Since the dawn of human social systems, culture has existed to help people deal with the uncertainty and ambiguity of their existence. Culture develops naturally when groups of humans come together. Members of formal organizations face uncertainties and ambiguities much like those that exist in the larger social system. Thus, it is not surprising that organizations develop distinctive cultures as part of the mechanism for managing the environment.
Scientists from the fields of anthropology and sociology have been studying culture for many years. Still they are quick to note that culture is an abstract and complex concept; thus, many definitions of culture exist. The same is true even with a narrowed focus on organizational culture. Most definitions of organizational culture, however, contain some common elements. Most definitions note that culture exists at two levels in organizations: the observable traces or indicators of the culture (also referred to as symbols) and the unobservable forces present in the organization. Observable traces may include physical characteristics of the organization such as architecture, artwork, dress patterns, language, stories, myths, behavior, formal rules, rituals, ceremonies, and appearance. But these physical traces are not the culture itself. They are symbolic indicators of the unobservable characteristics of culture — the norms, beliefs, assumptions, ideology, values, and shared perceptions held by members of the organization.Organizational culture, as one set of scholars has defined it, is a set of broad, tacitly understood rules that tell employees what to do under a wide variety of unimaginable circumstances. It is the "patterns or configurations of these interpretations" of the observable characteristics that make up the culture, the taken-for-granted and shared meanings, beliefs, and assumptions that people in the organization use to cope with problems, adapt to external conditions, and develop internal integration. Thus, culture is a force that orients and directs the behavior of individual organizational members so that there is consistency and predictability within the organization.
Thus, organizational culture can be defined as follows:
Organizational culture is a two-level construct that includes both observable and unobservable characteristics of the organization. At the observable level, culture includes many aspects of the organization such as architecture, dress, behavior patterns, rules, stories, myths, language, and ceremonies. At the unobservable level culture is composed of the shared values, norms, beliefs, and assumptions of organizational members. Culture is the pattern or configuration of these two levels of characteristics that orients or directs organizational members to manage problems and their surroundings.
For example, the company's credo of JC Penney dates back to the founder, James Cash Penney, who promoted it in 1908.
JC Penney'sCredo. The Penney Idea
· To serve the public, as nearly as we can, to its complete satisfaction.
· To expect for the service we render a fair remuneration.
· To do all in our power to pack the customer's dollar full of value, quality and satisfaction.
· To continue to train ourselves and our associates so that the service we give will be more and more intelligently performed.
· To improve constantly the human factor in our business.
· To reward men and women in our organization through participation in what the business produces.
· To test our every policy, method and act in this wise: "Does it square with what is right and just?"
The case is taken from www.jcpenney.net/company/history/history.htm, accessed July 1, 2001.
4. Answer the questions:
1. When does culture in social systems develop? Why?
2. Why do organizations develop cultures?
3. What common elements do most definitions of organizational culture contain?
4. What indicators of organizational culture can be referred to as symbols?
5. What unobservable characteristics does organizational culture include?
6. What is the purpose of adopting organizational culture?
7. Can you give any examples of elements of organizational culture?