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Organizational Culture

A leader (or leaders) imposes his/her own values and assumptions on a group.  Assumptions become embedded in the organization and become the culture.  The culture now defines leadership and sets the boundaries on what is acceptable.  The organization may experience a changing environment and begin to realize that the current values and assumptions may no longer be totally appropriate.  Now, the challenge for the leader and the organization is to start a process of evolutionary change that leads to change in the culture and values.  The culture must be aligned with the new perceived realities.  Cultural adaptation is a difficult challenge for leaders and organization members.  It begins with an understanding of the dynamics of the present culture and the assumptions that are held by the members of the organization.  Although leaders have an impact in culture, it is only a partial impact.  Organizational culture results from a complex process of individual and group learning.

Culture defined: At the root of all views is that culture is shared or held in common within a social unit.  Words that have been used in defining culture include language, customs, traditions, rituals, norms, values, philosophy, rules, climate, mental models, paradigms, shared meaning, accumulated learning.  For many social groups, culture is what defines the group's reality.  Culture allows us to create congruency with events and our assumptions.

Schein's Level of Culture

  1. Artifacts: Visible organizational structure and processes (interpretations are difficult because of filtering through one's own value system).
  2. Espoused Values: Strategies, goals, philosophies.
  3. Basic Assumptions: Taken for granted beliefs, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings.  They are the source of values and action.  (See also Argyris' concept of  "theory-in-use".)

    According to Schein, culture springs from three sources: (1) the beliefs, values, and assumptions of the founders of the organization; (2) the learning experience of units within the organization; and (3) the new beliefs, values and assumptions held by new members, leaders, and stakeholders.

    In "Organizational Culture and Leadership", Schein sets out the embedding system for culture:

Culture-Embedding Mechanisms
Primary Embedding Mechanisms Secondary Articulation and Reinforcement Mechanisms
What leaders pay attention to, measure and control on a regular basis. Organization design and structure.
How leaders react to critical incidents and organizational crises. Organizational systems and procedures.
Observed criteria by which leaders allocate scarce resources. Organizational rites and rituals.
Deliberate role modeling, teaching, and coaching. Design of physical space, facades, and buildings.
Observed criteria by which leaders rewards and status. Stories, legends, and myths about allocate people and events.
Observed criteria by which leaders recruit, select, promote, retire, and excommunicate organizational members.

Implementation of a new strategy starts with an understanding of organizational culture and ends with a change in this culture to facilitate and embrace the strategy.  Culture allows the adaptive behaviour by the organization necessary for strategy implementation.  The cultural analysis allows us to identify the subculture dynamics, and by doing this we can identify the strategy-critical elements that need to be dealt with for a successful implementation.  A strategy cannot be successfully implemented without understanding the culture of the organization, since the culture of the organization constitutes the main opposition to implementation.  With a few minor exceptions, organizational change means cultural change.

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