Organizational Cultures, Employee Socialization, and Training

In 2011, the Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM) (2011) surveyed

U.S. human resource professionals about how their companies balanced financial performance, their employees' quality of life, the welfare of society, and the environment. A sample of 5,000 professionals was randomly selected from SHRM's membership database of 250,000. Approximately 16 % (n ¼ 728) responded. Of those, over half had formal sustainability-related policies that included sustainable workplace goals and policies directly tied to their organization's strategic planning process. An additional 40 % reported having informal policies (not tied to the strategic planning process). Nearly four out of 10 organizations calculated a return on investment (ROI) for their sustainability efforts. Of those, 47 % calculated a positive ROI, 46 % reported it was still too early to determine their ROI, and 6 % calculated a break-even point. Having goals and policies does not automatically result in a positive ROI. Employees must become engaged, knowledgeable, empowered, and supported by their organization. In this section, I discuss organizational cultures, especially that of learning organizations, and organizational subcultures, specifically the managerial subculture.

Organizational Cultures

If organizations are going to respond to environmental challenges and/or become more sustainable, new or modified values, beliefs, and processes will need to be woven into their cultural fabric and implemented through operational and strategy changes. Therefore, it is important to discuss the concept of organizational culture.

A myriad of definitions and approaches to organizational cultures exist (see Keyton 2014; McAleese and Hargie 2004; Tracy 2009). One definition is that an organization's culture is manifested through employees' shared assumptions, values, beliefs, languages, symbols, and meaning systems (Tracy 2009). Organizations have observable cultures which include structures, processes, behaviors, and artifacts as well as espoused values and philosophies displayed through their strategies and goals (Schein 2004). At the deeper level, cultures have underlying assumptions (unconscious beliefs and perceptions from which values and actions stem). It is important to remember an organization's culture is a human creation as employees build and negotiate meaning through interaction, but it goes beyond a few individuals to become something that is often intangible and pervasive.

Organizational leaders should reflect on where sustainability fits within their

existing culture and then discuss changes they might make. Strandburg Consulting (n.d.) provides a series of questions leaders can use to help reflect upon their existing culture. Questions address if and how company goods, services, or processes overlap with the interests of society; if the company sees itself clearly; and if strong leadership for sustainability is articulated in a clear and simple message, disseminated throughout the organization, and repeatedly reinforced. Snowden, who writes in the field of knowledge management, emphasizes storytelling and communication interventions to help organizational participants gain insights into their organization's assumptions and practices, as well as to generate new alternatives. He introduced Cynefin, a Welsh word meaning “our place of belonging,” a place of great meaningfulness for a people. For Snowden, Cynefin is a sensemaking methodology. It sets up an environment where people can come together to jointly make sense of their situation utilizing information such as organizational stories, anecdotes, legends, alternative histories, and accounts of phases and events since their organization's birth. Teams go through a well-defined group process to create plans, prescriptions, and shared memories and experiences. Snowden sought to use this approach to improve organizational capacities when situations force people to address intractable problems and complex, uncertain situations (Dervin and Naumer 2009). Intractable problems and complex, uncertain situations face organizations seeking to adapt to impending climate change-related challenges.

A focus on organizational cultures emerged in the early 1980s as scholars sought to explain how organizational meanings and behaviors are constituted through communication. Keyton (2014) summarizes the conceptual and methodological approaches communication scholars used to study organizational culture. Two distinct approaches guided their investigations: the interpretative approach and the managerial approach. The interpretative approach focuses us on how communication (e.g., metaphors, stories, myths, rites, ceremonies, jargon, physical artifacts) shapes what the organization is and what shared values its employees hold. This approach recognizes that management-directed cultural change is challenging, if not uncontrollable. Individuals and groups throughout an organization create, interpret, challenge, and reinterpret elements which may or may not become part of an organization's culture. van der Heijden et al.'s (2012) 10-year investigation of the Dutch subsidiary of Interface provides an example of the nonlinear nature of the organizational culture change process. The managerial approach focuses us on how organizations can design, control, and improve their corporate culture. Much of the research currently focusing on sustainability and culture appears to illustrate this approach (e.g., Linnenluecke and Griffiths 2010; Russell et al. 2007), as does work on culture management (e.g., McAleese and Hargie 2004). As management attempts to change an organization's focus toward more environmental sustainability or more socially responsible internal and/or community relations, the assumption is that they can create a single unified corporate culture (Linnenluecke et al. 2009).

Models regarding what a sustainable culture would look like and how to create one are generally lacking. Several authors have attempted to fill this gap (e.g., Harris and Crane 2002; Linnenluecke and Griffiths 2010; Russell et al. 2007). McAleese and Hargie (2004) identified five guiding principles of culture management including formulate a guiding strategy, develop culture leaders, share the culture by communicating effectively with staff, measure performance, and communicate your culture with external groups. Linnenluecke and Griffiths (2010) sought to identify what makes up a sustainability-oriented organizational culture, whether organizations can display a unified sustainability-oriented organizational culture and whether organizations can even become more sustainable through culture change. They used the competing values framework (CVF) (Quinn 1988) to discuss the relationship between corporate sustainability and organizational culture and to identify four cultural types: the human relations model, the open systems model, the internal process model, and the rational goal model. They describe how cultural control occurs within each type. In the human relations culture, training, employee development, open communication, and participative and decentralized decision making are used. Environmental health and safety, human well-being, and employee skills, satisfaction, commitment, and productivity are emphasized. Social entrepreneurs are likely to emerge who advocate sustainability principles within the organization. Open systems cultures emphasize innovation for achieving ecological and social sustainability. They seek to operate within the carrying capacity of the natural environment by minimizing their resource use and ecological footprint. An internal process culture emphasizes economic performance, growth, and long-term profitability. These organizations focus mainly on economic sustainability and may miss opportunities to develop innovative products, services, and business models because they give their employees limited room for flexibility, learning, and change. In rational goal cultures, the emphasis is on increasing resource efficiencies. Some organizations reinvest saved costs due to efficiencies in employees so as to create human systems that support value-adding and innovation. Russell et al. (2007) developed a similar typology focusing on the extent to which an organization is working toward longterm economic performance by seeking increased profits and growth, is working toward positive ecological outcomes for the natural environment, supports people and social outcomes, or takes a holistic approach. Although useful, these models do not focus on communication as an interactive meaning-making process.

Proponents of the managerial approach to organizational cultures argue that an organization's ability to import and use information about innovations (i.e., its absorptive capacity) is influenced by its culture. Those organizations with strong functional cultures employ a cohesive workforce which can work together to implement organizational goals. In contrast, firms with disjointed cultures often face difficulties integrating change into their work practices. If employees in functional organizations share their organizations' goals and values, they will be more likely to seek out opportunities to contribute to its success. This increases the likelihood that employees will be proactive in absorbing information into the organization and successfully turn information into useable knowledge.

However, it is difficult to transform for-profit organizational cultures into sustainability-focused cultures. Any change will need to convince organizational members at all levels to moderate their driving quest to meet economic goals, embrace a longer time frame (e.g., intergenerational), and value the environment as more than a resource supplier or waste repository. In the 1990s, even in the most progressive firms, true cultural transformation was rare and pro-environmental sensibilities were generally absorbed into existing cultural assumptions and beliefs. Based on interviews with 44 executives and managers representing separate organizations, Harris and Crane (2002) developed a model of the barriers and drivers influencing how managers viewed the depth, degree, and diffusion of cultural greening within organizations. Depth involves how deeply greening is being valued by different organizational members and groups. Degree involves the extent to which green values and sensibilities are included in organizational creations and artifacts. Diffusion refers to how widely green feelings and behaviors appear throughout an organization. Diffusion is hampered by organizational barriers (e.g., behaviors, systems, and structures) and cultural fragmentation (i.e., multiple subcultures). Over 10 years after Harris and Crane's research cultural transformation within an organization seems more feasible as societal Discourses have shifted to account for changing environmental conditions, the business case for sustainability has grown, and isomorphism pressures are occurring within many organizational fields.

 
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