Defining and Improving Organizational Culture – Part I

By George P. Linke, Jr., Psy.D. and Shlomo Z. Satt

In searching for a definition of organizational culture, you will find dozens of results, each defining it differently.  Seemingly, organizational culture is dynamic and does not fit into a specific definition.  Although there are sources that attempt to do just that, such as Investopedia’s definition, “the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions.”  Meaning, culture refers not just to what and how tasks are done within an organization, it also refers to the beliefs and motivations behind those actions.  Simply put, that would be a suitable definition, but ascribing just one sentence to something as multi-dimensional as organizational culture would surely miss some of its nuances and meanings.

The Harvard Business Review describes culture as, “a jointly shared description of an organization from within.”This is very important to understand, as it means that ALL employees of an organization contribute to its culture. Even if a manager places a high value on respectful interactions and professionalism, if their subordinates do not value those aspects, then their influence might supersede that of their superior. For this, it is important to seek out employees that not only do their tasks well, but who also positively contribute to the organizational culture.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) provides additional depth by indicating, “An organization’s culture defines the proper way to behave within the organization…. Organizational culture sets the context for everything an enterprise does.” We already understand that culture includes the actions and motivations that occur within an organization, but the above source maintains that culture is also a predictor for an organization’s future. If specific values and behaviors are reinforced in the company culture, that will also provide a precedent for future action. For example, if an organization places high value on efficiency, then one can assume the future actions within the organization will aim to be efficient and align with that value.

Additionally, the SHRM makes an excellent point about subcultures within organizations. Often times, especially in large organizations with separate teams, there can be many different subcultures existing within the general organizational culture. As the SHRM says, these subcultures can “can deepen and underscore the organization’s core values.” The smaller groups can either strengthen the overall culture of an organization, or it can undermine the organization and negatively affect overall company-wide culture. This facet of organizational culture; subcultures, further details the intricacies of defining organizational culture.

One final element of organizational culture is also how an organization presents itself to others. Until now, we’ve discussed internal factors of group culture, but organizational culture is also expressed externally. Business Dictionary includes “marketing and advertising practices” within its definition of organizational culture. All organizations have an idea of what they want to present themselves as. Interestingly enough, both internal and external representations of organizational culture are  usually the same. For example, a young startup is much more likely to utilize high-gloss, modern advertisements than a traditional organization that has been in business for decades. Because of this, the culture (whether internal or external) of an organization is also a predictor of which audiences will connect with their message and utilize their services.

Although there is a lot more to say about defining organizational culture, for the scope of this blog, we will stop here. However, be sure to read part II, to be released later this week, about developing and improving organizational culture.

Does your workplace have an identifiable organizational culture? What values and beliefs would you associate with your current place of work? Click here to join the conversation.

George Linke is the Founder and President of Linke Resources. He is an executive & professional search consultant specializing in healthcare and human services. He has a demonstrated track record of placing well qualified professionals that advance the clinical and programmatic needs critical to an organization’s mission and financial health. He has extensive experience serving individuals with behavioral health needs, intellectual disabilities, autism and other developmental disabilities. To learn more about how Linke Resources can make the hiring process efficient, successful and stress-free, call 610-873-4813.