Social psychologists and business theorists have used the concept of culture to analyze organizations since the 1940s. In 1982, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman brought the concept into the spotlight with In Search of Excellence. The concept of corporate culture is now widely recognized.
Google corporate culture and a quarter of a billion hits describe the concept, use of understanding and methods to change culture. Two distinct views of culture emerged in the 1980s; adaptationist and ideational.
Peters and Waterman, among others are proponents of the adaptationist view, defining culture by customs, ceremonies and patterns which can be observed by members of the organization. Edgar Schein, social psychologist, Sloan Professor Emeritus and others advocate the ideational view. This point of view states unobservable assumptions, like values that members of the organization share establish the culture.
Whether one defines the culture by observable or unobservable assumptions, most organizational theorists agree members of a culture learn what behaviors are expected of them. These expectations are called behavioral norms. Behavioral norms make up the culture and can be modified to change culture.
Before changing cultures, the organization must arrive at an accurate evaluation of its current culture. There are a number of methods to do this. Most involve gathering input from all members. What the owners or upper management may see or feel, may be watered-down or completely different at the front-line. Combining all the opinions provides an accurate view of shared behavioral expectations. However, owners and top management are in a position to determine what they believe to be an ideal culture.
Robert Cooke and Clayton Lafferty, founders of Human Synergistics International developed a cultural inventory comprised of twelve behavioral norms organized into three sections; constructive, passive/defensive and passive/aggressive. Each of these sections is measured by distinct behavioral norms.
In a constructive culture, people work together to approach tasks to help meet satisfaction needs such as achievement and affiliation. Both defensive cultures involve the need to protect oneself. People interact in ways that will not threaten their own security in the passive/ defensive culture. In the aggressive/defensive culture, people are forceful in efforts to protect their status and security.
Passive/defensive cultures are typically found at the front-line of the organization. This behavioral style is often a response to an aggressive/defensive management style. This is seen where management by exception is practiced; where mistakes are pointed out and things that go right are expected and ignored. Passive/defensive cultures can also be found in bureaucracies, and organizations without competition, such as government agencies. These organizations rely heavily on rules, procedures, and centralized decision making.
People often find passive/defensive cultures dissatisfying places to work. The outcomes of this cultural style may include an inferior product or service resulting from no motivation other than to avoid making an error.
Changing any cultural style requires identifying and changing factors that reinforce the current culture. In a passive/defensive organization, people are required to strictly follow rules and procedures. Jobs are designed in such a way that restrict autonomy and lack a variety of skills in order to precisely adhere to a prescribed procedure. Managers rely on their position’s authority to influence employees. Conflict results in accommodating superiors or ignoring issues.
If your organization is trying to improve teamwork, it needs to encourage members of the organization to communicate and get to know each other. Organizations trying to be more innovative need to assess how they view mistakes. These organizations need to encourage people to experiment, express themselves and foster learning from mistakes.
Hostile Environment Awarded $3.5 Million
Otto May Jr., a Jewish man born in Cuba was the victim of ongoing harassment at the Chrysler plant in Belvidere, Illinois. The racist and bigoted harassment rose to the level of death threats and damage to his personal property. Chrysler responded to May’s allegation with a meeting to remind 60 of its more than 1000 employees about the anti-harassment policy; analyzed plant entry and exit data; obtained a list of those people May suspected; and implemented a procedure of how to collect and document evidence of harassing conduct. The 7th Circuit said not close to enough was done in response to May’s complaint of harassing conduct that took place over a three year period. Chrysler did not strengthen its efforts when its initial response failed to curb the behavior. Each complaint of harassment must be take seriously. A prompt investigation and comprehensive response is crucial.
Contract vs. At-Will
A contracted school bus driver, who was also an at-will custodian at Peru School Corporation in Indiana was terminated from both of his positions after the school concluded that he was starting his bus hours earlier than necessary to waste fuel, in response to losing extra trips and resulting overtime. The school felt he was dishonest when he denied intentionally wasting fuel and terminated him. He filed a wrongful termination suit, seeking over $500,000 in front wages, had he worked in both positions until 65. He won the suit and $171,000. The appeals court noted the custodian position was at-will and the school only owed him his current contract time, less unemployment. This reduced his award to $2422.