An Organizational Culture Solution: An Introduction to Organizational Culture

By Maretha Prinsloo on September 9, 2019

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“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” Peter Drucker

This 4-part article discusses the elusive topic of organizational values and culture under the following headings:

  • An introduction to what organizational culture entails
  • A theoretical perspective on consciousness, values and culture
  • Practical guidelines for the implementation of a HR culture solution
  • Some research findings

Definition

An organizational culture can be described in terms of how people perceive, organize and act on information, in other words, the collectively shared values, norms, beliefs and attitudes which determine the nature of all interpersonal transactions as well as the characteristics of the business processes involved. The development of these collective values, worldviews and perceptual systems may be rooted in personal, historical, environmental and broader cultural factors.

 

Values

The concepts of values and culture are thus of critical importance for talent management purposes in organisations. Plato described value in terms of truth, goodness and beauty. The Oxford dictionary describes value as “The regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.” According to Clare Graves, who developed the Spiral Dynamics theory, values can be regarded as core intelligences that guide the perceptions, behaviour and decisions of people.

The culture of an organisation is normally organized around core values or themes, such as belonging, power, structure, value creation, relationships, the big picture or spiritual transcendence. The way in which an organizational culture emerges is normally dictated by the broader socio-cultural and business milieu as well as by leadership. Given their specific value orientations, potential employees are naturally attracted to compatible organizational cultures.
Cultural diversity, or individual and group differences rooted in a variety of mental models and value orientations, can effectively be capitalised on in the workplace. It can, however, also be at the root of conflict, misunderstanding or a sense of personal alienation.

Challenges related to organizational culture include, for example:

  • inappropriate leadership;
  • ineffective management practices;
  • discouraged or demotivated employees;
  • inadequate performance due to work ethic;
  • low job security and/or high employee turnover;
  • insufficient functional integration;
  • structural limitations due to bureaucracy, communication barriers, social cliques and political polarisation;
  • counter-productive power dynamics related to the coercive use of: positional power, referent power, information power, reward and punishment power, connection or “buddy” power and nepotism as well as the influence of alternative authority;
  • interpersonal bias and discrimination based on gender, age, race or religious factors;
  • the problematic strategic legitimacy of stakeholder demands;
  • moral-ethical decay; as well as
  • organizational stagnation and/or bleak business prospects.

Within a well-managed or favourable organizational culture, interpersonal trust and collaboration, based on the compatible and complementary worldviews of the role players, optimise the system’s performance. To quote Johann Gevers: “Where there is trust, the impossible becomes possible. Where there is distrust the possible becomes impossible.” There is thus much to say for matching the value orientations of people to that of their teams, leaders, customers and the requirements of their work.

To effectively deal with people issues in the workplace, talent managers thus need to understand what people value; what they find interesting and energising; how they will relate to one another; where they would feel comfortable yet stimulated enough to perform optimally; and whether they can fit into an organization’s culture.

This series of articles briefly focuses on the theoretical underpinnings, measurement and management of the valuing systems of individuals and groups. In addition, a selection of case studies is summarised in order to demonstrate the nature of organizational culture and the nature of cultural diversity in the workplace.

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