Different Conceptions of Organization Culture

In the 1980s, David Moore (1988:13) pointed out there were important differences between how some authors in the popular press were thinking about “culture” and how it had been dealt with in Industrial Anthropology, Sociology and Human Relations. The meaning of “culture” changed somewhat as it migrated to new areas (Fortado & Fadil, 2012). We will therefore briefly review the pertinent major outlooks.

Joanne Martin (1992, 2002) has described three basic ways to study organization culture. The integration perspective considers the common overall themes. An organization wide consensus exists on these subjects. The differentiation perspective examines the common themes in the subcultures. Informal organization has been found to provide members with social and emotional support, practical help and a degree of shared power. The fragmentation perspective includes varied interpretations of the same event as well as the prevailing ironies, contradictions, ambiguities and paradoxes.

The Heritage of the Integration Perspective

Under the integration perspective, managers and consultants assume the interests of the parties are the same. They believe when an organization prospers both the managers and the employees will prosper. Conflicts are accordingly viewed as misunderstandings. Better communication is the typically prescribed remedy.

Starting in the 1980s, leaders were told they should create an organization culture that fosters a common identity, pride and unity of purpose (Deal & Kennedy, 1982; Peters & Waterman, 1982). After a brief transformation, better performance was foreseen (Bennett et al., 1994). Some culture gurus have ambitiously talked about quickly “socially constructing” new realities (Srivastva & Barrett, 1990) or “revolutionizing” operations (Hammer & Champy, 1993). In our sales culture case, the managers more modestly intended to make additive and complementary changes.

The Heritage of the Differentiation and Fragmentation Perspectives

In Industrial Anthropology, Sociology and Human Relations, cultures and subcultures were seen as naturally existing (Trice & Beyer, 1993). Culture referred to the beliefs, customs, folklore, traditions, rules, norms and values that characterize a group. Varied interests always exist. Observed work behaviors rest upon the employees’ historic experiences and their current social situation (Roethlisberger & Dickson, 1939). One should think in terms of the meanings things have for people, the interactions that produced these meanings, and how interpretations are rendered (Blumer, 1969).

Organization cultures are viewed as complex, interactive and dynamic (Alvesson, 2002). Cultures normally gradually evolve and progress over time. At the same time, cultures resist some pressures for change, thereby providing much needed stability and continuity. When managers have tried to rapidly impose big changes, considerable subcultural resistance has frequently been encountered (Legge, 1994). Gaps between “what is” and “what should be” (Roethlisberger & Dickson, 1939) have often proven to be the source of the prevailing ironies, contradictions, ambiguities and paradoxes.

This does not mean useful changes cannot be made. Human Relations researchers believed cultures could be studied and possibly improved upon (Chapple, 1941; Moore, 1988). One would start with a study of the basic beliefs and values. The way the social system operated would be described. Next, one could consider how, if at all, the organization could be made more effective. After making a change, some ongoing observation should take place. Changing the formal organization naturally produces reactions in the informal organization. Adjustments would then be made as needed.

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