Perspectives on the concept of culture in Organizations

Essay, 2015

9 Pages, Grade: A



The understanding and assessment of culture is a vital part of the management of an organization and the ability of managers to understand and assess the culture can play a crucial role in how effectively individuals and teams and organizations operate. Morgan (1998, p138) suggested the culture of an organization could be found in the ‘ organizational structure, rules, policies, goals, missions, job descriptions and standard operating procedures’….and this acted as a ‘primary points of reference for the way people think about and make sense of the contexts in which they work’

There are a varied number of definitions of culture which encompasses the individual, local, national and global cultures that exist within organizations and individuals.

Dutch author, Hofstede (1984, p51) offered a broad and globally encompassing definition by suggesting ‘culture is the collective programming of the human mind that distinguishes members of one human group from another. Culture in this sense is a system of collectively held values’

Edgar Schein (2004, p17) who has written several books on the subject and is a respected figure in the academic field concerning culture, succinctly framed culture as ‘the deeper level of basic assumptions and beliefs that are shared by members of an organization that operate unconsciously and define in a basic ‘taken for granted’ fashion an organizations view of its self and its environment’

Organizational Culture

It may sometimes be difficult to fully assess and understand the prevailing culture that exists within the organizations, as some elements of culture are hidden and some very visible, the culture of the organization could be argued as visible through its symbols, missions statements and other artifacts as well as invisible in its values and beliefs and subcultures that manifests within individuals, teams and within the organization as a whole. Robbins & Barnwell (2002, p377) encompassed these attributes of organizational culture succinctly as ‘a system of shared meaning’.

Modernist perspective

The modernist perspective of culture assumes culture can be understood and is based on truths and knowledge which can be controlled and could be used as an aiding tool for the management of an organization.

Schein (2004) identified three levels in organizational cultures; these were (i) Artifacts and Behaviors (ii) Espoused Values and (iii) Assumptions.

(i)Artifacts and Behaviors – the first level included physical or verbal elements in an organization such as office furniture, office dress code, office banter and history.
(ii) Espoused Values – the second level are the organizations stated or desired cultural elements. The Espoused values are often written like a code of conduct and forms the mantra.
(iii) Assumptions – the third level represents the current values that the culture represents these are often embedded in the office culture to an extent that they are difficult to recognize from within.

Schein offered an important contribution to understanding organizational culture. Creating a performance culture is vital to the success of any organization. McCarthy & Stein (2003.p97) succinctly stated ‘business agility to permeate all aspects of a business, the ability to sense recognize and act decisively must become part of your culture and be reflected in the people you hire and the strategies you espouse’

Scheins modernist perspective assumes culture is phenomena that can be understood by managers and managed as an instrumental aid, Cunliffe (2008, p67) suggested that’ managers can shape culture through vision and value statements, etc., through their actions and expectations, by creating systems that support the organizations values, and by structuring the organization in particular ways’. Pascale (1985) cited Gilbert, Fiske & Linzey 1998, p752) referred to the changing of an organizations culture as organizational socialization, where once the new organizational culture is created a seven step mechanism is implemented to distil and solidify the acceptance of the new values and ensure the continued acceptance of that culture.Pascale’s seven steps that constitute the socialization process consisted of (1) careful selection of entry level candidate (2) humility inducing experience in the first months of the job to unfreeze the employees old habits (3) training in the organizations values (4) implementation of systems (5) adherence to the organizations core values (6) reinforcement and validation of the organizations culture and (7) reward and recognition of those who become role models and exemplify the organizations values.

Hofstede (1984) who suggested the practices of an organization were more tangible than values also suggested organizational culture could be identified on the level of its practices, Schein in contrast offered a more deeper understanding and argued that the practices of an organization formed the artifacts of a much deeper cultural levels and could often be difficult to decipher.

Schein’s research suggested that the third level of culture, the basic assumptions, which formed the core, is the ultimate source of value for managers. From a modernist perspective is could be suggested that Scheins framework on culture could be used as a tool by the management of an organization in order to understand the prevailing culture and In order to successfully implement a change in culture, if desired by the management of an organization.

scheins research suggests that management need to understand the basic underlying assumptions which form the beliefs which are taken for granted, these as Schein highlighted, often exist at an unconscious level and are often very difficult to decipher but hold the key to understanding the culture that exists within the organization.

Postmodernist perspective

In contrast to modernist theorists on organizational culture, post-modernist theorists challenge the narrative. Hatch & Cunliffe (2006, p202) clarified that ‘postmodernists rely heavily on the metaphor of the text’. Julia Kristeva explained and developed the idea of intertextuality, which took the idea of extracting meaning from text or concept which could be a mere word or entire ideology or concept. Kristeva (1986) cited Clayton & Rothstein 1991, p322) suggested ‘Any text is constructed as a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another’

From a postmodernist perspective intertextuality is concerned with the interdependence and interconnectedness of text and its drawn meaning and understanding which forms the culture of the organization. Post-modernist theorists suggest that intertextuality shapes the culture of an organization through the interpretation of texts, signs, symbols, identities etc. and all these are interwoven.

Boje (2008.p7) suggested the narrative was retrospective and ‘chronologically that leaves little to the imagination’, Boje coined the term ante narrative and suggested that his system of thinking that contested the narratives was better suited to understanding culture. Boje supported the idea that a system of polyphonic story telling in organizations could help people in organizations make sense of the retrospective narrative in the future.

Martin (1997) also shared Bojes argument that the culture of an organization could exist as fragmentations and there is no shared organizational culture. Martin suggested that the culture of an organization could be viewed through three different points of view which she stated as (i) ‘integration’ (ii) ‘differentiation’ (iii) Fragmentation.

(i) Integration - a shared set of values and purpose
(ii) Differentiation –conflict and disagreement within the organization from people and little consensus
(iii) Fragmentation – meaning is paradoxical with both shared meaning and disagreement both co existing

Martin argued that that the when the culture of an organization is examined through all three perspectives, each perspective would reveals a different set of truths.

According to continental philosophers such as Kant, society has entered a postmodern condition where reality is a sign of something that is no longer present. Marwah (2012) suggested that Kant’s views on culture were anti imperialistic as kant suggested what happens in the mind is an extrapolation of the real, Kants views to some degree echoed Bauddreillards view.

French socialist Bauddrillard advocated a more extreme version of post modernism in His Book Simulacra and simulation he suggested simulacra is how society simulates the real. Simulacra which is the plural of simulacrum was a concept which stood for no reality. Bauddrillard (1994, p1) suggested that meaning has become de-stable to an extent that society is unable to decipher what is real and what is not. He coined the phrase ‘the desert of our real itself’ to describe the current state, Bauddrillard ideas have since been popularized in modern cult science fiction movies as the Matrix. Bauddrillards ideas in contrast to the modernist perspectives, suggested that there is no shared meaning.


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Perspectives on the concept of culture in Organizations
Birkbeck, University of London
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perspectives, organizations
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Abdul Aziz (Author), 2015, Perspectives on the concept of culture in Organizations, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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