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The concept of Organizational Culture and its applications

Organizational culture is the outline of fundamental assumptions that a certain group invented, discovered, or developed while learning to deal with the problems related to its external adaptation or its internal integration. It functioned in such a way as to be considered valid and worthy of being taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel about these problems.

The depth of culture

According to Schein's proposal, the basic values and assumptions are three levels of progressive depth at which the preferred behavior models proposed by the organization are manifested. Its position is interesting because it sensitizes people to observe organizational contexts considering three levels of progressive depth, to which the prevailing patterns of a specific organizational context are manifested.

The next level of values concerns that what is important in a specific organization and which constitutes a guide for adopting the most appropriate behaviors in certain situations. It is more in line with what is considered relevant also by all the other members. Rules, both formal and tacit, on the behavior expected by people within a context also act as a compass. In particular, declaring specific values ​​allows the organization to send signals on real moral codes that should help members evaluate what is right or wrong, representing behavioral regulatory standards. It is recommended to follow in order to move properly in the context and contribute to its development.

Finally, the basic assumptions they constitute the deepest and most implicit level of culture, so axiomatic in the conduct of people that it is taken for granted and acted automatically. These profound beliefs are so deeply rooted, and reproduced automatically in everyday work, that they are taken for granted by people and determine both the common rules of behavior and the different types of conceptions regarding matters important to the organization unconsciously. It is the most difficult level to edit.

A further theoretical model that proposes different levels of progressive depth of culture is that of Payne (2000). Also, according to this approach, depth refers to how deeply rooted culture is; in particular, it refers to how people relate to organizational situations. The depth increases if the members of the organization have a positive attitude towards a specific situation, behave in line with it, consider it important, and, finally, if they consider it so fundamental that they take it for granted (for example, deep belief). As you will notice, the three levels or that of behavior, that of value and that of deep belief proposed by Payne, are similar to those foreseen by Schein (1985), that are the values ​​and basic assumptions. Since the three levels are similar for the two authors, we underline their substantial equivalence. We point out, however, that the Payne model allows us to detect how organizational culture is expressed through the organization's members by taking into consideration a further external. And a superficial layer of human manifestations: attitude. In general, the attitude represents the position that a person tends to take in relation to a situation or theme; for example, if he sees it positively or negatively.

The power of culture in an organization

The strength of culture pertains to how widespread it is among members of the organization. The theoretical reference model is that of Payne (2000) and is connected to the concept of depth just described. According to this approach, in fact, the strength, or diffusion, of culture regards how much each of the four levels of depth (attitude, behavior, value, and deep belief) is widespread in the organizational context. The greater the number of people who express one of the four levels of depth, the stronger, or more widespread, is this aspect of culture.

The cultural typologies

One way to analyze organizational cultures is to find a correspondence between the cultural clues present in a given organization and some predefined categories so that the culture examined can be traced back to a specific cultural typology. Following this approach, the finding of culture is made by finding the correspondence between the cultural clues that appear in a context and the aspects considered emblematic of a specific type of culture. There is a type, or a category, or class, in which the organization is brought back based on the cultural characteristics it presents.

The cultural typology proposed by Enriquez (1970) can represent a valid reading key for the decoding of the organizational context in relation to its prevailing behavioral models and proposes the following types of culture: authoritarian, bureaucratic, paternalistic-patronage, technocratic, cooperative.

To place the organization in one typology rather than another, Enriquez indicates four parameters that assume different characteristics in each of the five typologies. They are based on the prevailing value, the career criteria, the methods of communication and interpersonal relationship, and individual needs which are satisfied in the psychological contract with the organization (Rousseau, 1996).

Authoritarian culture:

In authoritarian culture, the fundamental value is respect for authority and subordination towards it represents the criterion on which the evaluation of people's work and career progression is based. The dialogue is reduced to the delivery of directives to be followed, and the feedback does not exist or is a corrective action that only emphasizes the errors to be avoided. Authority is controlling because man is conceived as incapable of self-discipline, subordination is desired and rewarded with professional recognition, and career advancement and identification with authority favor imitative behavior.

Bureaucratic culture 

A bureaucratic culture emphasizes compliance with the norm as a fundamental value and bases career progression on the equal seniority criterion. People are required to respect the role limits and the standardized execution of the foreseen tasks, without particular future initiatives or projects. It is easy to identify those aspects in this context shaping the managerial action towards interventions centered on the efficiency of the knowledge of formal procedures. It’s the main objective to ensure that the person fulfills well the activities covered by the role.

Paternalistic patronage

In a culture of paternalistic patronage, the dominant value belongs to a privileged group; mutual benefit exchanges are activated between members and the chief in the interest of all. The paternalistic component is expressed by the superiority and control of the leader who dispenses privileges to the members of a group. They consequently reciprocate the leader with loyal support to his person and to the whole system of advantageous relationships that have been structured in such lobby. Consistently the career path advances by co-optation.

Technocratic culture

A technocratic culture proposes professional competence and career advancement as a fundamental value. Performance and efficiency connote continuous professional development, with a particular trust in rationality and in the orientation towards the objective to be achieved rather than the rigidly predetermined task and without individual original contributions. Consistently, management is more likely to focus on investing in knowledge and enhancing professional skills, as the most personal resources and components are at stake for success in the job. The value attributed by the organization to success and concrete results offers individual members the opportunity to satisfy their need for success and personal fulfillment through work.

Cooperative culture

Finally, in a cooperative culture, the dominant value is the participation of all members in every organizational decision or initiative. The satisfying needs are essentially those of affiliation and protection linked to the welcome and reassuring interpersonal relationship because it is conflict-free. The assumption of autonomy of action is the empowerment of the individual. Everyone is responsible for their results, without disengagement or withdrawals of individual contributions, dangerous for the overall balance of the organization. In situations of effective mutual and unconditional trust like this, somewhat rare, management is conducted fairly, as shared and agreed as possible. It is aimed at the common well-being and improvement of each component of the system.

Also, this model of cultural typologies allows some concrete application notes. First, we point out that it is difficult to find in one organization, especially if large, a pure form of culture rather than another. It is more likely that different departments or organizational units within the organization follow different rules and that alongside the nucleus of more recurrent organizational behaviors that is the dominant culture, secondary cultural nuclei coexist. Second, the specificity and distinctiveness of the elements that make up the different typologies facilitate the definition of a company's cultural identity and an articulated profile, most likely responding to the actual organizational identity. Finally, the level of detail proposed by the type illustrated allows you to refine the assessment of the compatibility between the values ​​or rules inherent in a management initiative and those inherent in the organizational fiber. For example, work by objectives is more isomorphic with a technocratic cultureOrganizational Culture, while work by tasks is more congenial to a bureaucratic structure.

Author: Vicki Lezama

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