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Organisational Culture and Why You Should Never Ignore It

Editorial Team
16/11/2020 3:07 PM

What is Organisational Culture?

Edgar Schein (2004)
describes organizational culture as “the pattern of
shared basic assumptions - invented, discovered, or developed by a given group
as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal
integration - that has worked well enough to be considered valid and,
therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think,
and feel in relation to those problems” (Schein 2004, p17). It is evident that
Culture is built through shared learning and mutual experience.

The culture of an organisation is its personality and character. Organizational culture is made up of shared values, beliefs
and assumptions about how people should behave and interact, how decisions
should be made and how work activities should be carried out. Key factors in an
organisation’s culture include its history and environment as well as the
people who lead and work for it.

Why is Organsiational
Culture Important?

An understanding of organizational culture
is essential for effective leadership. Leaders and managers will be better
placed to implement strategy and achieve their goals if they understand the
culture of their organization. Strategies that are inconsistent with organizational culture are likely to meet with resistance
and will be more difficult or even impossible to implement, while strategies
that are in line with it will be easier to put into effect and more likely to

It is often difficult to specify what exactly drives a particular
culture, but easier to observe its effects – for example, the culture of an
informal small software company may be quite different from that of a large
financial corporation and different again from that of a hospital or a

To gain an understanding of the culture of an organization, its written
and unwritten rules should be examined alongside the relationships, values, and
behaviors displayed by its people. The foundation of
effectively shifting or evolving culture does not come from popular approaches

  • Defining values and “aligning” everything in the
    organization to them (even though this approach is widely advocated)
  • Training masses of people on values and expected
  • Focusing on clarity and alignment, engagement, or
    other areas of the work climate
  • Focusing on improving a few systems like hiring,
    performance management, or reward and recognition

shows that lasting culture change will likely include work in some or all of
the areas mentioned above but engaging leadership and the broader organization
in a journey of shared learning and mutual experience is at the
core of effective culture change or shaping efforts. Leadership is
critical in codifying and maintaining an organizational purpose, values, and
vision. Leaders must set the example by living the elements of culture: values,
behaviors, measures, and actions. Values are meaningless without other

The focus of any organizational culture
intervention is not culture only but on how is culture affecting the
achievement of specific business outcomes desired by the organization.  The whole culture change process should be
grounded in shared learning; that is why the desired culture will emerge and be
supported. Every stakeholder involved in the culture change program must see
the need to support because they will see immediate benefits for themselves and
the organization.

Culture Profiles

There are four (4) broad organizational culture profiles as illustrated
in the diagram below. The overall current and desired organizational culture
profiles should be interpreted in the context of the key business

1: Organisational Culture Profiles

The Clan Culture
A very friendly place to
work where people share a lot of themselves. It is like an extended family.
The leaders or head of the organization are considered to be mentors and
maybe even, parent figures. The organization is held together by loyalty or
tradition. Commitment is high. The organization emphasizes the long term
benefit of human resource development and attaches great importance to
cohesion and morale. Success is defined in terms of sensitivity to customers
and concern for people. The organization places a premium on teamwork,
participation, and consensus.

The Adhocracy Culture
A dynamic entrepreneurial
and creative place to work. People stick their necks out and take risks. The
leaders are considered to be innovators and risk-takers. The glue that holds
the organization together is a commitment to experimentation and innovation.
The emphasis is on being on the leading edge. The organization’s long term
emphasis is on growth and acquiring new resources. Success means gaining
unique and new products or services. Being a product or service leader is
important. The organization encourages individual initiative and freedom

The Hierarchy Culture
A very formalized and
structured place to work. Procedures govern what people do. The leaders pride
themselves on being good coordinators and organizers who are efficiency-minded.
Maintaining a smooth-running organization is most critical. Formal rules and
policies hold the organization together. The long term concern is on
stability and performance with efficient, smooth operations. Success is
defined in terms of dependable delivery, smooth scheduling, and low cost. The
management of employees is concerned with secure employment and

The Market Culture
A results-oriented
organization. The major concern is getting the job done. People are competitive
and goal-oriented. The leaders are hard drivers, producers, and competitors.
They are tough and demanding. The glue that holds the organization together
is an emphasis on winning. Reputation and success are common concerns. The
long term focus is on competitive actions and the achievement of measurable
goals and targets. Success is defined in terms of market share and
penetration. Competitive pricing and market leadership are important. The
organizational style is hard-driving competitiveness.

Source: Edgar Schein (2004)

It is useful for you to know your organization’s culture type because
organizational success depends on the extent to which your culture matches the
demands of the competitive environment. 
As an example, a firm with a dominant clan culture and weak market
culture operating in a highly competitive, aggressive industry may find it
difficult to survive due to the mismatch between culture and environment. 

The culture profile will reveal what kind of leadership attributes are
most valued, what behaviors are most likely to be recognized and rewarded, what
kinds of management styles are preferred. It allows you to check how compatible
this culture is with the long term goals. The following six comparison
standards should be used to interpret your culture profiles.

  1. The
    type of culture that dominates the organization and each of the business units
  2. Discrepancies
    between your current and preferred culture
  3. The
    strength of the culture type that dominates your organization
  4. The
    congruence of the culture profiles generated on different attributes
  5. A comparison
    of your organizational culture profile with the average culture profile in a similar
  6. Comparison
    of your culture profiles against high performing organizations

Culture cannot be assessed through a survey or questionnaires alone.
Survey views are normally viewed as cultural artifacts and as a reflection of
the organization’s climate, but they
do not tell you anything about the deeper values or shared assumptions that are
in operation.   Any assessment of
organizational culture should identify first cultural assumptions, then assess
them in terms of whether they are a strength or a constraint on what the organization
is trying to achieve.

It is much easier to capitalize on the strengths of the culture than to overcome the constraints by changing the culture.  In assessing it important that we are sensitive to the presence of subcultures and also determine their relevance to what the organization is trying to achieve.   Culture should always be assessed at the artifacts, espoused values, or share tacit assumptions level.  The importance of getting to the assumption level derives from the insights that unless you understand the shared tacit assumptions, you cannot explain the discrepancies that always surface between the espoused values and those observed behavioral artifacts. 

Unraveling the Culture Artefacts

The most visible level of culture is its artifacts and creations,
consisting of its constructed physical and social environment. These are the
tangible aspects shared by members of an organizational group, including
verbal, behavioral, and physical attributes. Also included, are things such as
the language, myths, rituals, symbols and ceremonies, technology, and art used
by an organization. From the standpoint of the uninitiated observer, it is easy
to observe artifacts but it is difficult to figure out what they mean, how they
interrelate, and what deeper patterns if any, they reflect (Schein 2004).

Identify Espoused Values

The key question here is; why are you doing what are you doing?
Responses to this question normally elicit value statements e.g. we believe
it’s good to have a hierarchy, we believe every employee can contribute. As
these value statements are being said we will check for consensus with the
company’s written values.  Different
values may emerge from different groups. In such cases where a group has
different espoused values, there is a need to dig deeper into why such
differences exist.  We encourage the
group to look at all the artifacts they have identified and to figure out as
best as they can what values seem to be implied.

Identify Share Tacit Assumptions

To check for underlying cultural assumptions we first check whether the
espoused values that have been identified explain all of the artifacts or
whether things that have been described as going on have clearly not been
explained or are in conflict with some of the values articulated.

Carl Tapi is a
Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a management and
human resources consulting firm. https://www.linkedin.com/in/carl-tapi-45776482/
Phone +263 (242) 481946-48/481950 or cell number +263 772 469 680 or email:
carl@ipcconsultants.com  or visit our
website at www.ipcconsultants.com

Editorial Team

This article was written by one of the consultants at IPC

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