Schein (1990) describes organisational culture as the shared history of an organisation influencing the way in which it operates and the way in which individuals behave but explains that culture is a difficult concept to define. This difficulty is also discussed by Tharp (2009a) who suggests that organisational culture can be defined as the ‘glue’ which holds together a group of employees and the ‘compass’ which guides leaders.
Schein (1990) identifies three main ways in which the culture of a company is revealed:
1) observable artefacts
3) basic underlying assumptions
These elements overlap to form the culture of the company with the values and basic underlying factors being driven from the leadership of the organisation.
It is the observable artefacts which we will explore in more detail but these are significantly influenced by the values and culture imposed on the company. Observable artefacts are the features which can be observed when inspecting or visiting an organisation. Some of these observable behaviours and appearances need not be tangible (physically observed) but sensed (Bauer and Erdogan, 2013) meaning an independent observer can ‘feel’ them.
Schein (1990) notes however, that there are flaws with making these observations based purely on first impressions as the interpretation may be unreliable. Just because an organisation seems formal and austere for example, does not necessarily mean they are not productive and market-leading.
There are many examples of differing corporate cultures from the IT industry and it is these differing cultures which can facilitate the success or failure of an organisation. Consider the hardware and software manufacturer Hewlett Packard (HP). In the 1950’s HP adopted a culture where their employees were highly valued and are largely regarded as one of the first of the IT companies in Silicon Valley to have adopted this approach (Groeger, 2006). This type of culture has now been widely adopted by other organisations in the IT sector, referred to by Tharp (2009b) as a ‘create’ culture.
Line (1999) likens different organisational cultures to different animals such as wolves and chimpanzees. Line suggests that the ‘create’ culture is like a Gorilla. The Gorilla is gentle, peaceful and good natured but their size and presence can be intimidating to competitors, much like HP.
Groeger (2006) observes that HP had a very relaxed and generous company culture, reportedly treating their employees like family, calling each other by first names and providing a range of staff benefits including share options. These are the observable artefacts of HP and this relaxed culture may go some way to explaining their success as this culture helps motivate employees and increases productivity. Other visible signs of organisational culture at HP include their modern offices filled with technology such as video walls and gaming studios (Jana, 2007). It is these visible signs which a company exhibits which can give an impression of the culture, in this case of a modern, aspirational company.
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Groeger, M. (2006) The HP Way – an example of corporate culture for a whole industry. [Online]. Available from: http://www.silicon-valley-story.de/sv/hp_way.html (Accessed: 16 February 2013).
Jana, R. (2007) ‘HP’s Cultural Revolution’, Bloomberg [Online]. Available from: http://www.businessweek.com/stories/2007-11-15/hps-cultural-revolutionbusinessweek-business-news-stock-market-and-financial-advice (Accessed: 16 February 2013).
Line, M. (1999) ‘Types of organisational culture’, Library Management, 20(2), pp.73-75, Emerald [Online]. Available from: http://www.emeraldinsight.com.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/journals.htm?articleid=858915 (Accessed: 16 February 2013).
Schein, E. (1990) ‘Organizational culture’, American Psychologist, 45(2), pp. 109-119, Ebscohost [Online]. Available from: http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/login.aspx?direct=true&db=pdh&AN=1990-15978-001 (Accessed: 15 February 2013).
Tharp, B. (2009a) ‘Defining “Culture” and “Organizational Culture”: From Anthropology to the Office’, Haworth. [Online]. Available from: http://www.haworth.com/en-us/knowledge/workplace-library/documents/defining-culture-and-organizationa-culture_5.pdf (Accessed: 16 February 2013).
Tharp, B. (2009b) ‘Four Organizational Culture Types’. [Online]. Available from: http://www.haworth.com/en-us/knowledge/workplace-library/Documents/Four-Organizational-Culture-%20Types_6.pdf (Accessed: 16 February 2013).