Understanding and Building Healthy Organizational Cultures Resources and Tools

 

In the work Organizational Culture – Why Does It Matter?”

 Kenneth Desson and Joseph Clouthier suggest that Organizational Culture is…

the “personality” of an organization that guides how employees think and act on the job – is central to the values, beliefs, inter-personal behaviors, and attitudes that determine how the organization does its job. Culture is a key factor not only in achieving organizational goals, but in attracting and keeping desirable employees, creating a positive public image, and building respectful relationships with stakeholders.

In his seminal 1992 work entitled Organizational Culture and Leadership, Edgar H. Schein, Professor Emeritus in the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, offered a definition for Organizational culture as a pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.”

  • This definition applies to every type of organization- families, social clubs, work groups, companies, governments and nations.  Over time, each group develops a set of tacit and explicit understandings, beliefs and practices.  It might not be easy to explain exactly what the cultural characteristics of a particular group are, but all of the members understand and conform instinctively to these expectations.The concept of organizational culture is often grounded in clearly identifiable characteristics, which might include:
    • A shared understanding of the organization’s mission.

This may be evident in such things as: a formal charter or mission statement; explicit strategies, goals and principles; and staff beliefs and assumptions about why the organization does what it does.

  • Values that guide decision-making and activity at all levels in the organization. ·

Safety – the physical safety of staff and the public ·

Integrity – the reputation of the organization for honesty, high ethical standards, reliable outputs, and impeccable methodologies 

Continuous learning – the creation of rich opportunities for staff to gain new knowledge and skills

Continuous improvement – with mistakes seen as learning opportunities

Security – the protection of information and other assets

 

  • The focus and management style of senior officers.

This is often evident in statements that senior managers make about organizational priorities, the management style that they embrace (e.g. Top-down? Consultative?), and staff perceptions about senior management’s main preoccupations and commitment to “walking the talk”.

  • How employees think of their relationships with management, one-another, partner organizations, and clients.

Are relationships predominantly adversarial, competitive, distrustful, collegial and mutually supportive, etc.?

  • How an organization conducts its day-to-day business   

Within the overall culture of an organization, there are often a number of sub-cultures based on such things as professional discipline, unit functions, geographical locations, employee’s age and experiences.

Much can be learned about the culture of an organization by looking at such things as: its routine processes (e.g. does it routinely audit process effectiveness?); how are decisions made; how much responsibility is given to each layer / staff member in the organization; and, how flexible the organization is in dealing with tasks that are out of the ordinary. When you put these things together, a distinctive organizational “personality” may become apparent even to casual observers.

 

Why Organizational Culture Matters…

As Edgar Schein and other management theorists have observed, organizational culture may be an abstraction, but it has powerful effects on the way organizations think and behave. Indeed, having “the right kind of culture” – a culture that is appropriate to the kind of enterprise in which an organization is engaged – is widely acknowledged to be among the most important determinants of how effective or successful the organization will be.

 

Why is that so?

Culture is important because it shapes:

  • What the organization considers to be “right decisions”
  • What employees consider to be appropriate behaviors and how they interact with each other within the organization
  • How individuals, work groups, and the organization as a whole deal with work assigned to them
  • The speed and efficiency with which things get done
  • The organization’s capacity for and receptiveness to change
  • The attitudes of outside stakeholders to the organization

In short, an organization’s culture can be supportive of – or hinder – the implementation of new initiatives and the achievement of its overall goals.

Healthy Culture Resources and Tools

BSA and other organizations strive for what is considered a “healthy” organizational culture as it relates to increase productivity, growth, efficiency and reduce counterproductive behavior and turnover of employees. The following lists a variety of characteristics describe a healthy culture:

  • Acceptance and appreciation for diversity
  • Regard for and fair treatment of each employee as well as respect for each employee’s contribution to the company
  • Employee pride and enthusiasm for the organization and the work performed
  • Equal opportunity for each employee to realize their full potential within the company
  • Strong communication with all employees regarding policies and company issues
  • Strong company leaders with a strong sense of direction and purpose
  • Ability to compete in industry innovation and customer service, as well as price
  • Lower than average turnover rates (perpetuated by a healthy culture)
  • Investment in learning, training, and employee knowledge