3 Organizational Culture and Performance
The concept of organizational culture has drawn attention to the long-neglected, subjective or ‘soft’ side of organizational life. However, many aspects of organizational culture have not received much attention. Instead, emphasis has been placed primarily on the cultural and symbolic aspects that are relevant in an instrumental/pragmatic context. The technical cognitive interest prevails. Culture then is treated as an object of management action. In this regard, Ouchi and Wilkins (1985: 462) note that ‘the contemporary student of organizational culture often takes the organization not as a natural solution to deep and universal forces but rather as a rational instrument designed by top management to shape the behavior of the employees in purposive ways’. Accordingly, much research on corporate culture and organizational symbolism is dominated by a preoccupation with a limited set of meanings, symbols, values, and ideas presumed to be manageable and directly related to effectiveness and performance. This is in many ways understandable, but there are two major problems following from this emphasis. One is that many aspects of organizational culture are simply disregarded. It seems strange that the (major part of the) literature should generally disregard such values as bureaucratic-‘meritocratic’ hierarchy, unequal distribution of privileges and rewards, a mixture of individualism and conformity, male domination, emphasis on money, economic growth, consumerism, advanced technology, exploitation of nature, and the equation of economic criteria with rationality. Instrumental reason dominates; quantifiable values and the optimization of means for the attainment of pre-given ends define rationality (Horkheimer and Adorno, 1947; Marcuse, 1964). Mainstream organizational culture thinking – in organizations but also in academia – tend to take this for granted. The values and ideas to which organizational culture research pays attention are primarily connected with the means and operations employed to achieve pre-defined and unquestioned goals. A second problem is that subordinating organizational culture thinking to narrowly defined instrumental concerns also reduces the potential of culture to aid managerial action. Organizational culture calls for considerations that break with some of the assumptions characterizing technical thinking, i.e. the idea that a particular input leads to a predictable effect. This chapter thus shows some problems associated with the use of the term culture that does not take the idea of culture seriously enough and presses the concept into a limited version of the technical cognitive interest. It argues for a ‘softer’ version of this interest as well as for thinking following the other two cognitive interests (as sketched in Chapter 1).
Organizational Culture and Performance
The dominance of instrumental values
A basic problem in much management thinking and writing is an impatience in showing the great potential of organizational culture. Associated with this is a bias for a premature distinction between the good and the bad values and ideas, trivialization of culture, overstressing the role of management and the employment of causal thinking. Premature normativity: the idea of good culture Associated with the technical interest of optimizing means for accomplishment of goals is an underdeveloped capacity to reflect upon normative matters. Viewing cultures as means leads to evaluations of them as more or less ‘good’, i.e. as useful, without consideration whether this goodness is the same as usefulness or if usefulness may be very multidimensional. The more popular literature argues that ‘good’ or ‘valuable’ cultures – often equated with ‘strong’ cultures – are characterized by norms beneficial to the company, to customers, and to mankind and by ‘good’ performance in general: Good cultures are characterized by norms and values supportive of...
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