What is organisational culture and why does it matter?

5 Minutes
The role of organisational culture in today's business landscape is increasingly pivotal.

Organisational culture, a concept of growing importance in the corporate realm, encompasses the collective ethos, beliefs, and practices that define the social and psychological environment of a business. This culture transcends tangible elements, embracing the unspoken norms, customary rules, and social mores that guide interactions and collaborations within an organisation.

The role of organisational culture in today's business landscape is increasingly pivotal. As elucidated by Atkinson and Holden, it is the driving force behind innovative change management methodologies, leading to significant improvements in customer-centric processes, thereby bolstering competitive advantage, financial prosperity, and shareholder value [1]. This highlights the direct correlation between a robust organisational culture and key business outcomes.

Furthermore, the importance of organisational culture in internal alignment and communication is underscored in Scheffer's research within the banking service sector [2]. This alignment is crucial for ensuring that an organisation's internal ethos is in harmony with its external persona, thereby enhancing employee satisfaction and engagement, which are essential for long-term success.

In the banking industry, Asiedu's study sheds light on how organisational culture and employee job satisfaction can serve as sources of competitive advantage [3]. This research indicates that cultural attributes such as effective communication, motivation, opportunities for growth, and supportive supervision can significantly alter employee attitudes, contributing to a firm's competitive edge.

Additionally, Serinkan and Kızıloğlu's investigation in higher education institutions reveals a significant positive relationship between organisational culture and job satisfaction [4]. This finding suggests that enhancements in organisational culture can lead to heightened job satisfaction, further emphasising its significance in the modern workplace.

In the ensuing sections, we will delve into the historical evolution, fundamental components, and the overarching impact of organisational culture on various business dimensions, supported by these and other scholarly references.

Historical Background

The concept of organisational culture has its roots in the early 20th century, evolving from various disciplines including anthropology, sociology, and psychology. Initially, the focus was on understanding how human behaviours and social patterns influenced the functioning of organisations. This was a period when industrialisation was rapidly changing the workplace, and there was a growing interest in how these changes impacted worker productivity and satisfaction.

Early Theories and Studies: The Hawthorne Studies in the 1920s and 1930s were among the first to highlight the importance of social relations in the workplace. These studies shifted the focus from the physical and economic conditions of work to the social and psychological aspects, laying the groundwork for the concept of organisational culture.

Post-World War II Developments: After World War II, there was a surge in organisational theory, with researchers like Peter Drucker and Douglas McGregor contributing significantly to the field. They introduced concepts like 'management by objectives' and 'Theory X and Theory Y', which emphasized the role of management practices and employee motivation in organisational success.

The 1980s and Beyond: The 1980s marked a significant turning point in the study of organisational culture. Scholars like Edgar Schein developed more comprehensive models, defining organisational culture as a pattern of shared basic assumptions that a group learns as it solves its problems of external adaptation and internal integration. This era saw a growing recognition of the impact of organisational culture on various aspects of business performance.

Modern Perspectives: In recent years, the focus has expanded to include how organisational culture influences innovation, adaptability, and global competitiveness. The rise of globalisation and the digital revolution have further highlighted the need for adaptive and agile organisational cultures that can respond to rapid changes in the business environment.

Enke's research on kinship systems and the evolution of culture highlights how different societies have historically fostered cooperation and trust, shaped by their kinship structures [4].

Here are some key insights from the research:

  • Variation in Societal Structures: The study points out that societal structures vary significantly, influenced by differences in kinship systems. Some societies are characterised by multiple, cohesive in-groups forming dense social networks. In these societies, people cooperate effectively within their in-group, but often view those outside the in-group as adversaries. This creates a clear division between 'us' and 'them'.
  • Individual vs. Group-based Societies: In contrast, other societies focus on the individual as the basic unit. In these societies, personal relationships might be weaker, but there is a broader scope for mutually beneficial interactions with a wider range of society members. This is due to less pronounced in-group versus out-group distinctions.
  • Cooperation Behaviour Across Societies: The research also highlights that cooperation behaviour varies widely across different societies. This variation is attributed to the different societal structures and kinship systems.
  • Mechanisms Sustaining Cooperative Behaviour: Economists, psychologists, and anthropologists have long sought to understand the mechanisms that sustain and enforce cooperative behaviour. The study suggests that societies with different scopes of cooperation employ different tools to incentivize cooperative behaviour. This includes a mix of institutions, social norms, and psychological and biological adaptations.
  • Adaptations for Maintaining Cooperation: The key argument of the research is that maintaining cooperation within in-groups, which typically depend on repeated interaction, requires a different set of psychological or biological adaptations, as well as formal or informal institutions, compared to societies that rely more on impersonal exchanges. This perspective laid the groundwork for understanding organisational culture not just as a set of practices, but as a complex system influenced by broader social and historical factors.

In more recent times, the focus has shifted to how organisational culture can drive sustainable growth and innovation. Mzangwa's study on South African higher education institutions illustrates how organisational culture, influenced by historical contexts like apartheid, plays a crucial role in the transformation and sustainability of these institutions [5]. This reflects a growing recognition of the importance of organisational culture in shaping institutional identity and adaptability.

Key Components

The key components of organisational culture include values, beliefs, rituals, and social norms. These elements are deeply embedded in the fabric of an organisation and influence every aspect of its operations. Elmer's study on the relationship between organisational culture, social capital, and community participation in human service organisations provides insights into how cultural elements like assumptions, norms, and values shape social capital and community involvement [6]. This research underscores the significance of organisational culture in fostering community engagement and building strong, participatory organisations.

Moreover, the enforcement of cooperative behaviour within organisations is often linked to these cultural components. Enke's work on the evolution of culture and cooperation systems further elaborates on how societies with different historical kinship ties develop distinct moral values, emotions, and social norms, which in turn shape their organisational cultures [7]. This highlights the diversity and complexity of organisational culture across different contexts.

Why Organisational Culture Matters

Organisational culture holds a pivotal role in shaping the success and health of an organisation, influencing various aspects of business operations profoundly and extensively.

Impact on Employee Engagement and Performance

A strong organisational culture fosters a sense of belonging and purpose among employees, leading to heightened engagement and improved performance. Studies like "A Study on Employee Engagement Activities at H & R Johnson (India) A Division of Prism Cements" by Grace Hemalatha demonstrate the positive impact of engagement activities on employee satisfaction, productivity, and profitability, suggesting a direct correlation between organisational culture and employee performance [9]. When employees feel a part of their organisation's culture, they are more likely to be motivated and committed, going above and beyond in their roles.

Drives Innovation and Adaptability

In today's fast-paced business environment, a culture that encourages creativity, risk-taking, and learning is crucial for fostering innovation and adaptability. The article "The Impact of Employer Branding on Organizational Performance: A Comprehensive Analysis" by Elena Gurgu and Valentin Kuleto explores how employer branding, a key aspect of organisational culture, affects talent attraction, employee engagement, retention, and overall productivity [10]. A positive organisational culture that embraces change and encourages new ideas is essential for staying ahead in the market.

Shapes Organisational Identity and Brand Image

The culture of an organisation significantly influences its identity and brand image, both internally among employees and externally among customers, investors, and the public. Participative management, a cultural trait, contributes to sustainable competitiveness, as examined in the study "Requirements of Participative Management as an Element of Sustainable Competitiveness" by Belinga Bessala Jacob Patrick [11]. A strong organisational culture enhances a company's reputation, making it more attractive to potential employees and customers, leading to increased loyalty, customer satisfaction, and brand advocacy.

Additional Impacts

Organisational culture is also key in attracting and retaining top talent, facilitating better decision-making, and improving workplace relationships. It promotes respect, diversity, and inclusion, leading to better teamwork and collaboration. Moreover, there is a correlation between strong organisational culture and financial performance, as companies with engaged employees and positive cultures often report better financial results.

Examining Core Aspects of Organisational Culture

Leadership and Management Styles

The impact of leadership and management styles on organisational culture is significant. Studies, such as those by Thi Thu Hien Nguyen in Vietnamese enterprises and Mr. P. V. Nagarjuna Reddy and G. Haranath at Zuari Cements Limited, demonstrate the influence of transformational leadership and the perceptual differences in leadership styles between leaders and subordinates. These styles shape organisational effectiveness and dynamics [12][13]. Theories like Transformational Leadership, Transactional Leadership, Servant Leadership, and Situational Leadership further elaborate on how different leadership approaches can inspire, motivate, and guide employees.

  • Transformational Leadership: Introduced by James MacGregor Burns and later expanded by Bernard M. Bass, this theory posits that leaders can inspire and motivate employees by creating a vision, fostering change, and leading by example.
  • Transactional Leadership: This style, often contrasted with transformational leadership, focuses on the exchange between leader and follower, where compliance and performance are rewarded, and non-compliance is punished.
  • Servant Leadership: Proposed by Robert K. Greenleaf, servant leadership is a philosophy where the main goal of the leader is to serve. This is a holistic approach, focusing on the well-being of the team and community.
  • Situational Leadership: Developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, this theory suggests that there is no single "best" style of leadership. Effective leadership varies depending on the situation and the maturity level of the followers.

The leadership style adopted within an organisation sets the tone for its culture, influencing various other aspects, including communication patterns.

Communication Patterns

Effective communication is fundamental to organisational culture. While specific studies on communication patterns in organisational culture were not identified, theories such as the Transactional Model of Communication, Organisational Information Theory, and the Johari Window provide insights into how communication can be effectively managed within organisations. These models emphasise the importance of understanding and improving communication for organisational success:

  • Transactional Model of Communication: This model, developed by Wilbur Schramm, views communication as a process in which each party is both a sender and a receiver, and the context and noise can affect the interpretation of messages.
  • Organisational Information Theory: Proposed by Karl Weick, this theory focuses on how organisations process information to reduce uncertainty and make sense of their environment.
  • The Johari Window: A tool created by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham for understanding and improving communication within a group. It's based on the idea that we all have hidden areas, blind spots, open areas, and unknown areas in our communication.

These models highlight the importance of open and transparent communication in fostering trust and collaboration. The way leaders communicate and the patterns of communication they establish can significantly shape the organisational environment, influencing decision-making processes.

Decision-Making Processes

Organisational culture plays a crucial role in decision-making processes. Nagarajah Lee's research on participative management and decision-making highlights the importance of employee involvement in decisions [14]. Theories like the Rational Decision-Making Model, Bounded Rationality, and Groupthink offer different perspectives on how decisions are made in organisations, ranging from logical and optimal choices to the influence of cognitive limitations and group dynamics:

  • Rational Decision-Making Model: This model assumes that managers will make logical and optimal decisions that will further the organisation's goals.
  • Bounded Rationality: Introduced by Herbert Simon, this theory suggests that while individuals aim to make rational choices, cognitive limitations and practical constraints often result in a "satisficing" decision-making process.
  • Groupthink: Developed by Irving Janis, this theory describes a situation in which group members develop a unanimous opinion without critical reasoning or evaluation of alternatives and consequences.

The decision-making approach, whether top-down or participative, is a reflection of the organisational culture and has a substantial impact on employee engagement and organisational effectiveness. This approach is closely tied to the organisation's reward and recognition systems.

Reward and Recognition Systems

The structure of reward systems is a reflection of an organisation's values. Thi Thu Hien Nguyen's research shows the impact of reward systems on managerial performance in Vietnamese enterprises [12]. Theories such as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory, and Equity Theory provide frameworks for understanding how different types of rewards and recognition can motivate employees and align with organisational goals:

  • Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs: While not a theory of reward systems per se, Abraham Maslow's theory is often applied in this context. It suggests that rewards should cater to different levels of employee needs, from basic (e.g., salary) to advanced (e.g., recognition, self-actualisation).
  • Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory: Developed by Frederick Herzberg, this theory distinguishes between hygiene factors (which can cause dissatisfaction if missing but don't motivate if present) and motivators (which truly encourage employees to work harder).
  • Equity Theory: Proposed by John Stacey Adams, this theory of motivation is based on the principle that employees are motivated when they perceive they are being treated fairly, particularly in the context of rewards.

In summary, the core aspects of organisational culture, including leadership and management styles, communication patterns, decision-making processes, and reward and recognition systems, are integral to the environment and effectiveness of an organisation. A strategic approach to these aspects can lead to a more engaged, productive, and satisfied workforce, contributing significantly to the organisation's success.

The Relationship Between Organisational Culture and Business Outcomes

Employee Retention and Turnover

Organisational culture plays a critical role in employee retention and turnover. A study by Nandita Chatterjee highlights the challenges organisations face in retaining quality employees amidst changing cultural and economic landscapes. High attrition rates not only impact current performance but also increase recruitment and training costs, while adversely affecting customer service and organisational attractiveness [15]. This underscores the importance of aligning organisational culture with employee needs to ensure higher productivity and retention.

Customer Satisfaction and Loyalty

The alignment of organisational culture with personal values is key to unleashing employee potential, which in turn impacts customer satisfaction. R. Barrett's research emphasizes that values-driven organisations are the most successful, as they foster employee fulfilment, which leads to higher customer satisfaction. In the private sector, organisational culture is a principal source of competitive advantage and brand differentiation, directly influencing customer loyalty and brand perception [16].

Financial Performance and Market Positioning

Organisational culture also has a significant impact on financial performance and market positioning. Silva Opuala-Charles and Ikuroaa Daerego Jack's study on adhocracy culture in Nigeria illustrates how cultural elements like autonomy, experimentation, and employee empowerment contribute to improved business performance indicators, including financial performance and market share. This study highlights the positive influence of a flexible and innovative organisational culture on operational efficiency and overall economic growth [17].

Organisational Transformation and Effectiveness

The study by S. Sharma and Aditi Sharma on the textile industry in India provides insights into how organisational culture and leadership significantly influence employee productivity, job satisfaction, and retention. The research suggests that for industries like textiles, which are labor-intensive, organisational culture is a critical source of success and is strongly associated with organisational effectiveness [18].

In summary, organisational culture is intricately linked to various business outcomes, including employee retention, customer satisfaction, financial performance, and market positioning. A well-cultivated organisational culture not only enhances employee engagement and satisfaction but also drives customer loyalty, financial success, and competitive positioning in the market.

Shaping and Changing Organisational Culture

Strategies for Developing a Positive Culture

Developing a positive organisational culture is crucial for the success and sustainability of any organisation. A study by Lucy T. Chamba and R. M. Chuma, focusing on Bulawayo Technical College, underscores the importance of transformational leadership in fostering a strategic culture. This approach involves aligning the organisational culture with its mission and goals, thereby enhancing effectiveness and efficiency. The study highlights the need for leaders to be proactive and visionary, creating a culture that supports continuous improvement and innovation [19].

Challenges in Changing Existing Culture

Changing an existing organisational culture presents numerous challenges. The research by Chaminda Wijethilake, Bedanand Upadhaya, and Tek Lama in the garment manufacturing industry in Sri Lanka reveals that shifting towards a sustainable organisational culture requires overcoming entrenched practices and beliefs. This transformation demands a proactive role from the organisational culture itself, necessitating a deep understanding of the existing cultural norms and values, and the implementation of strategies that align with the organisation's long-term sustainability goals [20].

Case Studies of Successful Culture Transformations

The journey towards a lean organisational culture is exemplified in a study conducted at an outpatient clinic by I. Jenei, A. Toarniczky, Dávid Losonci, and N. Imre. This research developed a new tool to assess the lean features of organisational culture, demonstrating how aligning the organisational culture with lean management principles can lead to significant improvements in efficiency and service quality. The study provides a practical example of how a focused cultural change initiative can yield tangible results in organisational performance [21].

Another perspective on cultural transformation is provided by G. Kennedy, F. Shirvani, William R Scott, and Allan P Campbell. Their work on integrating organisational culture models into Model-Based Systems Engineering approaches highlights how changes in enterprise systems can impact organisational culture. This study illustrates the importance of considering cultural factors in systems engineering and transformation projects, showing how a systematic approach can facilitate the successful integration of new systems and cultural change [22]

Conclusion: Organisational Culture - A Keystone of Corporate Success

Organisational culture, a multifaceted and dynamic entity, stands at the heart of every successful corporation. It is the invisible yet powerful force that shapes every aspect of an organisation, from its internal dynamics to its market positioning. This comprehensive exploration has underscored the profound impact of organisational culture on various business dimensions, revealing its pivotal role in driving innovation, employee satisfaction, customer loyalty, and financial prosperity.

From its historical roots in the early 20th century to its modern-day implications, organisational culture has evolved to become a critical determinant of business success. The early theories and studies, such as the Hawthorne Studies, laid the foundation for understanding the psychological and social aspects of the workplace. This understanding deepened over the decades, with scholars like Edgar Schein and Peter Drucker shaping the modern conception of organisational culture as a complex system of shared values, beliefs, and practices.

The key components of organisational culture, including leadership styles, communication patterns, decision-making processes, and reward systems, collectively create an environment that either fosters growth and adaptability or hinders progress. Transformational leadership, open communication, participative decision-making, and equitable reward systems are identified as critical elements that contribute to a positive and productive organisational culture.

The relationship between organisational culture and business outcomes is undeniable. A strong culture enhances employee retention, drives customer satisfaction, and contributes to superior financial performance. It is the cornerstone upon which companies build their brand identity and competitive edge. The studies reviewed in this exploration provide compelling evidence of the direct correlation between a robust organisational culture and key business metrics.

However, shaping and changing organisational culture is not without its challenges. It requires visionary leadership, a clear understanding of the existing cultural dynamics, and a strategic approach to align the culture with the organisation's goals and values. The case studies of successful culture transformations highlight the importance of a systematic and analytical approach, ensuring that cultural changes are well-received and integrated into the organisational framework.

In conclusion, organisational culture is more than just a business buzzword; it is the essence of an organisation's identity and a key driver of its success. As businesses continue to navigate the complexities of the modern corporate landscape, the importance of cultivating a strong, adaptive, and positive organisational culture cannot be overstated. It is the foundation upon which companies can build a sustainable future, marked by innovation, employee satisfaction, and enduring success.

Further Recommended Reading

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

How is organisational culture formed and what impact does it have? - Organisational culture embodies the collective values, beliefs, and principles that guide the behaviour of an organisation's members.

What are the characteristics of a strong organisational culture? - Striking a balance between the benefits of a strong culture and the need for adaptability, diversity, and ethical considerations.

How do you recognise the signs of a toxic culture? - Explore the telltale signs of a toxic organisational culture.

What are the characteristics of organisations with strong and effective cultures? - A robust and effective organisational culture is frequently the cornerstone of high-performing entities, exerting a significant influence on a myriad of organisational dimensions, from employee morale to overarching business results.

What is the role of organisational culture in business? - This comprehensive article delves deep into how culture influences productivity, innovation, employee engagement, and more, with insights backed by scientific research.

How does culture affect employee behaviour and performance? - Enriching the lives of employees, strengthening the fabric of the organisation, and echoing in the broader community it serves.

The role of organisational culture in recruitment and retention - Learn how a strong culture attracts and retains top talent, shaping the success of businesses.

How does hybrid working affect organisational culture? - Unravelling the complexities and opportunities that hybrid working brings to our organisational ethos.

How does organisational culture intersect with leadership? - The synergy between organisational culture and leadership has emerged as a crucial determinant of an organisation's success.

What is the relationship between culture and customer satisfaction? - What if we told you that the key to unlocking unprecedented customer satisfaction doesn't lie solely in your products, services, or marketing strategies?

How can organisational culture foster innovation? - The journey towards a culture of innovation requires dedication, adaptability, and a deep understanding of the psychological and cultural factors that drive it.

What is the connection between organisational culture and strategy? - How culture influences strategic decisions and shapes an organisation's path to success.

How does organisational culture shape employee behaviour and business outcomes? - A cornerstone upon which the success and sustainability of an organisation are built.

How can organisational culture be managed and adapted over time? – Strategies, challenges, and insights on how to steer the cultural ship of your organisation through the ever-changing business seas.

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.


  2. Scheffer, J. - "Internal branding as a tool for organisational alignment." READ MORE
  3. Asiedu, E. - "Supportive Organisational Culture and Employee Job Satisfaction: A Critical Source of Competitive Advantage. A Case Study in a Selected Banking Company in Oxford City-UK." READ MORE
  4. Serinkan, C., & Kızıloğlu, M. - "The Relationship between Organisational Culture and Job Satisfaction in Higher Education Institutions: The Bishkek Case." READ MORE
  5. Kinship Systems, Cooperation, and the Evolution of Culture - B. Enke
  6. Transformation as part of evolving organisational culture in the South African higher education institutions - S. T. Mzangwa
  7. Exploring the relationship between organisational culture, social capital and community participation in human service organisations - Shandell L. Elmer
  8. Evolution of Culture - B. Enke
  9. Grace Hemalatha: "A Study on Employee Engagement Activities at H & R Johnson (India) A Division of Prism Cements".
  10. Elena Gurgu and Valentin Kuleto: "The Impact of Employer Branding on Organizational Performance: A Comprehensive Analysis".  Read more.
  11. Belinga Bessala Jacob Patrick: "Requirements of Participative Management as an Element of Sustainable Competitiveness".
  12. Nguyen, Thi Thu Hien. "Transformational Leadership Style, Reward Systems, Management Accounting System Information and Managerial Performance: The Impact of Ownership Type in Vietnamese Enterprises."
  13. Reddy, Mr. P. V. Nagarjuna, and G. Haranath. "A Study of the Difference of Leadership Styles of Zuari Cements Limited."
  14. Lee, Nagarajah. "Developing and validating instrument to assess teachers’ involvement in decision-making."
  15. Chatterjee, Nandita. "A Study of Organisational Culture and Its Effect on Employee Retention."
  16. Barrett, R. "The Importance of Values in Building a High-Performance Culture."
  17. Opuala-Charles, Silva, and Ikuroaa Daerego Jack. "Adhocracy and Business Performance in Nigeria." DOI
  18. Sharma, S., and Aditi Sharma. "Organisational Transformation Strategies in Textile Industry in India: Critical Analysis of Role of Organizational Culture."
  19. Organisational Culture as a Strategic Change Option: A Case of Bulawayo Technical College by Lucy T. Chamba and R. M. Chuma (2016) https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Organisational-culture-as-a-strategic-change-option-Chamba-Chuma/62c093d3d95feeb726fa2bc6d9ef41aebf41e918
  20. The Role of Organisational Culture in Organisational Change Towards Sustainability: Evidence from the Garment Manufacturing Industry by Chaminda Wijethilake, Bedanand Upadhaya, and Tek Lama (2021) https://www.inderscience.com/offers.php?id=71961
  21. Lean Organisational Culture - Development and Testing of a Measurement Tool by I. Jenei, A. Toarniczky, Dávid Losonci, and N. Imre (2015) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09537287.2021.1913524
  22. Towards the Integration of Organisational Culture Models into Model-Based Systems Engineering Approaches for Enterprise Systems Transformation by G. Kennedy, F. Shirvani, William R Scott, and Allan P Campbell (2020) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14488388.2020.1804184

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