Posted on: February 1, 2011 Posted by: Diane Swarts Comments: 0

Corporate culture changes due to factors like events, ownership, climate, work types, aims, employees, size, and political background, writes David Crawford.

Culture could be surveyed, measured and changed via several of these factors, usually by instigating continuous processes in training, attitudes, actions, and communication of values, writes David Crawford, CEO of QSI, in a workshop manual on culture measurement and culture change, presented at Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC).

Categories of cultural factors rarely work in isolation, and are in turn influenced by the resultant dynamic culture itself.

Aims, attitudes, and even the history of organisations are changed as certain events or anecdotes are edited out of discussions, and organisational ‘folklore’ takes its own course.

Endeavoring to define culture is challenging. It could be termed ‘a system of shared values and beliefs that interact with a company’s people, structures, and control systems to produce behavioral norms’.

Business has three distinct phases of development; entrepreneurial, if regarded as leaders; mechanistic when followers, and dynamic when continuing to gain market share.

Most organiations never progress beyond a mechanistic phase. Leadership in organisations today mostly have a background of bean counting, and by nature of their profession are risk adverse, driving organisations to a supposed vision and paradigm shift by looking in a rear view mirror in current world markets.

Eight culture factors

Culture surveys have to attempt to account for the eight major corporate cultural factors:

• Events. The age of the organisation could influence the culture, since companies evolve through a number of phases. Older organisations have more history, traditions and folklore that shape the values, beliefs and attitudes of people as they are passed down.

• Ownership. Culture is usually influenced by the nature of the owners; a family, a bank, influential shareholders, or a corporate group. Change in the ownership brings a new set of objectives, new senior managers and new policies.

• Current Climate. The nature of the market, competition, geographical location and economic factors are usually major influences. Regions and countries have traditions and preferred work methods. Threats of major changes in supply, demand, merger, takeover, war or natural disaster, even sport teams winning or losing could influence corporate culture for some time.

• Nature of work. Surveys of sub cultures in organisations reveal that the type of work in which the people are engaged, affects the organisational culture. Culture in an engineering company is different from that of a manufacturer, logistics chain, retail, forestry or mine. Technology used and lifestyle is dictated by work demands, like shifts, travel, physical fitness, contact with clients. Each profession and job comes with its own cultural elements and content, as in nuclear, rail, and aviation.

• Organisational aims. Main objectives of an organisation are rarely as clearly defined as outsiders, or even employees may expect. It is necessary to ask many questions before a clear picture emerges. How important is each of the stated aims of profit, survival, growth, market share, ethics, social investment? In Southern Africa, some of the strongest cultures are in organisations founded on spiritual or religious principles. Objectives and goals are, in turn, also influenced by culture, and it may be difficult to determine the major influences on aims and thus on culture.

• Types of employees. Some organisations make visitor uncomfortable, some make visitors feel at ease. Even with advanced techniques of recruitment, managers ask themselves whether recruits would ‘fit in’, so culture asserts itself even before recruitment.

• Organisational size dictates the way in which systems need to be developed to support the work. Large organisations often have well developed policies and procedures that affect the attitudes of people, and hence culture.

• Political climate. The culture of an organisation can be affected externally by national politics. In South Africa, organisations have to be forced to invest in their people through levies, due to old military styled management philosophies of Taylorism; “I do the thinking, you just do the doing”. Affirmative action to compensate for unjust systems of the past, could bring negative perceptions and its own set of injustices and it has done much to the detriment of our electricity supply with its negative effect on our overall national economy.

Culture types

Most people could readily describe the culture of the organisation in which they work, but would find difficult to define the word. Employees ‘just know what feels right’ in the organisation or ‘the way things are done here’.

Corporate culture is determined by common values of members. Employees have a shared set of beliefs about the environment in which they work and the way in which work should be done. The stronger these beliefs, attitudes and values are, the stronger is the culture of the organisation.

Occasionally, senior managers would say things like; ‘We need to change the culture here first’, when discussing implementation of a continuous improvement process, like workplace health and safety performance improvement. Change management plays a vital role in deploying any new initiative in an organisation, and culture issues have to be understood to entrench any new initiative.

There are various ways to categorise cultural types. A categorisation by R Harrison is one of the most widely recognised;

• Power Culture: Centralised power source in a family, owner or group office. It attempts to dominate the environment and managers strive for complete control over subordinates. It aims at being highly competitive and aggressive.

• Role Culture: Bureaucratic, emphasising procedures, functionality, status, predictability and respectability. Stability is the norm.

• Task Culture: Getting the job done. Authority is based on knowledge and competence, collaboration is sought to fulfill tasks. The organisation changes and responds rapidly to market needs.

• People Culture: Service to members. Needs of individuals are paramount. Authority is rarely assigned to individuals and decisions are made by consensus.Corporate culture surveys.

Culture change steps

Corporate culture contains four main elements; Basic assumptions, Values, Norms, and Artifacts. Major steps in a process to change these culture elements are:

Step 1; Senior management agree on the reasons why change is necessary.

Step 2; Identify specific changes required. Diagnose the present situation, covering strengths and weaknesses in ultimate results like customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction.

Techniques like culture surveys, interviews, systems audits and cost of quality analysis could be useful in diagnosis. Outputs from such a survey must help everyone understand the organisation’s current position, and provide a baseline against which improvements could be measured.

Step 3; Plan a strategy to effect the defined change. Implement processes, usually in problem solving, process improvement, management style, supported by education, training, communication, review, again relying on the same metrics used in the culture survey.

Define a desired future position, or a renewed vision, in the medium term of three to five years. Include measurable targets, in the same terms as the current diagnosis.

Six culture changes

Culture change usually requires changes in people, process, structure, measurement, decision making, and information.

•  People. Not only people are required to change, in order to change culture. Many other aspects need to change to influence and sustain behaviour. Changing the knowledge, skills and attitudes of the people, and ultimately values and culture, is a complex task, involving training, education, communication by several media, role models, task teams, interviews, redeployment, and recruitment. It is often stated people resist or fear change, but they only resist badly managed change.

• Processes. Streamline and measure processes, and raise awareness of interlinked functions.

•  Structure. Hierarchy and segmentation may have to change. If empowerment and innovation are important in the new culture, remove some layers of management.

• Measurement. The way that metrics are applied, impacts on the behaviour of people. Check that metrics are really driving desired behaviour.

• Decision making. Measure the organisation’s decision-making for being aligned to structure and new culture.

• Information. Measure corporate information sources, relevance, quality, flow, and effect.

Culture runs deep

Over a period, a culture may no longer be appropriate to an organisation, as in some state owned utility companies, or small professional practice with strong people cultures.

Growth brings a need for new systems and culture change. Culture survey is one of the steps in the required process.
Corporate culture is the pattern of assumptions, values, and norms shared by organisational members. Research has shown that culture can affect strategy formulation and implementation, as well as the firm’s ability to achieve high levels of performance.

Culture change involves helping senior executives and administrators to diagnose existing culture and to make necessary alterations in the basic assumptions and values underlying organisational behavior.

Changes must go beyond making the existing organisation better, or fine-tuning the status quo. The organisation is concerned with fundamentally altering the taken-for-granted assumptions underlying how the organisation relates to its environment and functions.

Changing these assumptions entails significant shifts in corporate philosophy and values and in the numerous structures and organisational arrangements that shape members’ behaviors. Change fundamentally alters the qualitative nature of organisations.

Culture change is a long, slow process and a consistent approach is essential to avoid confusion during the culture survey and change process.

• This report is based on a full and referenced workshop, titled ‘Managing organisational change’, led by David Crawford in 2003 in Kuwait.

• David J Crawford (FSASQ, CQP, SMASQC) is CEO of four organisations, including QSI. He is a founder member and former director of the South African Society for Quality (SASQ) and past executive director of SAATCA.


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