Organizational Culture – How it Forms

factory1Marvin Bower (1903-2003), author of The Will to Manage (1966), explained organizational culture as “…the way…we do things around here”. Bower’s definition of culture is often cited as the favourite. In his book The Lords of Strategy author Walter Kiechel, III, describes Bower as overly prescriptive. Nevertheless, Bower actually referred to the concept not as organizational culture but as corporate philosophy. Bower essentially wanted to account for the phenomenon, where, in organizations, it is common for a team or group to take some sort of stand, when it comes to deciding how to perform the task requested of them. In his book, Authority (1980), Richard Sennett claimed while “…it is easier to see the emotional commitments made in a family, than in a factory, the emotional life in [the factory] is equally real”. Sennett’s views on organizational culture add much to the discussion. Edgar Schein is recognized around the world for his work on organizational culture; he distinguished between “macro” cultures and sub-cultures in Organizational Culture and Leadership (2010). He attributes the latter form of culture to organizations. Among the first explorations of cultures inside organizations is Dr. Elliott Jaques’ The Changing Culture of a Factory: A study of Authority and Participation in an Industrial Setting (1951). Jaques described three main processes evident inside the organization: 1) the sanctioning of authority; 2) the operation of authority (the executive system); and, 3) social adaptation, thereby illuminating the resistance to change. Schein drew on Jaque’s third process, emphasizing the roles of external adaptation and internal integration. From Schein’s work we understand these workers are trying to avoid uncertainty. Jaques emphasized, “the general suspicion and anxieties of individuals and groups are liable to become attached to particular practical issues and difficulties, so much so that the resolution of these practical, and maybe trivial difficulties is thereby seriously obstructed.” Herein do we see the relevance of emotions (anxieties) to the process of change management, and the challenges faced by leaders whose responsibility it is to ensure innovation thrives.