How can organisational culture be managed and adapted over time?

8 Minutes
Strategies, challenges, and insights on how to steer the cultural ship of your organisation through the ever-changing business seas.

Ever wondered how some organisations keep up with the times, constantly evolving like chameleons, while others seem stuck in the Stone Age? Well, it's all about the magic sauce – organisational culture. But here's the kicker: managing and adapting this culture over time is like trying to solve a Rubik's Cube blindfolded. 

Understanding the Beast: Organisational culture isn't just a fancy term; it's the lifeblood of your company. It's what makes your team tick and your business unique. But beware, it's as slippery as an eel!

The Change Game: Change is the only constant, right? Your organisational culture needs to be a shape-shifter, adapting to new trends, technologies, and market demands.

Organisational culture, the invisible yet omnipresent force within every company, is akin to a living, breathing entity. It evolves, adapts, and responds to the myriad changes within and outside the organisation. But how can this seemingly intangible aspect be effectively managed and adapted over time? Let's dive into this intricate world, breaking down our exploration into three engaging parts.

Part 1: Understanding the Dynamics of Organisational Culture

The Heartbeat of an Organisation

At its core, organisational culture is the collective values, beliefs, and principles that guide a company's actions and interactions. It's the unwritten code that shapes the way employees think, behave, and work. But why is it so crucial? Well, think of it as the DNA of your organisation – it's what makes your company unique and gives it character.

Organisational culture, the collective values, beliefs, and principles guiding a company's actions, is often likened to the organisation's DNA. It's what makes your company unique and imbues it with character. However, this analogy also brings with it a critical caveat: just as DNA can predispose to certain issues, an unexamined or rigid culture can lead to organizational blind spots or resistance to necessary change.

The Science Behind Culture

Scientifically speaking, organisational culture is more than just a buzzword. Research in organisational behaviour has consistently shown that culture significantly impacts employee satisfaction, performance, and retention. A study by O'Reilly, Chatman, and Caldwell (1991) highlights the importance of cultural congruence – when employees' values align with the organisational culture, magic happens in terms of commitment and efficiency.

While organisational culture significantly impacts employee satisfaction, performance, and retention, it's crucial to approach this with a critical lens. The study by O'Reilly, Chatman, and Caldwell (1991) underscores the benefits of cultural congruence, but this raises a question: What happens when this congruence leads to a homogenized workforce? Critics argue that too much emphasis on cultural fit can stifle diversity and innovation, leading to groupthink and a lack of fresh perspectives.

The Ever-Changing Landscape

Just like a river that never stays the same, organisational culture is constantly in flux, influenced by internal changes and external forces. Whether it's a global pandemic, a shift in leadership, or a change in market dynamics, these factors can profoundly impact the culture of an organisation.

Organisational culture is dynamic, influenced by internal and external factors like leadership changes or market dynamics. However, this fluidity can also be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it allows organizations to adapt and evolve; on the other, it can lead to instability and uncertainty among employees. For instance, during a global pandemic, while some organisations successfully adapted their cultures to remote work, others struggled, leading to decreased morale and productivity.

Part 2: Strategies for Managing and Adapting Organizational Culture

Assessment: The Starting Point

The first step in managing culture is understanding what you're working with. Tools like the Organisational Culture Assessment Instrument (OCAI), developed by Cameron and Quinn, can be invaluable. This tool helps in assessing the current cultural state and identifying areas for improvement.

However, critics point out that such assessments can oversimplify complex cultural dynamics. They argue that culture is not a static entity that can be fully captured in a survey or model. For example, while OCAI provides valuable insights, it may not fully account for subcultures within larger organisations or the nuances of individual experiences.

Leadership: The Culture Champions

Leaders play a pivotal role in shaping and steering organisational culture. Their actions, decisions, and communication styles set the tone. As Schein (2010) argues, leaders are the primary architects of culture. Their commitment to cultural values and their ability to embody these values are crucial in managing and adapting culture.

However, this leader-centric view can sometimes overlook the role of employees in shaping culture. Critics argue that focusing too much on leadership can create a top-down approach, where the richness of culture emerging from the grassroots level is undervalued. For instance, companies like Zappos have shown that empowering employees at all levels to contribute to cultural development can lead to more organic and sustainable cultural growth.

Communication: The Culture Conduit

Effective communication is the lifeblood of a healthy organisational culture. It's not just about cascading information; it's about creating dialogues, encouraging feedback, and fostering an environment of openness. Regular town halls, surveys, and open-door policies can be effective ways to keep the communication channels vibrant and responsive.

However, critics argue that these methods can sometimes become mere formalities, lacking genuine engagement or follow-through. The challenge lies in ensuring that communication leads to actionable change and is not just a box-checking exercise. A case in point is the Volkswagen emissions scandal, where a culture of poor communication and fear of speaking up contributed to unethical decisions.

Training and Development: Cultivating the Culture

Investing in training and development is a powerful way to reinforce the desired cultural traits. Whether it's leadership development programs, team-building activities, or diversity and inclusion training, these initiatives help inculcate the values and behaviours that align with the desired culture.

Critics note that if not carefully aligned with the actual needs and values of employees, such initiatives can feel superficial or even patronizing. The key is to ensure that these programs are not just about imparting the company's values but also about listening to and integrating employees' perspectives. For example, Starbucks' racial-bias training, initiated after a high-profile incident, was a response to public outcry but also reflected a deeper commitment to cultural change.

Part 3: Adapting Culture in a Changing World

Agility: The New Cultural Imperative

In today's fast-paced world, agility is key. Cultures that are rigid and resistant to change are more likely to struggle. Embracing a culture of flexibility, learning, and innovation can help organisations navigate through uncertain times. A study by Jansen, Van Den Bosch, and Volberda (2006) emphasises the importance of cultural adaptability in organisational flexibility and innovation.

Adapting organisational culture over time is crucial for survival and growth. Companies like Netflix and Amazon exemplify this, continuously evolving their cultures to stay relevant and competitive. Nevertheless, critics argue that constant change can lead to a lack of stability, causing confusion and anxiety among employees. The challenge lies in balancing the need for change with the need for a stable, core set of values and practices that employees can rely on.

Diversity and Inclusion: Enriching the Culture

Diversity and inclusion should be more than just a policy; they should be ingrained in the cultural fabric. A diverse workforce brings in fresh perspectives, ideas, and approaches, enriching the organizational culture. Cox and Blake's (1991) research underscores the significance of cultural diversity in enhancing organisational effectiveness.

Incorporating diversity and inclusion into the fabric of organisational culture is increasingly recognised as essential. Diverse perspectives can lead to more innovative solutions and a more inclusive work environment. Yet, critics point out that diversity initiatives often fail to address deeper systemic issues, such as unconscious bias or structural inequalities. For instance, companies like Google have faced criticism for their diversity policies, highlighting the gap between good intentions and effective implementation.

Technology: The Culture Catalyst

In the digital age, technology plays a crucial role in shaping and adapting culture. From collaboration tools to AI-driven analytics, technology can provide insights into cultural trends and employee sentiments, enabling leaders to make informed decisions about cultural interventions.

The integration of technology into organizational culture, especially in the era of remote work, is reshaping how employees interact and work. Tools like Slack and Zoom have become integral, but reliance on technology can also lead to a sense of disconnection and burnout. On the other hand, critics emphasise the need for a balance between digital and personal interactions to maintain a healthy work culture. The pandemic-induced shift to remote work has highlighted both the benefits and challenges of a digitally-driven culture.

The Continuous Journey of Cultural Evolution

Managing and adapting organisational culture is not a one-time task; it's a continuous journey. It requires a blend of strategic thinking, empathetic leadership, and a deep understanding of the human elements that make up the organisation. As we navigate through the complexities of the modern business landscape, the ability to adapt and evolve our cultures will be the defining factor in our success.

Remember, culture is not just about what we do; it's about who we are and who we aspire to be as an organisation. It's the legacy we build, one day at a time.

FAQs

How often should an organisation assess its culture?

An organisation should ideally conduct a cultural assessment annually, but this can vary based on specific circumstances or changes within the organisation. For instance, following major events like mergers, leadership changes, or significant shifts in strategy, more frequent assessments may be beneficial. Regular assessments help in identifying evolving trends, employee sentiments, and areas needing attention. They also provide valuable insights for aligning the culture with the organisation's evolving goals and market demands.

Can organisational culture be changed quickly?

Changing an organisation's culture is typically a slow and complex process. It involves altering deeply ingrained behaviours, norms, and values, which cannot be done overnight. The pace of change depends on various factors, including the size of the organisation, the depth of existing cultural norms, and the extent of change required. Quick changes can often lead to resistance or superficial compliance without genuine buy-in. Effective cultural change requires a strategic approach, involving clear communication, leadership commitment, employee involvement, and often, a shift in policies and practices to support the new direction.

What role do employees play in shaping organisational culture?

Employees are crucial in shaping and sustaining organisational culture. They are not just passive recipients of culture but active participants who reinforce or challenge cultural norms through their daily actions and interactions. Employees contribute to the culture by sharing their values, beliefs, and experiences, which collectively influence the workplace environment. Engaging employees in cultural initiatives, seeking their feedback, and involving them in decision-making processes can lead to a more inclusive and representative culture. Moreover, employees often serve as culture ambassadors, embodying the organisation's values in their interactions with customers and other stakeholders.

How can technology aid in managing organisational culture?

Technology plays a significant role in shaping and managing organisational culture, especially in today's digital age. Digital tools and platforms can enhance communication, allowing for more transparent and frequent interactions between different levels of the organization. Technologies like intranets, social media, and collaboration tools can foster a sense of community and shared purpose. Additionally, data analytics and AI can provide insights into employee engagement, satisfaction, and behaviour patterns, enabling leaders to make informed decisions about cultural interventions. Technology also supports remote and hybrid work models, which are becoming integral to modern organisational cultures.

Further Recommended Reading

If you want to understand more on this topic, then we recommend browsing these articles:

How can organisational culture be improved? - Requiring dedication, commitment, and active involvement from all levels of the organisation.

How do you transform organisational culture? - Explore effective strategies for changing organisational culture, including leadership roles, communication techniques, and learning adaptations.

What role do leaders play in shaping organisational culture? - Leaders are cultural stewards, and their actions, decisions, and interactions set the cultural compass for the entire organisation.

How do you manage multiple subcultures in the workplace? - The question, "Can a Business Have Multiple Cultures?" is more than just a topic for academic debate; it's a reality faced by many organisations.

Can organisational culture be effectively managed and controlled? - Providing CEOs and HR leaders with strategies to master the art of shaping their company's culture for long-term success.

Overcoming toxicity in organisational culture - Learn from success stories and understand the critical steps to foster a healthy, productive workplace environment.

Why and how should organisational culture change? - The journey of cultural change in an organisation is ongoing, dynamic, and essential for sustained success.

References

O'Reilly, C. A., Chatman, J., & Caldwell, D. F. (1991). "People and organizational culture: A profile comparison approach to assessing person-organization fit." Academy of Management Journal, 34(3), 487-516.

Cameron, K. S., & Quinn, R. E. (2006). "Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture: Based on the Competing Values Framework." Jossey-Bass.

Schein, E. H. (2010). "Organizational Culture and Leadership." Jossey-Bass.

Jansen, J. J. P., Van Den Bosch, F. A. J., & Volberda, H. W. (2006). "Exploratory Innovation, Exploitative Innovation, and Performance: Effects of Organizational Antecedents and Environmental Moderators." Management Science, 52(11), 1661-1674.

Cox, T. H., & Blake, S. (1991). "Managing cultural diversity: Implications for organizational competitiveness." Academy of Management Executive, 5(3), 45-56.

Mojo delivers a number of unique benefits for any organisation that cares about its employees.
These include:
<ul>
<li>Improved employee motivation, wellbeing and resilience</li>
<li>Sustainable productivity growth</li>
<li>Talent attraction & retention</li>
<li>Better customer service</li>
<li>The Human Energy Transition<br>
(from Extrinsic to Intrinsic motivation)</li>
</ul>

Mojo is our online employee motivation platform that drives productivity, wellbeing and resilience

Mojo delivers a number of unique benefits for any organisation that cares about its employees. These include:
  • Improved employee motivation, wellbeing and resilience
  • Sustainable productivity growth
  • Talent attraction & retention
  • Better customer service
  • The Human Energy Transition
    (from Extrinsic to Intrinsic motivation)

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