Organisational culture is the environment defined by the interaction of the employees and the personality of the organisation. It is the habit that has been adapted in an organization for doing things. Assumptions, values, norms, artefacts and the behaviour of the members of the organisation are comprised as culture. Culture is difficult to comprehend unless felt within the organisation itself (Zhang & Iles, 2014). For example, a hospital and a corporate office will have strikingly different cultures based on the way people and groups interact and how they function in the organisation.
For managers to make changes in an organisation, it is imperative to understand the different perspectives onorganisational culture. This enables them to make appropriate changes. This essay intends to provide a broader understanding and rationality of the recommendations managers will make to change the culture in the organisation. The perspectives of the modernism and the critical theory are examined in deep with the view of explaining their advice to managers who seek to influence the organisational culture of an institution.
Modernist perspective on organisational culture
Modernists believe that the ontology focuses on objectivism, which believes that reality is independent on the knowledge of its existence (Hatch & Cunliffe, 2006). This perspective emphasizes only on external realities that are objective. Objective truths are significant for organisations to better improve their efficiencies and effectiveness. In an epistemology view, positivism is revealed by modernists through the discovery of truths through valid conceptualizations and scientific management that are tested against an objective world.
The modernist approach view the structure of an organization to be objective such that it can be observed, identified and measured. Modernists view culture as a portal with which the society can influence the organization. These theorists focus on increasing efficiency and effectiveness and all other objective indicators of performance (Hatch & Cunliffe, 2013). This they do by way of theories that relate to structure and control.
Under Schein’s theory of levels of organisational culture, the essence of the hidden core of organisational culture are basic assumptions. Members in the culture believe this to be the truth and use the norms and values to make decisions (Hatch & Cunliffe, 2006). According to (Schien, 2004), basic assumptions is what culture fundamentally is, and the outcome will be that the other levels can be controlled if the members understand the underlying structure.
The second level of Schein’s theory of organisational culture are values which consists of goals, social principles and standards that are of intrinsic value to the members. Values are the projection of a culture care and are recognised by members to make moral or ethical decisions (Hatch & Cunliffe, 2006). Values are put forward by the top management, hence influencing how other members in the organisation think and feel.
Norms are the unwritten rules and universal body of knowledge for members to know how to react in various situations and how to behave. Values identify what is significant in an organisation while norms ascertain the kind of behaviour to expect from themselves and other members. Quantitative methods and deductive approaches are taken in which scientific research and analysis are carried out so that objective theoretical models with factual illustrations of organisational management can be generated (Bryman & Bell, 2003).
A criticism of the modernist is on the fact that management on this perspective rests on the basis of the colonization of nature and people and control of the society as a whole. This they sustain when they know that there are limits to control. The objects of control are also limited to labour power and behaviour (Golembiewski, 2000). However, it is quite difficult to control the mind power and employees may not easily subject themselves to the management.
Critical perspectives on organisational culture
The critical perspectives on organisational culture disagree with the notion that organizations are value free sites. The critical theorists argue that work places are sites of continued struggle between the management and employees which ultimately results in the domination and oppression of weaker party by the powerful.
The critical theorists reject the organic analogy adopted by structural functionalism and argue that organizational culture is not variable for it is the organization. They see the organization as a dramatic arena where everything is worked at, performances given, roles played, scripts written and politics played out (Grieves, 2010). This perspective engages the organizational analysis rather than undertaking a cultural analysis.
To a certain extent, critical perspective like modernism believes in objectivism. Critical theorists consider knowledge to be greatly influenced by modernist ideologies even though they believe in the existence of reality. Critical theory’s main objective is focused on revealing the real truths hidden by the modernist theories (Alvesson & Deetz, 2006).
Critical theorists are subjectivists whom refuse to accept the truths which are tainted by views of modernism. In an epistemology view, subjectivism proves cynical of the dominant perspective as qualitative and inductive methodologies which influences the focused study of historical and discourse analysis (Alvesson & Deetz, 2006).
For an organisation to bask in financial success, a strong cohesive culture is needed. Top managers can establish such culture by creating a set of values and reinforcing them with formal policies and artifacts which in time will yield into higher commitment and greater productivity (Peters and Waterman, 1982). Managers who put forth their personal values and put in effort into committing those values will in return generate a high morale and performance motivated working members in the organisation (Schein, 1985).
While modernist theories encompass the modernist logic and instrumental reasoning, critical theory opposes these modernist structure of power and control. Critical theorists find organisational cultures serves to propagate the values of top management who are in power so as to benefit them. Organisational culture has been absorbed into the instrumental logic of managerialism (Fleming and Spicer, 2003). Much critical research has been done to discover that the data and theories observed will certainly influence the modernist perspective. The values and goals put up by the top management may not necessarily be accepted by the lower level employees as they are disadvantaged by the culture.
A criticism of the critical perspective on organizational culture is based on the fact that the theory argues that the culture is the organization, and thus is not a variable of the organisation (Grieves, 2010). This subsequently means that it cannot be managed. If this was so, then it would be easy to reach a managerial impasse.
Changing organisational culture
Changing organisational culture is a tedious process of change or alteration to the culture in the organisation in order to optimise the efficiency and wellbeing of the organisation. This is because organizational culture is build over a very long time and the workers are comfortable with it thus requiring a significant event for people to change culture (Grieve, 2010).
Changes in culture is necessary to reduce the turnover rate of its employees, improving top and middle management relationships and to refocus the objectives of the companies to achieve specific goals and results (Grieve, 2010). Culture change can be impacted by certain factors such as the external environment, change in government protocols, technology changes and most importantly the management of the organisation.
As critical theory perspective opposes to the way modernism perspective works, these perspectives can be used simultaneously to develop a multi pronged approach in understanding the structure and hence, the organizational culture. This way, one is better able to conceptualise the appropriate advice to managers, based on the respective perspectives. Changes derived from conclusive advice will then have a significant impact to the organisation and its members.
Modernists believe that it is possible to manage the culture of any organization in a way that guarantees a desired behaviour since culture shapes behaviours. They argues that organizational culture can change upon the introduction of new values be example or decree of the top management. However, these new values must be absorbed into unconscious assumptions that will give the employees a controlling role as well (Hatch & Cunliffe, 2006). Modernist methodologies can be used to illustrate and measure the effectiveness of the values and norms put up by the managers.
Quantitative approaches are used to measure
Modernists also argue that organizations can develop and implement secondary strategies to bring changes in the organizational culture. These secondary strategies are categorized into instrumental and expressive strategies. Instrumental strategies are those that are operational in nature and are directed to attain measurable objectives that are specific. Expressive strategies are employed to maintain a collective self concept and a identity to the outside world that is recognizable (Hatch & Cunliffe, 2013).
Modernists argue that a change in culture can only occur when a different strategy is used. This strategy has to be incompatible with the existing values and assumptions for the change to take off effectively (Hatch & Cunliffe, 2013). If the new strategy is met with success, then the values it brings will be absorbed in the set of assumptions of the organization.
There is a problem with the critical perspective of organizational culture when it comes to changing the culture of an organization. This is because the theory does not engage cultural change. It focuses on analysing, examining and criticising organizational practises. These practises include leadership, management and ethics (Grieves, 2010). It provides a rich source of critique and analysis but it is a no means for changing an organisations culture or developing it at all.
The critical approach to organizational culture may not be useful when it comes to changing the culture of an organisation but can be used to lead to organizational change (Grieve, 2010). Given the fact that this theory analyses the reality at the organisation, the management thereafter seeks to change the organisation to create conducive environment for the employees to work. A critical analytical approach can be used to change social practises and not cultures per se especially when problems thwart the managing of cultural changes (Grieves, 2010).
As revealed above, the task of changing the organizational culture of an institution is very tough. This is because organization culture is the way of life of the people. It is what they are used to for a very long time and has become part of them. Changing it may have both positive and negative impacts on the performance of the persons working in the organisation.
Therefore, whatever theory is adopted when implementing a cultural change by the management of the organization, the process has to be gradual. The changes have to be given time to be received and develop to the desired standards. The management must be patient with the employees and the employees must be made to accept the change before it is implemented.
It is also extremely important for the management personnel in the organization to be the models of the desired culture. If the attitudes and values of the leaders change, it becomes easier for the subordinates to conform in the right direction once directed.
- Hatch, M.J and, Cunliffe, A. (2006). Organization Theory: Modern, Symbolic, and Postmodern Perspectives, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), ix).
- Hatch, M. J., & Cunliffe, A. L. (2013). Organization theory: Modern, symbolic, and postmodern perspectives.
- Grieves, J. (2010). Organizational change: Themes & issues. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Fleming, P and Spicer, A. (2003) ‘Working at a cynical distance: Implications for power, subjectivity and resistance’ Organization, 10:159-81
- Schein, E. H. 1985. Organizational culture and leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
(Golembiewski, R. T. (2000). Handbook of Organizational Behavior, Second Edition, Revised and Expanded. CRC Press