Definition of Culture
An organization’s culture is the shared ideologies, philosophies, beliefs, assumptions, attitudes, expectations and norms. Culture is the social glue that binds members of the organization together. It provides consistency to an organization by integrating the diverse elements into a coherent set of beliefs, values, assumptions and consequent behaviors. Culture can vary considerably across different organizations, e.g, one organizations culture may emphasize risk taking, another treatment of employees or customers, focus on teamwork, conflict resolution etc. the sources of what characterizes culture also varies. It may for example originate from the values of founders, reward systems that have been put in place, effects of competitors etc.
LEVELS OF CULTURE.
Culture exists on two different levels;
The invisible culture often has two sources,
- The vision, assumptions, beliefs, values and biases of the organization founders.
- The outlook that the initial employees learnt from their own experiences during the formative years
The visible level is the observable culture which, besides obvious manifestations such as slogans, manner of dress and office layouts is expressed in symbols, rites and rituals, heroes, stories etc.
Symbols- a symbol is an object, act, quality or event that conveys meaning to others. in an organization, symbols convey its most important values. Eg, it can be a trophy that is presented annually to the department that has shown greatest improvement.
Stories- A story is a narrative based on true events and which is repeated often in order to emphasize a particular value. Stories are oral histories that are told over and over by members about the organizations history
Heroes- a hero is a person whose accomplishments embody the values of the organization. The accomplishments of heroes past and present are put forth to motivate other employees to do the right thing.
Rites and Rituals/ceremonies– These are the activities and ceremonies which celebrate important occasions and accomplishments in the organizations life.
IMPORTANCE OF CULTURE
Culture can powerfully shape an organizations long term success. If employees know what their company stands for and what standards they are to uphold, then they are very likely to make decisions that will support the standards. They are also more likely to feel that they are an important part of the organization.
An organizations culture has four key functions;
- It gives members of an organization an identity
This can happen for example when top executives constantly reinforce specific company messages e.g. that workers should be treated like customers in which case the employees whose contributions exceed expectations are continually celebrated.
- It facilitates collective commitment
A company can facilitate collective commitment by placing value on making employees feel proud to belong to that organization.
3. It promotes social system stability.
The more effectively change and conflicts are managed in an organization, and the more the employees perceive the work environment to be positive and reinforcing, the more stable the social system within an organization.
- It shapes behaviors by helping employees make sense of their surroundings.
Culture helps employees understand why the organization does what it does and how it intends to accomplish its long term goals. Sometimes culture can be strong enough to take the place of structure; i.e. the expectations of culture replace formal rules and regulations.
In such cases, the sense of orderliness and predictability that employees look to for guidance are provided by the culture rather than by a rule book.
Determinants of Culture
There are a number of factors that determine the type of culture that will develop in an organization, they include;
.1. History of the organization
An organization’s culture is in a way independent from most individuals in an organization. There are certain elements that existed before individuals join the organization and they continued to exist after the individuals leave the organization. They could include: the values of the founders.
- Type of leadership
Type of leadership that evolves in an organization will have an impact on the culture that develops e.g. A company that has authoritarian leadership will evolve a very different culture from that a democratic leadership.
3 Size of the organization
Size influences the culture that develops in terms of the formalities required in the operations of the organization. A large organization will have very different operations from a small one.
- Goals and objectives of the organization
The goals and objectives that an organization sets out to achieve will also influence the culture that develops e.g. A service oriented company with customer satisfaction as its main objective will emphasize on customer service skills and develop a distinct culture from a technical oriented organization will emphasize technical in its operations.
- Environment of the organization
An organization’s environment is made up of several independent and interdependent elements e.g. Community, competitors, government etc.
The way an organization chooses to interact with each of the elements in its environment will influence the way it organizes itself and will shape the culture that develops.
Creating a Culture of Total Quality in an Organization
The term total quality is associated with long term organization wide efforts to create a culture that facilitates production of quality goods and services.
The culture of TQM is characterized by the key value of customer satisfaction which leads to efforts directed at continuous improvement. These efforts are most likely to occur when workers are empowered by their leaders who must demonstrate a special style of leadership.
Elements of Total Quality
- customer satisfaction
- continuous improvement
- worker empowerment
- quality leadership
The customer is at the centre of all the TQM activities. The underlying assumption is that customer satisfaction is the best indication of quality products and services. Efforts to improve quality begin by listening to customers in order to identify their needs, preferences and expectations. This information is then translated into specifications for a product or service that has high demand.
TQM programs foster continuous improvement in both an organization’s products and the processes used for creating them. Continuous improvement attempts to reduce the cost of quality by instituting measures to prevent poor quality. The measures guard against failure which lead to Defective products, Customer complaints and returned products.
Companies try to create a zero defect product by performing the jobs right the first time. In order to identify truly excellent processes companies may bench mark selected processes at competitors or other industry leaders.
Bench marking involves gathering data about how well a company is performing in comparison to an excellent company in specific areas. The results help to create strategies for improvement.
TQM places great emphasis on including all employees in its culture because of their role in continuous improvement. Employees are organized for improvement by creating self managing work teams and high performance teams. Once they are empowered they are expected to pay attention to specific quality related problems in their normal work.
They are also able to perform their jobs better and improve organisational functioning.
They can be empowered by:
- training them
- Involving them in decision making.
Quality depends on a top leadership that has a vision for excellence which it translates into organizational practices. Such practices include:
- Communicating the importance of each employee contribution to total quality.
- Stressing the quality related synergies available through cooperation and teamwork.
- Empowering employees to make a difference
- Reinforcing individual and team commitment to quality with a wide range of rewards and reinforcements.
Changing an organization’s culture
An organization’s culture should be periodically diagnosed to determine whether it supports achievement of organizational goals. If it does not then it can be changed.
In order to change culture, top executives need to win over the other managers and employees who may be very comfortable with the existing culture.
There are numbers of models recommended for changing culture. One such model is referred to as the five guideline model. It suggests the following five guidelines which can lead to culture change.
- Develop a clear vision of the organization’s future direction and the culture required to achieve it.
- Ensure top management support for the recommended change in the culture.
- Allow the top managers to model the new culture for subordinates by changing their behavior to reflect the desired values, expectations and norms.
- Make changes in an organization’s culture by concentrating on the key element e.g. Organizational HR policies and systems, communication patterns management styles and practices in order to support the shift in culture.
- Select and socialize the new comers to fit into the new culture. Retrain or terminate existing employees who fail to change to fit in the new culture.