, help run food, see how the kitchen operates and get a look at what working at the restaurant is like. This gives prospective employees realistic insights into the company’s culture and the job they will be doing. It also gives management an opportunity to see how well the candidate fits in with staff and customers.

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