Corporate Culture : the Key to Understanding Work Organisations

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Corporate Culture : The Key to Understanding Work Organisations

Organisational or corporate culture is widely held to refer to a system of shared meanings held by members that distinguishes the organisation from other organisations, that is a set of shared key characteristics or values.

The culture that an organisation has will play an important part in its success in its market sector. Likewise an organisation's continued success will depend to a large extent on the ability of the leadership of the organisation to perpetuate that culture.

A large, established organisation in a mature market is likely to have objectives of moderate growth and the maintenance of its position within the market. McDonald's is an example of such an organisation. You could walk in to a McDonald's restaurant in London, Tokyo or Moscow and expect to see staff dressed in the same uniform serving the same food from within restaurants that look remarkably similar. There are no risks to be taken here and rarely a snap decision to be made and certainly not by the staff.

Contrast this with a small organisation, thirsty for success in an emergent market such as Steve Job's Apple Computers in the early eighties. Here was a company led by a very strong character who was highly motivated, possessed a highly practical imagination and was fanatical about detail. He built up a multinational company on the strength of his ability to promote free thinking coupled with the attention to detail that is required to produce a world class computer within the organisation that he ran.

It is quite clear that if the cultures of these two organisations were transposed there would be internal chaos and the company's would lose their positions within their markets. A McDonald's restaurant that started to add flair to its menu would soon cut in to the company's tightly controlled profit margins whereas a company with tightly enforced rules and regulations could never lead the market in innovative technologies.

It is not by chance that these two organisations have such different cultures. They are each the product of a clearly constructed and executed leadership policies reinforced by the organisation's founders and subsequently their top management. The processes of selection and socialisation are key tools in the maintenance of an organisation's culture.

The selection process is typically employed within organisations not only to select individuals who have the technical skills and knowledge to perform their roles within the organisation but also to select people who will fit in with, and not undermine, the organisation's culture.

The process of socialisation has as its key objective the moulding of the individual, who has already been selected partly for their apparent conformity with the organisation's core values, in to a true member of the organisation where their values and norms are synchronised with those of their work group

A work organisation cannot be understood, however, by studying it's culture in isolation to the areas of group dynamics, leadership, power and influence. It is indeed not possible to understand organisational culture without putting it within the context of organisational behaviour as a whole.

Leadership plays a key role in the establishment of organisational culture. As culture is principally the subjective perception of the organisation's and how it achieves those aims then leadership must play a central role in setting the values that underlie this perception.

The founders of an organisation hold the responsibility for the establishment of an organisation's culture. In an embryonic company this does not necessarily have to be done with much thought. In this environment the organisation's founders generally have a lot to do with the day to day running of the organisation. The founders or their close associates will interview prospective employees and the successful candidates will be those who not...
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