The Origins of Organizational Culture

First blog of a three-part series

 

Organizational culture is a major determining factor in the success of an organization and considered by many as one of the most powerful effects on how an organization thinks and behaves.  Organizational culture is found to be applicable in every business around the globe but the types of cultures will necessarily differ.

Since your organization has its own unique culture, consider seriously the impact this has on your employees who spend 40 hours or more per week of their lives at your workplace.  Your organization’s culture has an impact on both their work lives as well as their personal lives.

I have been doing a lot of work around organizational culture lately but I couldn’t decide exactly where to start and what to cover.  Should I write on the characteristics of organizational culture, the importance of organizational culture, or the origins of the term organizational culture?  I decided to write a three-part series covering all three topics; this is the first part.

The Origin of Organizational Culture

The term organizational culture, or culture in the organizational context, was first introduced by Dr. Elliott Jaques in his book The Changing Culture of a Factory. (Jaques, 1951). This was a published report of “a case study of developments in the social life of one industrial community between April 1948 and November 1950.” The “case” was a publicly held British company engaged principally in the manufacture, sale, and servicing of metal bearings. The study was concerned with the description, analysis, and development of the corporate group behaviors.

According to Dr. Jaques “the culture of the factory is its customary and traditional way of thinking and doing of things, which is shared to a greater or lesser degree by all its members, and which new members must learn, and at least partially accept, in order to be accepted into service in the firm…”. (Jaques, 1951, p251) In simpler terms, it means the extent people can share common wishes, desires and aspirations and commit themselves to work together. It is a matter of being able to care about the same things, and it applies to nations as well as to associations and organizations within nations.

In 1998 Dr.  Jaques wrote Requisite organizational: a total system of effective managerial organization and managerial leadership for the 21st century. (Jaques, 1998).  In this book, Dr. Jaques presented his concept of the requisite organization.  According to Dr. Jaques, “the term requisite organization means doing business with efficiency and competitiveness, and the release of human imagination, trust, and satisfaction in work.”

Together these elements make an organizational culture or credo that consists of:

  • Fair and just treatment for everyone, including fair pay based upon equitable pay differentials for level of work and merit recognition related to personal effectiveness appraisal.
  • Leadership interaction between managers and subordinates, including shared context, personal effectiveness appraisal, feedback and recognition, and coaching.
  • Clear articulation of accountability and authority to engender trust and confidence in all working relationships.
  • Articulation of long-term organizational vision through direct communication from the top.
  • Opportunity for everyone individually or through representatives to participate in policy development.
  • Work for everyone at a level consistent with their level of potential capability, values and interests.
  • Opportunity for everyone to progress as his or her potential capability matures, within the opportunities available.

In a 2001 journal article, “Corporate Culture and the Bottom Line” (Flamholts, 2001), Eric Flamholts identified and validated a model of organizational culture components that drive financial results.

The model consisted of five identified dimensions of corporate culture:

1) treatment of customers,

2) treatment of people,

3) performance standards and accountability,

4) innovation and change, and

5) process orientation.

The more modern definition of organizational culture, also known as corporate culture, is the values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization.  An organizational culture is based on shared attitudes, beliefs, customs, and written and unwritten rules that have been developed over time and are considered valid and are viewed as the shared norms and values of individuals and groups within an organization (The Business Dictionary, 2018).

I found it interesting that, after some 67 years, hundreds of books, hundreds of research studies, papers, articles, etc., there appears to be very little difference in the early definition compared to the more current definition of organizational culture.  I also found very little difference between Dr. Jaques’ model and Eric Flamholts’ model that came 60 years after Jaques’ research.  Dr. Jacques’ model has 7 elements and Flamholts’ has 5 elements.  When you read and compare the content of the elements, I think you will find the two are very similar and the principles behind organizational culture haven’t changed much in over 67 years.

Though the principles behind organization culture have changed very little, the impact of organizational cultures has increased significantly.

We don’t always pause to think about our organization’s culture. When we do we tend to think of it as, “how we do it here”.  Ignoring what our organization’s culture truly is can be dangerous.  Not knowing or ignoring what’s below the surface is something that can undermine transformation and growth efforts.  Organizational culture is often not an intuitive factor in our everyday business assessment tools.  We are so involved with diverse workforce, rapid technological advancements, environmental issues, and globalization and more, there is little or no time to observe the organization’s culture.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog on the Characteristics of Organizational Culture where we will learn what organizational culture looks like.  Part 3 will follow on the Importance of Organizational Culture where we discuss the impact organizational culture has on the success an organization enjoys.

 

References:

Flamholts, Eric (2001). “Corporate Culture and the Bottom Line”.  European Management Journal, 19 (3), 268-275, 2001.

Jaques, E., Dr. (1951). The changing culture of a factory. Tavistock Institute of Human Relations. (London): Tavistock Publications.

Jaques, E., Dr. (1951). Requisite organizational: a total system of effective managerial organization and managerial leadership for the 21st century (Rev. 2nd ed) Arlington, VA: Carson Hall.

Organizational culture {Def.1}. (n.d.).  The Business Dictionary, Retrieved April 20, 2018, from http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/organizational-culture.html

 

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