More on Organisational Culture

A few blog entries ago, I discussed the issue of organisational culture and how business and marketing planning can be affected by the culture of an organisation.  Organisational culture is a critical element in the success of business plans so I have no reservations in returning to the subject.

So how do you recognise the dominant culture in your organisation?

Well, as discussed in previous blog entries, there are several factors to an organisation’s culture including:

  • Organisation’s purpose and goals;
  • The external environment;
  • Organisational policies;
  • Rules and procedures;
  • Organisational structure;
  • Employees skills and attitudes:
  • Use of technology:
  • Decision-making mechanisms:
  • Communication channels:
  • Societal norms.

Organisations get into difficulty when they try to impose an organisational culture over pre-existing cultural norms.  A good example is when American banks opened offices in Spain.  The banks tried to enforce the American working day (usually 8 am to 6 pm) on their Spanish employees.  They ignored the Spanish tradition of the siesta.  The banks soon found that employees were falling asleep at their desks.  This had nothing to do with the staff being lazy.  In Spain, the working day is different.  Most people in Spain start work at around 7am.  They stop work at noon and go home for the siesta.  They then return to work at 4pm and work through to 7pm.  Most Spaniards eat their evening meal at around 10pm.  Then they socialise, either with friends or at a local club or bar.  They usually don’t retire until after 1am.

The Spanish pattern of life means that the hottest part of the day is avoided.  The workers at American banks worked an eight to six-day, but outside work they continued the hours expected in Spanish society.  Not having the siesta meant they were collapsing with tiredness.  The American banks had to change their working hours to meet Spanish culture.

In creating business and marketing plans, you need to ask some probing questions:

  1.  Is your organisational culture represented in your mission statement; the over-riding statement on the direction of your business and its purpose?
  2. What are the symbols of your organisational culture?  Who/what are your organisation’s heroes, rituals, values?
  3. What are the core values that define your organisation?
  4. Do your managers have cultural awareness? Do managers know the likely effect of organisational culture on the rules, procedures and technologies you want to implement?

The sociologist Charles Handy describes four generic types of organisational culture:

  1. Power Culture: Control emanates from the centre. Organisations can be very political but also very entrepreneurial.  Power from the control of resources and personal power predominate.  Often power is in the hands of a figurehead (who may not be the nominated head of the organisation).
  2. Role Culture:  This is the classical organisational culture and can it can be bureaucratic in nature.  Roles are more important than people.  Position power predominates; expert power is tolerated.  Culture serves the power of the structure.
  3. Task Culture:  The focus is on completing the job at hand.  Expertise is valued and predominates.  Personal and positional power is also important.  A unified focus on the task means collaboration and teamwork is highly valued.
  4. Person Culture:  The organisation is a loose collection of individuals, usually professionals, who share common facilities.  The individuals own goals dominate.  Power is not an issue and the culture serves the need of individuals.

We can all think of examples where the four organisational cultures described by Handy exist.   His power culture reminds me of many UK businesses in the 1970s where power over the organisation’s direction existed with union and staff representatives rather than nominated managers; Many local authorities and central government departments exhibit role culture;  The arrival of Japanese car makers in the UK shifted the industry to a task culture; an organisations such as medical practices, barristers’ chambers, architectural practices have a person culture.

Following Handy, there has been significant subsequent research into organisational cultures.  Hofstade found that cultural differences were often exhibited within the practices of competing organisations rather than the values of those organisations.  He found that cultural practices had six dimensions:

  1. On an axis between process orientation and results orientation where culture is focused on means at one end of the spectrum and the culture is focused on results at the other.
  2. On an axis between employee orientation versus job orientation; where the concern is for people at one end of the spectrum as opposed to task results at the other end.
  3. Parochial versus professional: do the members of the organisation see themselves as individual professionals or are they simply another cog in the machine, part of an organisational group?
  4. Open social system versus a closed social system: Is the organisation open to newcomers or does their arrival raise suspicions? Is the organisation inward-looking or does it have an external view.  Is the organisation secretive or is information open to all?
  5. Local control versus tight control from the centre:  Are strict observance to matters such as costs and timelines required or is there a more relaxed attitude to such issues?
  6. Do you have a narrative or pragmatic approach to customers?  Do you always require strict adherence to rules or will you bend them to meet the needs of customers.  Do you impose a strict code of ethics or is it flexible to meet the wants of customers?

Turner (1997) described four organisation types based on person focus or task focus; egalitarian attitude or hierarchical structure:

  • Incubator:  Such organisations are person orientated and egalitarian.  These organisations dislike hierarchies and prefer role equality.  Spontaneous relationships develop and creativity is engaged.  This equates to Handy’s person culture.
  • Family:  These organisations are people-oriented but hierarchical.  |There is a culture of paternalism and power is exercised through members of the organisation rather than over them.  This model equates to Handy’s power culture.
  • Guided Missile:  Egalitarian but task-orientated.  Such organisations thrive on successful teamwork and problem-solving.  Members of the organisation have pride in themselves and their professionalism. Equates to Handy’s task culture.
  • Eiffel Tower:  Bureaucratic where tasks and roles sit within a defined hierarchy. Hierarchical but task-orientated.  Relates to Handy’s Role Culture.

“The organisational architect must take account of the informal culture; the norms, values and behaviour patterns that employees collectively support and believe in” (Mumford)

Cultures evolve over time and therefore they can be shaped.  Culture is often a response to organisational problems.

If you are intentionally trying to change an organisation’s culture leadership is key.

To successfully change an organisational culture the following tactics are key:

  1.  Recruit like-minded people
  2. Socialise to instil and sustain ideologies
  3. Use cultural communications in your internal marketing
  4. Use resource allocation the mould culture
  5. Set clear criteria for rewards and discipline
  6. Examine your structure.  Is it a good fit for your desired culture?
  7. Look at your building design.  Are staff in an open plan office or are they hidden away in separate offices creating a silo culture.  Do managers sit amongst the staff or are they hidden behind security doors on the fifth floor?
  8. Describe your desired culture in your mission and goal statements.  Use these statements to form a belief system which provides basic values and a common direction for the organisation and its employees.