Organizational culture: An impetus to influence

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Organizational culture: An impetus to influence organizational behavior and decision making
Thomas M. Schultz The University of Montana

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Recommended Citation Schultz, Thomas M., "Organizational culture: An impetus to influence organizational behavior and decision making" (2005). Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers. 8752.
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Thomas M. Schultz, Jr. M.A. University of Wyoming, 1995
B.A. University of Virginia, 1991 Presented in partial fulfillment o f the requirements
For the degree of Master of Science The University of Montana December 2005
Dean, Graduate School
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UMI Number: EP39553
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Introduction The study o f organizational culture is an interdisciplinary endeavor.
Anthropology, sociology, communications, public administration, political science, economics, and business administration and their associated scientific paradigms have all collectively influenced the development o f the construct ‘organizational culture.’ In the literature, organizational culture has been described as strong, weak, unique, general, unitary, com prised o f subcultures, cognitive/ideational, behavioral, having been ‘co­ opted,’ dependent upon a leader or hero, a determinant o f behavior and decision making, a fad, something to be managed, something to be understood, something that is unto itself, or something that an organization has. It would require a Herculean effort to discuss each o f these concepts in any detail. Instead, this paper will focus on the role of organizational culture in influencing organizational behavior and decision making or choices. However, additional historical and theoretical considerations will be discussed in an effort to situate or provide the reader a frame o f reference for understanding the role o f organizational culture as an influence on behavior and choices.
Initially, a historical perspective on the development o f organizational culture will be provided. This discussion will acquaint the reader w ith the ‘'story ' o f organizational culture’s development. As such, organizational culture will be defined, several models o f organizational culture will be presented, the role o f subcultures in advancing the study o f culture will be discussed, and the prominent competing paradigms will be addressed. Following this, the emphasis of the analysis will shift to organizational behavior. M ultiple studies, representing the two predominant paradigms, will be discussed that will portray how behavior has been fundamentally influenced by organizational culture.
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Behavior or action is distinguishable from choices or decision making. The next focus of the paper address decision-making theory and how culture and its manifestations (identification, symbols, politics/power) influence decision making by limiting the range o f acceptable alternatives. Again, several studies in the literature will be used to support these assertions. Finally, a discussion will be provided that examines possibilities (paradigms, methodologies, domains o f interest) for future research in organizational culture.
W hat is Organizational Culture? W hereas the term ‘culture’ had been prominent in the anthropology and sociology
literature prior to the 1970s, it became popularized in the communication literature in the late 1970s and the mid-1980s (Pettigrew 1979; Smircich 1983; Frost et al. 1985; Yanow and Adams 2000). The rise o f organizational culture studies has been viewed by some as a response or critique to positivism or functionalism and its associated ontology, epistemology, axiology, and methodology (Jelinek et al. 1983; Smircich 1985; Smircich and Calas 1987; Hatch 1997; Eisenberg and Riley 2001). Some o f the organizational culture literature (Pacanow sky and O ’Donnell-Trujillo 1982; Pacanowsky and O ’Donnell-Trujillo 1983; Ott 1989; Bantz 1993; Hatch 1993; Hatch 1997) advocated research, grounded within the interpretive worldview, which emphasized lived experiences in the ‘real’ world. However, at the same time, a com peting view o f organizational culture was developing. This competing view o f organizational culture has come to be know n as ‘corporate’ culture. Corporate culture studies tend to adopt a functionalist or m odem w orldview (Burrell and M organ 1979), in which culture is
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viewed as an independent or dependent variable that can be measured (Hofstede 1980; Ouchi 1981; Deal and Kennedy 1982; Smircich 1983; Wilkins and Ouchi 1983; Weick 1985, Denison 1990). The origins o f the organizational culture movement influenced early definitions o f organizational culture.
Pettigrew (1979:574) described culture as a “source o f a family o f concepts.” The manifestations o f culture he includes are symbol, language, ideology, belief, ritual, and myth. Pettigrew (1979:574) viewed symbol as the most inclusive category o f culture and defines symbols as “objects, acts, relationships, or linguistic formations that stand ambiguously for a multiplicity o f meanings, evoke emotions, and impel men to action.” Baker (1980:8) defined organizational culture as an “interrelated set of beliefs, shared by most o f their members, about how people should behave at work and what tasks and goals are important.”
Pacanow sky and O ’Donnell-Trujillo (1982:120) took an even broader approach to defining organizational culture by “indicating that what constitutes the legitimate realm o f inquiry is everything that constitutes organizational life.” From a behavioral view they identified several communication activities that lend to sense-making (Eisenberg and Riley 1988) and ultimately serve as expressions o f culture: relevant constructs, facts, practices, vocabulary, metaphors, stories, rites, and rituals. M ahler (1997) built on the notion o f sense-making and views culture as an influence that guides organizational learning. Acknowledging the role that ideology plays in organizations. Trice and Beyer (1984:654) noted, “the culture o f any social system arises from a network of shared ideologies.” Ideologies are defined as “shared, relatively coherently interrelated sets o f emotionally charged beliefs, values, and norms that bind some people together and help
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them make sense o f their worlds” (Trice and Beyer 1993:33). Accordingly, culture has two basic components: 1) substance —networks o f meanings that embody values, norms, and ideologies; and 2) forms —expressions o f those values wherein they are communicated to other members (Trice and Beyer 1984). Trice and Beyer (1993) also made a point to define what culture is not. Accordingly, culture is not climate, groupthink, social structure, metaphor, nor is it necessarily the key to success.
Ouchi and Williams (1985), Robbins (1986), Ott (1989), and Schein (1991, 1992) all focused on the notion of shared understandings, meanings, and behaviors as basis for defining organizational culture. Schein (1991:247) defined culture as the following:
a pattern o f shared basic assumptions, invented, discovered, or developed by a given group, as it leams to cope with its problems o f external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid, and, therefore, is to be taught to new members o f the group as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems. For Schein (1992), the notion that culture was shared or held in common was crucial. He identified ten phenom ena associated with culture: 1) observed behavioral regularities when people interact (language); 2) group norms; 3) espoused values; 4) formal philosophy; 5) rules o f the game; 6) climate; 7) embedded skills; 8) habits o f thinking, m ental m odels, and/or linguistic paradigms; 9) shared meanings; and 10) root metaphors or integrating symbols. Schein (1992:17) also proposed a model (Figure 1) for uncovering three levels o f culture: 1) artifacts —visible organizational structures (buildings, logos, dress, material objects, physical layout), behaviors (ceremonies, rites, rituals, traditions/customs, rewards, punishment, processes) and language (anecdotes, jokes, stories, myths, metaphors, jargon, explanations, rhetoric); 2) espoused values — strategies, goals, and philosophies; and 3) basic assumptions —unconscious beliefs,
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thoughts, perceptions, and feelings that influence values. Adams (1993) identified three basic assumptions: 1) dependency —group dependent on the leader; 2) pairing —two members working together will produce something to benefit the group in the future; and 3) fight-flight - the group is together to fight or retreat from a common enemy.

Figure 1. Levels o f Culture (Schein 1992)

Espoused Values Assumptions

Ott (1989:1) further elaborated on previous definitions o f culture and stated, “It [culture] is the unseen and unobservable force that is always behind organizational activities that can be seen and observed.” Ott (1989) endorsed Schein's (1992) typology o f organizational culture com posed o f three levels: 1) artifacts (observable behavioral patterns), 2) values and beliefs (what ought to be), and 3) basic underlying assumptions (spirit or truth taken for granted - what is). This typology is useful for identifying methods for studying different components o f culture (i.e., it is difficult to observe values and beliefs). Robbins (1986) described seven characteristics or expressions of organizational culture: 1) individual autonomy, 2) structure, 3) support, 4) identity, 5) performance reward, 6) conflict tolerance, and 7) risk tolerance. Whereas taxonomies are useful to understand concepts, Robbins’ (1986) characteristics could likely be com pressed into three characteristics: 1) behavior (influenced by degree o f autonomy.

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Organizational culture: An impetus to influence