The Emergence of Organizational Culture
Organizational culture is a concept that is widely used but rarely clearly defined. It involves a shared set of assumptions that unite stakeholders, enabling them to communicate effectively and achieve common goals. Successful organizational cultures emerge organically, that is, without heavy-handed intervention aimed at creating artificial connections and shared references. However, there are circumstances in which a successful organizational culture is especially likely to emerge, such as a work environment where employees are treated with respect and openness.
An organizational culture is especially likely to emerge when a business hires like-minded individuals. A forward-thinking business employs people capable of building an open and successful organizational culture; in turn, these employees contribute to maintaining a forward-thinking orientation. Once an organizational culture has emerged, it may be possible to teach this culture to individuals by immersing them in its daily activities and articulating its core principles. Having the right people building this culture from the outset provides a firm foundation and increases its odds for success.
Organizational cultures emerge through processes involving positive and negative reinforcement: Employees who behave in manners consistent with the organization's culture are rewarded in subtle and overt ways, receiving promotions and being treated warmly. Conversely, employees whose behavior is not consistent with an emerging organizational culture experience negative reinforcement by not receiving raises and promotions and by not being treated as full-fledged members of the group. Positive and negative reinforcement with regard to organizational culture may occur intentionally or unintentionally.
Leadership is crucial to the emergence of organizational culture because leaders are capable of setting a tone in policies and interpersonal exchanges and crafting and pursuing goals consistent with the shared cultural assumptions. Leaders also take a primary role in the hiring process, evaluating applicants to determine who is a good fit. A leader can help shape an organizational culture by overtly articulating ideals and principles and also by subtly guiding employees to behave in ways that are consistent with organizational values.
Organizational culture cannot emerge through an artificial process based on defining and creating a set of common goals and assumptions. Such a top-down approach may seem like an effective strategy to a management team interested in introducing an organizational culture to a business that lacks a cohesive vision. However, it is unlikely to work because organizational culture is a phenomenon that gains traction when individuals are genuinely engaged rather than because they are behaving as they are told.