As a leader understanding the culture in your organization is extremely important. “Why?”, you might ask. On one hand cultural norms determine how an organization will define leadership; on the other hand, a unique talent of exceptional leaders is the ability to create culture, manage culture, and destroy it when it becomes dysfunctional.
Organizational culture is defined as a pattern of shared basic assumptions that a group learns as it solves its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that have worked well enough to be considered valid, and therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, feel in relation to these problems (Schien, 2010).
An organization’s culture can be broken down into three parts: the artifacts (these are observable and can range from behaviors, to a picture on the wall, or the layout of the office), the espoused values (values that create your behavior), and assumptions (fundamental beliefs) (Schien, 2010).
Now that you understand what organizational culture is I would like to debunk several myths pointed out by Deal & Kennedy (1999).
1.) Myth: Culture is a quick fix for any problem. Culture should never be considered a quick fix. A quick fix is the ability to alter one’s marketing strategy, not change the culture. When looking at cultural changes it is important to note that these are always embedded within the organization, through peoples behaviors, attitudes, and values.
2.) Myth: Culture and strategy have nothing to do with one another. The combination of culture and strategy is the key to effective business practices. Culture changes very slowly, so for a strategy to succeed quickly it must take advantage of existing cultural inertia to channel people’s energy into action.
3.) Myth: Culture resists all change. This myth is deeply embedded for many managers. Companies and their cultures are living breathing manifestations of the most deeply held desires of the people within them. Culture may be slow to change but when presented with new strategies to improve the organization, the process can be guided.
4.) Myth: Cultural change can be managed. The next time a consultant offers you a quick cultural fix you should just show them the door. A profound cultural change can be messy and a painful process. It is important to provide transition rituals that help individuals and collectives leave old culture behind and move into a more promising future. Although you can help guide culture it can truly never be managed.
5.) Myth: Top-level leadership is the key to instilling a strong culture. Leadership has a lot to do with building a cohesive culture, but it is not just leadership that allows the company to carry out its economic mission successfully. Each person in the organization is apart of it’s culture.
6.) Myth: People hang onto a culture they know even when it is no longer relevant. People cling on to old ways because they have worked and help them progress to where they are today. They can learn to shed old ways if they see it will help them excel.
7.) Myth: Strong cultures are monolithic. In reality, strong cultures can arise anywhere. When the environment demands for diversity of thought and/or action, this fosters diversity within the culture.
8.) Myth: Culture is not for everyone. Managers uncomfortable with the idea of culture should beware. Culture’s non-official roll and policies ultimately dictate what you can and cannot do. Organizations should try to train managers to be more culturally competent.
Deal, T. E., & Kennedy, A. A. (1999). The new corporate cultures. New York: Perseus.
Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational culture and leadership (Vol. 2). John Wiley & Sons.