Sunday, January 06, 2013


{Originally Submitted for Business Psychology Assignment January 1993, UniSA}


1 ABSTRACT      4

2 INTRODUCTION            4


CULTURE AND CHANGE             8

5 REFERENCES           10

6 BIBLIOGRAPHY         12


The concept of organisational-culture is born out of culture, and its acceptance and application is dependent upon culture. Further more any particular form of the idea, of organisational-culture, is dependent upon which culture adopts the idea, and how they adapt it to suit their particular needs. There are thus many different and useful views of organisational-culture, but by far, the most useful is the original study of culture and organisations by social anthropologists.



Organisations are both effected by, and affected by the needs of human society and culture. Therefore :

...I find it difficult to separate "management thought" from the broader literature dealing with man and society. I think it relevant that those who dominate the literature that is labeled[sic] "management thought" frequently claim that their intellectual heritage is outside of management literature (Wolf,1974)[1].

The concept of organisational-culture follows this trend of coming from outside the narrow field of organisational theory, in that 'The study of cultural influences, a topic that is central to social anthropology, has existed for some time, buts its application to business organisations is a fairly recent phenomenon (Vecchio,Hearn,Southey, 1992, pp 574).'


But why so long to apply the concept of culture to business organisations ? The answer to this question lies with the culture of society itself. First an idea needs to be distributed and otherwise communicated to the members of society. Second the society needs to beable to comprehend the idea :

Inventions born before their time must remain useless until the level of common intellect rises to comprehend them( Louis Napoleon quoted by Smiles, 1863)[2].

Third, on comprehending the idea, the idea then has to be accepted :

But advancements often appear to wait until the times are ready. There is something in the environment that causes certain concepts to flourish. There is a zeitgeist ‑ a climate of opinion ‑ which admits new conceptualizations[sic]. (Wolf,1974)

During this time of comprehension and acceptance, however, the ideas do not remain static and independent of cultural influences.

"The canon"[study of culture in this case] is an ineluctable facet of the dynamics of cultural change, in a world in which culture is an artifact[sic] and therefore a product of the social reconstruction of extant reality (Samuels, 1991)[3]'

The ideas get moulded until they are comprehended and accepted by those groups which find some use in the ideas. Thus one idea may take on as many forms as there are groups interested in the idea.


When considering this borrowing, moulding and evolution of ideas, to gain acceptance and comprehension by some other group, it should be noted :

There is a danger that, when one area of study borrows key concepts from other disciplines, the concepts become either stereotyped or distorted in the transfer. Also, when concepts are borrowed from other disciplines, they may not be borrowed in toto: that is rather than accepting an entire 'package' ‑ which include the historical debates surrounding 'proper' uses of concepts ‑ people only select aspects of the concepts that suit their interests and thinking at a particular time. (Meek, 1988, pp455‑473, cited in Vecchio,Hearn,Southey, 1992, pp587)[4]

Part of the distortion occurs with the meanings of words.

... the semantics of management are [still] horrible. Terms are used in different senses without precise definition ‑ eg., organization[sic] can be a noun synonymous with firm, or company, or it can be a process of management such as organizing[sic] the management of work. (Wolf,1974)

Now, not only is there confusion as to whether organisation is something a group : does, has, or is, the various uses of the word 'culture' is now added. Culture being what a group has, or is. In social anthropology there is apparent clarity on this point, culture is what a society has.

A society consists of people interacting in the many tasks necessary for survival. ... Culture is the way of life a society creates to satisfy its basic needs. There is no human society that does not have a culture. ... Culture is a total pattern. ... culture refers to a people's total way of life. (Newhill, La Paglia, 1974)[5]

Given such a seemingly all inclusive description of culture, it is easy to see why a group with a particular culture is referred to as the culture. And so the culture, becomes what the society is, rather than what it has. Hence, Meeks(1998, cited in Vecchio,Hearn,Southey, 1992, pp587) view that 'Culture should be regarded as something an organization[sic] 'is', not as something that an organization[sic] 'has' : it is not an independent variable, nor can it be created, discovered or destroyed by the whims of management.'


If organisational‑culture is a concept evolving within a cultural perspective, then the current confusion of terminology is potentially of little concern. But is the idea evolving, or is it hidden in some book, lost in a library, collecting dust ?

It would appear that the concept of organisational‑culture is evolving. According to Guptara(1992)[6] the idea has been spread far and wide by Peters and Waterman's book "In Search of Excellence" . The "zeitgeist" that allowed this was

a time when it[America] was beginning to doubt its economic pre‑eminence for the first time since the Second World War : In Search of Excellence provided reassurance that there was much which was still excellent in America. (Guptara, 1992)

However, whilst the concept is popular and known by many managers, its usefulness and acceptance is still under question. Since 'the vast majority of managers who use the word do not understand what 'culture' means ‑ or indeed how penetrating a way culture provides into the guts of any organization[sic](Guptara,1992)'.

One of the problems preventing acceptance, is that organisational‑culture follows in the path of many other management ideas, such as quality circles and total quality management, all of which were treated as a 'quick fix' to management problems. Since the 'quick fixes' didn't eventuate, most new management ideas are considered to be fads.

There is [thus] the expectation that it is just a matter of time before the culture fad will be dropped, and a new "hot" management topic will emerge. (Kilmann, Saxton, Serpa, 1986, cited in Newstrom & Davis, 1989)[7]

Kilmann, Saxton and Serpa(1986, cited in Newstrom & Davis, 1989) however consider that organisational culture is not a fad and that '... culture will continue to be studied but will be called something else'. They further point out that organisational culture is itself related to previous topics of study in management, such as the human relations movement, participatory management and democratisation of work.

This relationship to previous topics of management, however, would seem to be a confusion between organisational-culture and change of culture through organisational-development. That is to say that culture itself is not dependent upon participatory management, nor democratic processes, though organisational-development tends to be. A culture, however, can be either highly autocratic or democratic.


Most writers on the subject of organisational‑culture frame the subject in terms of myths and legends about heroes of the organisation, plus the rites and rituals that all members of the group are expected to carry out (Kreitner[8], 1989; Kreitner & Kinicki[9], 1989; Megginson,Mosley,Pietri jr[10], 1989). They talk about symbols which allow a person to identify themselves with the organisation. Such concepts of culture whilst colourful are rather superficial and trivial. 'Cultural features do not exist merely as badges of identity to which we have some emotional attachment. They exist to meet the necessities and to forward the purposes of human life. (Sowell, 1991)[11]'

Others such as Pitre and Sims jr(1987, cited in Newstrom & Davis, 1989)[12] put culture into a cognitive framework and view it 'as consensual patterns of thought'. Still others (Kilman, Saxton,Serpa, 1986 cited in Newstrom & Davis, 1989 ) consider culture as occurring at different levels. Vecchio, Hearn and Southey(1992), cite these levels has having been identified by Schein(1985)[13], and that the three basic levels are : artefacts and creations, values, and basic assumptions.

This seems the most acceptable view of organisational-culture since it does not ignore the physical world. The technology produced by and used by an organisation, is not ignored. The importance of technology can be highlighted by Coombs, knights and Willmott's[14](1992) study of the introduction of information communication technology (ICT) into the UK national health service, where they concluded that : 'The study of I.C.T's [technology] in organisations cannot therefore plausibly be abstracted from the social practices which imbue their presence and products (e.g. information)[technology] with meaning.' Further insight to the importance of technology can be obtained from Turnbull's[15](1992) study of the containerisation of ships cargo and the consequent decline of the docker's occupational culture.


Given that organisational‑culture includes all aspects of organisational‑behaviour and good deal more besides, organisational‑culture could be considered as offering little more than a new title for the study‑of‑organisations.

It does however offer more than just a new title, it offers a new perspective for viewing organisations. Whilst organisational‑behaviour tends to work from a solid foundation of individual behaviour which is applied to explaining the behaviour of groups. Culture is a somewhat more vague concept, in that it argues that individual and group evolve together in total, it has no identifiable starting point. But culture is not merely the study of behaviour, it is also the study of the results of behaviour, such as the technology that it produces, and the consequent affect upon future behaviour. Culture adds historical, geographical and physical perspectives to the study of organisations. It allows artificial system boundaries to be either expanded bringing more of society within the organisational context, or for such system boundaries and views to be ignored as being totally irrelevant.

Whilst the study of cultures within organisations is new to the subject of organisational-studies, it is not new to the study of culture. 'Organisations are themselves products of a culture' (Vecchio,Hearn,Southey, 1992, p575) and as such have been studied both, as a microcosm of the greater culture of society in which they exist, and as a subculture within greater society.

This greater study of society should not be forgotten, since most texts on organisational-culture tend to have a rather narrow view of organisational culture, and may tend to imply that all organisations have a culture, and further more this culture is founded within the organisation.

This is not so. The problem is that most organisations are not isolated entities, but are instead a series of overlapping entities. In western culture these overlapping entities are,  at the minimum, the business organisation that an individual works for and the occupational organisation that the individual belongs to. And it should be noted that many occupational groups are dominated by various world cultures. For instance 'we find Jews prominent, often predominant, and usually prospering, in the apparel industry' (Sowell, 1991). Thus occupational cultures and world cultures tend to be more important when studying organisations, compared to some notion that the organisation itself has a culture.

Culture therefore gives an holistic, all encompassing view of an organisation, to restrict organisational-culture to just a few elements of organisational-behaviour is to severely diminish the power of 'culture' as a tool for analysing organisations.


Organisational-culture generally precedes discussions on organisational-change and organisational-development in most texts on management or organisational-behaviour. Why, is not quite clear ? Since the methods of change given generally ignore cultural perspectives.

To quote Kreitner and Kinicki(1989, p666) 'OD is Value-Loaded. Owing to the fact that OD is rooted partially in humanistic psychology, many OD consultants carry certain values or biases into the client organisation'. That is OD consultants have their own cultural group to which they belong, and recent research by Schaller(1992)[16] suggests 'that scientists and laypersons alike are prone to motivated biases in logical and statistical reasoning, thus hiding in-group favoritism[sic] and group stereotyping behind a dangerous "cloak of objectivity".' Such biases that OD consultants bring with them being preferences for cooperation, self-control, and democratic and participative management, none of which is going to work too well in an autocratic culture.

Thus the use of organisational-development to change organisations is highly questionable, since it maybe in direct opposition to the culture of the organisation.

More importantly a culture cannot be changed, a culture is everything about a people, to change a culture is to change a people. To change something called corporate style, corporate identity or corporate symbolism is one thing. But it is not changing culture. Culture evolves, and undoubtably through deliberate action, but without an overall plan of moving from one cultural form to another. And it as already been mentioned that cultures are not founded within organisations, most especially not business organisations.


[1]Wolf, William B, (1974), 'The Meaning of management thought' in "Contemporary Management : Issues and Viewpoints" editor Joseph W. McGuire; Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. pp113-115
[2]Smiles, Samuel(1863) (reprint with foreword by L.T.C Rolt, 1968), "Industrial Biography : iron workers and tool makers", August M. Kelley Publishers, New York. p170
[3]Samuels, Warren J (1992), 'Dynamics of Cultural Change', "Society" Vol 29. No. 1, Nov/Dec 1991, Transaction Publishers pp23-26
[4]Meek, V.L (1988), 'Organisational Culture : Origins and Weaknesses', "Organisational Studies", 9 (1988) pp455-473.

Vecchio, Hearn, Southey (1992), "Organisational Behaviour : Life at Work in Australia", 1st Australian Edition, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, Sydney.
[5]Newhill and La Paglia (1974), "Exploring World Cultures", Ginn and Company(a xerox education company), Lexington, Massachusetts. pp1-5
[6]Guptara, Prabhu S,(1992), 'Corporate Culture and Competitive Advantage', in "HandBook of Management 3rd edition" edited by Dennis Lock, Gower Publishing Co. pp66-72
[7]Kilman, Saxton and Serpa (1986) 'Issues in Understanding and Changing Culture' in "Organizational Behavior : Readings and Exercises" edited by Newstrom and Davis(1989), McGraw-Hill. pp404-410
[8]Kreitner, Robert (1989), "Management, 4th edition", Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. pp544-580
[9]Kreitner and Kinicki (1989), "Organizational Behavior", BPI Irwin. pp640-672
[10]Megginson, Mosley and Petri Jr (1989), "Management : Concepts and Applications",3rd/edition, Harper & Row Publishers Inc. pp373-399
[11]Sowell, Thomas (1991), 'A World View of Cultural Diversity', "Society" Vol 29, No. 1, Nov/Dec 1991, Transaction Publishers. pp37-44
[12]Pitre and Sims Jr (1987), 'The Thinking Organization : How Patterns of Thought Determine Organizational Culture'in "Organisational Behaviour : Readings and Exercises" edited by Newstrom and Davis (1989), McGraw-Hill. pp411-420
[13]Schein, E.H. (1985), "Organisational Culture and Leadership", Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
[14]Coombs, Knights, Willmott (1992), 'Culture, Control and Competition; Towards a Conceptual Framework for the Study of Information Technology in Organizations', "Organisation Studies", 13 issue 1, 1992, Walter De Gruyter, Berlin/New York. pp51-71
[15]Turnbull, Peter (1992), 'Dock strikes and the demise of the docker's 'occupational culture' ', "The Sociological Review", Vol 40, No. 2, May 1992. pp294-318
[16]Schaller, Mark(1992), 'In-Group Favoritism and Statistical Reasoning in Social Inference : Implications for Formation and Maintenance of Group Stereotypes', "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology", Vol 63, No. 1, July 1992, American Psychological Association Inc. pp61-74

Bartol & Martin, (1991), "Management", McGraw-Hill.

Rachman, Mescon, Bovee & Thill, (1990), "Business Today 6th/edition", McGraw-Hill.