Organisational culture is not always easy to observe and understand, for it tends to slightly permeate most aspects of the organisational life.
Although culture is one of the recent organisational behaviour concepts, it has quickly been recognised as a key predictor of employee satisfaction and competitive performance.
The culture of an organisation will, to a greater extent, determine the talent of people that the organisation will attract as well as influence the ability to retain a certain calibre of people. Culture is defined as the way things are done in a particular society. Ralph Linton defines culture as: the configuration of learned behaviour and results of behaviour whose component element is shared and transmitted to the members of a particular society” so culture has commonality of beliefs, experiences, values and expectations, that set of shared beliefs sets organisations apart from the rest.
Organisational culture develops over time and is mainly influenced by the leadership qualities within that institution. The leadership sets the tone for people to adapt and that gradually becomes the culture that will affect productivity of that institution. It is of essence that every leader in an institution understands the culture of his/her organisation especially when taking over the helm of an institution so as to outline the shared beliefs, values and expectation of that institution. When a leader knows and understands the culture of his/her organisation, he is better positioned to influence the organisation meaningfully. Understanding the dynamics of culture enables a leader to identify drivers of performance and the levels to which productivity can be out stretched.
Organisations exist to transform resources (input) into output and that makes productivity to be at the heart of institutions. If an organisation has goals to improve productivity, then it is important that the institution reflect on its culture to see what variables (beliefs, experiences,
values and expectations) of the organisation’s culture can be influenced to change the behaviour of the people in order to increase productivity.
This then shows that sustainable change is not an overnight thing but a matter of focusing on fundamental pillars of the institution one of which is the culture of the organisation.
Organisational culture is open to many interpretations; some managers and leaders think of organisational culture as simply the way we do things around here, while others believe it’s a more complex “set of shared values, beliefs and assumptions that get everyone headed in the same direction. Still some others may say that culture inculcates members in a ways of an organisation and gives it meaning. Whatever the interpretation, leaders and managers need to be aware that when members of the institution are aware of the organisational culture, formal controls are less necessary.
Organisational culture describes the fundamental assumptions about organisational values, beliefs, norms, symbols, language, ritual and myths that give meaning to organisational membership and are collectively accepted by a group as guides to expected behaviours. Patterns of assumptions emerge as a group leans from the leadership and through discovery on invention to cope with its problems of external adaptations and internal integration.
Once organisational members assume certain behaviours are important they become taken for granted and that makes it necessary for leaders to continue to reflect on the culture of the organisation. Although an organisation’s culture is enduring, its organisational climate, which reflect on attitudes, is more changeable and that is why when institutions seek new ways of increasing productivity and motivating employees they engage in change management processes so as to capture the attention of employees in new sets of desired values, believes, expectations and experiences.
A leader who leaves a legacy in an institution is the one who develops a positive culture that optimises productivity.
The employees benefit by working in a positive environment, the organisation meets its strategic objectives and the shareholders of the institution appreciate the value added to their investment. Positive organisational culture creates a win-win situation for all the stakeholders.
Lynch (1997) affirms that culture and style is linked with leadership. It is the leader or the leading group that should set the tone and tasks for the organisation. This shows that developing a positive culture is the responsibility of the leader and the executive team. This means that leaders cannot have excuses on instilled negative culture that they inherited when they joined a particular institution but they have the responsibility and power to change the culture of the institution.
The other side of the coin is that when a leader takes over headship in an institution that has a strong instilled positive culture, that leader has to enforce and or continue to build on that culture so that the organisation continue to strive in his/her tenure.
Originally published in www.observer.org.sz