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Culture is often under debate. Does that mean there is something wrong with it? We hear it mentioned in parliament when political objectives seem to be frustrated. This may, for instance, provoke a call for a cultural change in the civil service. When cooperation between particular public institutions seems to stagnate, one of the parties is said to be in need of a cultural cure.
In business we see the same things happen. There, new market relationships, new technology or other things are said to require a drastic cultural change so as to reconnect the organisation with its environment. It is surprising that policy makers and supportive staff do not ask themselves what culture basically is and what it means to people. Is culture similar to other management puzzles (structure, processes etc.)? And when a culture needs a change, how can that be done?
This working paper builds on various conceptual studies. It is thereby important to be critical about normative conceptions that tell us how to manage an organisation. In particular, management may think that culture can be easily moulded so as to realise strategic goals. Then, all of a sudden, employees are proffered a set of new values and a new training programme. However, it is doubtful whether culture can be easily adapted to the wishes of the incumbent or incoming management. This working paper's central question is: how can you keep an organisational culture flexible enough to survive? This is a relevant question as culture cannot be stagnant if it is to survive. Survival is not self-evident in an environment which is complex, turbulent and perhaps even chaotic. Not a single organisation is on 'an island with white beaches, blue skies and calm waters' (Vail, 1989). Moreover, standard concepts and models developed a long time ago do not easily apply today (McAuley et al., 2007). To answer the central question, we will take the following steps. First, we will give a definition of organisation. After that, we will address culture. Finally, we will discuss how to keep an organisation culture 'on the move', that is, how to keep it up with the times. We will avoid the term transformation.
Contents of the paper
1. Organisation as a multiple concept
1.1 Organisational culture
1.2 Organisation as a multiple concept
1.3 Organisation as effective work community according to human measure criteria
1.4 The dynamics of organisations
2. Organisational culture
2.1 Culture of the essence
2.2 The functions of culture
2.3 Culture as management instrument
2.4 A definitions of culture
2.5 A synthesis focused on mature relationships within organisations
2.6 Core values as a glue
3. Culture on the move
3.1 Research on participation while organising and changing
3.2 Approaches driven by strategies
3.3 People-driven approaches
3.4 Interventions making fot movement
3.5 Feeding an organisational culture
Conclusion of the paper
The introduction stated that organisational culture cannot be controlled by managers. By implication: a new manager cannot mould the culture by introducing his own value priorities. The central question of this paper is: how do you keep an organisational culture on the move so that it can survive? Considering the dynamic nature of today's reality, one thing is clear: Organisational culture cannot be taken for granted. There is no static tranquillity. Although every industry has its own specific business environment, generally speaking, the classical management approaches seem to a have lost a great deal of their relevance. 'Best fit approaches' are needed to keep a culture moving into a promising direction.
We have made an intellectual journey that led us to the question: how can one define 'organisation'? After that, we have discussed 'culture'. Next, we have contemplated the possibilities to keep an organisational culture on the move. In this context, we suggested to avoid the option of cultural turnaround or transformation. We opted for organisational culture on the move. How can you keep an organisational culture on the move in order to safeguard its survival? The answer lies in the following argumentation.
1. An organisation is not just an instrument to make profits; it is not just there for the sake of shareholders. An organisation should also serve the purposes of those who work in it, and should be beneficial to customers and society at large. It is most of all a cultural entity, a world of social imagination. Maintaining a culture requires efforts from those who belong to it. Classical forms of management tend to get stuck in the resistance they provoke.
Conclusion: the human measure and organisational effectiveness should go together.
2. Each culture tends to opt for survival, but may do so in the wrong way. The various subcultures in one and the same organisation represent various perspectives of reality, the future, the need to change and how that change should be implemented to safeguard survival. Diversity makes stronger, while uniformity may lead to implosion.
Conclusion: an organisation consists of subcultures which have different patterns of reasoning when dealing with various issues.
3. Trust is basic to a mature way of dealing with another. Complex organisational issues within dynamic contexts require freedom to act and a trustful environment. An organisational meeting place provides moments of reflection and discourse about how to solve certain problems while creating the conditions for making arrangements as to how changes will be implemented.
Conclusion: a meeting place benefits from what can be seen as an organisation's strength: its internal diversity.
4. Reflection, learning, change and development are major ingredients of achievement. In particular, the development of collective organisational capabilities are of crucial importance. Effective interventions make the modes of argumentation debatable. Such processes promote a further development of these organisational capabilities.
Conclusion: interventions intend to make debatable and change underlying patterns of reasoning.
5. In the course of time certain core value have emerged. These core values may continue to be the glue that makes the work community stronger. Preservation of the core values and developing together of new approaches may be the way forward. However, if the core values have lost their power, they need to be reconsidered.
Conclusion: Intervention means both seeing the organisation within its historical context and going for future-oriented change.
6. An organisation representing an anti-fragile work community is appealing because it unites people (it is like glue) and encourages them to commit themselves as partners. Conclusion: Antifragility is encouraged by creating meeting places and continuous interventions that make patterns of reasoning debatable.
7. The interventions as previously discussed are behavioural in nature, or focus on perspectives and patterns of reasoning by agreement based a coaching management style. These kinds of intervention mostly intend to change patterns of reasoning. Especially keep-off reasoning tend to hinder further organisational progress. This type of reasoning can be recognized in 'the plays that people perform in the organisational theatre'.
Conclusion: the prevailing patterns of reasoning appear in the plays that people themselves perform in the organisational theatre.
8. Meeting places facilitate reflecting on what is going on, debating possible solutions and committing to the implementation of certain improvements.
Conclusion: the frequent provision of meeting places testifies to mature dealings between managers and co-workers.
We can summarise the conclusion as follows: an organisation goes beyond just making profit. It is a cultural entity with different subcultures. Today's business environments are often dynamic and chaotic so that an organisation has to be
anti-fragile. Meeting places are conducive to that. Where keep-off reasoning (scepticism, 'business as usual') prevails, the internal change manager must intervene. If you wish to contribute to your organisation's survival, you have to ask yourself how you think about the relationship between people and the organisation. Furthermore, you have to go for involving people and letting them participate as that is the only way to ensure the ongoing development of an organisational culture.
Working Paper April 2015 for Wittenborg University - Business School – Apeldoorn – The Netherlands. Research Centre.