Can Managers Influence Their Organisation's Culture?

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Can managers influence the culture of their organisations? Discuss with reference to at least one example. It is only since the 1970s that the emphasis has shifted from a management-by-numbers to a more people-focused way of managing, in response to various problems that could not be overcome using the prior method (e.g. limitations to the Theory X way of managing, new production methods etc.). Pop-management theorists have since made direct links between an organisation’s culture and its performance, though this is not the entire story. As Kilmann et al (1985) put it: ‘a culture has a positive impact on an organisation when it points behaviour in the right direction... alternatively, a culture has a negative impact when it points behaviour in the wrong direction’. This essay will serve to explain to what extent management is able to alter, maintain or build the culture of its organisation, whether these effects span throughout the company and whether they will extend past the short-term. Culture is effectively, as Parker (2000) puts it, the anthropology of the organisation. The word itself, in essence, sums up the phrase ‘that’s the way things are done here’ (McNeal, 2007). For this essay, I will assume organisational culture to be the collective values, beliefs and norms of an organisation (Brewis, 2007, p.344), which are demonstrated by such aspects of a business as missions and goals of the organisation, authority and power relations within it, communication/interaction patterns, the psychological contracts that exist and so on. It is said to be to an organisation what personality is to an individual (Kilmann et al, 1985). Though influence over culture can be any of changing, maintaining or building it (Brewis, 2007), in this essay I will focus mainly on the changing of an organisation’s culture. First, I will outline the case that managers can indeed influence their organisation’s culture, i.e. the mainstream perspective. This theory revolves around the assumption that culture is an asset of the company; it is something that it ‘has’ (Smircich, 1983). Like anything else an organisation owns, culture is deemed a variable and essentially created at the top (Brewis, 2007, p.348) - the latter being the crux of this argument. Brewis (2007, p.354) goes on to say that this ‘creation at the top’ occurs through cultural transmission mechanisms (CTMs), taking two main categories: those that are the responsibility of the human resources department (sourcing the ‘right’ employees, training them in the ‘right’ ways and demonstrating ‘correct’ forms of communication); and supposed ‘symbolic leadership’ devices (how the corporate culture is communicated by senior management themselves) (Brewis, 2007, p.354). Examples of the latter include mission statements, management-by-example, rituals, language and so on. It is only through these devices that management define the actions and values they desire, subtly showing the culture that they see fit (Shook, 2010). This theory is backed up by the thoughts of Jacques (1951), who says that organisational culture ‘is learned, it is shared, and it is transmitted’; all three of which can arguably be influenced by management. This view is also shared by Van den Steen (2010), who comes to the conclusion that, as workers have a common learning source (i.e. the organisation itself), the culture of individuals and sub-groups naturally converges to that which the learning source encourages. Again, this is something that managers have control over, as they are able

to alter aspects like training, and thus follows the argument that culture can indeed be influenced by them. HSBC Argentina is an example of successful ‘cultural engineering’ (Jackson and Carter, 2000). The CEO Antonio Losada saw that, although the branch was not performing poorly, there was potential to perform a lot better through enhancing its culture. This started with ‘Leadership Development Program’, which was offered to all 6,000...
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