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, Vol. 28, No. 3, Organizational Culture (Sep., 1983), pp. 331-338 Published by: Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2392245 . Accessed: 01/08/2011 10:08
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language.Introduction: A Code of Many Colors Mariann Jelinek. a range of approaches seems not only desirable but required. rather than either or. we suggest an interpretive framework more like a rainbow-a "code of many colors" that tolerates alternative assumptions. new ideas in and of themselves can be valuable. "organization climate. and others yet to be identified. recreative aspects of organizations. or as a wave to gain others. orvalues). and even in organization studies a related notion. and ritualthat highlight organizing (rather than "organization") as the major focus. We need to understand organizations in multiple ways. "culture-like" aspects. the uncertain. we need to be able to perceive and understand the complex nature of organizational phenomena. Linda Smircich. 0001 -8392/83/2803-0331/$00. continually created and recreated by people's ongoing interactions. we invited diverse perspectives. Instead of monochromatic thinking. and Paul Hirsch Kohlberg (1969) and Perry (1970) argued that moral reasoning develops as individuals move from simple imperatives ("do this. organizational and individual. Like physicists in dealing with light. norms. beyond the merely rationalor economic. we can "explain" what we see as a flow of particles and gain some insights. "organism-like" aspects. "Culturalanthropology" has been a specialty for years. shared meanings.conservative and dynamic. and rituals may testify to the potential power of culture as a root metaphor for organization studies. THE IDEAOF CULTUREAND ORGANIZATIONALANALYSIS Culture per se is hardlya new idea. To the extent that our ways of looking at things become solidified into commonly accepted paradigms limiting what we pay attention to. noting that research on topics such as organizational cultures. 331/AdministrativeScience Quarterly. both micro and macro. We see an important movement in the study of organizations toward the sort of interpretive paradigm posed by Berger and Luckmann (1967). ongoing. Culture as a root metaphor for organization studies is one such idea. but light itself seems to partake of both the one and the other. researchers seem to be striving for some way to address the interactive. We propose that organizational analysis has been evolving in the same fashion." dates back well overtwo decades. In the call for papers. Especially in conjunction with other approaches. We need to encourage and use the tension engendered by multiple images of our complex subject. culture may provide the critical tension that can lead to new insight. Pettigrew (1979) noted that culture comes with "a family of concepts" like symbol. Culture-anotherword forsocial reality -is both productand process. as having "machine-like" aspects. organizational myths. avoid that") through more complicated analysis ("there are criteria for analyzing moral situations") to the ambiguous. and even contradictory modes of understanding. Because the concept of culture in the study of organizations is not well developed.75 . For organizational analysis. But there is something new here: this time around. paradoxical. redirecting ourattention away from some of the commonly accepted "important things" (such as structure or technology) and toward the (until now) less-frequently examined elements raised to importance by the new metaphor (such as shared understandings.28 (1983): 331-338 I 1983 by Cornell University. toward more complex. social drama. the shaperof human interaction and the outcome of it. and even the paradoxical and contradictory as bases for moral decision. special language. paradigms.
and change of meaning structures within organizations. "Natives'" views are her focus. from the insider's perspective. to arouse novel trains of thought. Culture is defined as "a system of meanings that accompany the myriad of behaviors and practices recognized as a distinct way of life. surveys the roots of the concept of culture in anthropology and suggests relationships between the concept and organizational analysis." by LindaSmircich. persistence.One aim in our selection process. whether researchers emphasize symbolic means of communication. But. "native" is used in the special. In "Native-View Paradigms: Multiple Cultures and Culture Conflicts in Organizations. corporate culture. Smircich argues that the power and limitations of the culture concept for organizationalanalysis can only be assessed with reference to the particularpurpose the researcher is pursuing. These themes form the skeleton of her exploration of the power. corroborate the findings of Dearbornand Simon (1958) and 332/ASQ. Gregory offers a gentle critique of some organization culture literature and suggests ways to improve it. was to choose a diversity of perspectives to help illuminate the possibilities of culture as a root metaphor for organization studies. "Concepts of Culture and OrganizationalAnalysis. She emphasizes as well that the meanings contained in a culture strongly influence individuals' behaviors. The shared categories underline the importance of functional specialty and.September 1983 . Smircich identifies five research themes that represent intersections of -culture theory and organization theory: comparative management. then." Culturalmeanings are "apparently shared. Both the articulations of bodies of meaning and the categories for grouping respondents were drawn from the subjects' descriptions. possibilities. Making sense of the native views. As presently used in organizational analysis. incidentally. and limits of the concept of culture. in each case these approaches direct attention toward the more subjective aspects of organizations." anthropologist Kathleen L. who suggested that people interact "as if" they shared culture. anthropological sense of research subject. rather than homogeneous: there are several native views documented. The papers presented here seemed to capture the imagination in a special way. rather than-imposing external interpretation on them. or organizations as manifestations of unconscious mental or social operations. the creation. culture can be either a variable ora metaphor. Heraim is to understand the "natives" in their own terms and to understand the varieties of native behavior." following Becker (1982). In this. NINE VARIETIESOF CULTURE The nine papers of the special issue all focus on culture as an interpretive framework for sense making (by both members and others) in organizational settings. Gregory shows organizations to be multicultural. and unconscious processes. organizational cognition. and to enlarge and deepen the meaning of culture as metaphor. organizational symbolism. The initialpaper. organizations as shared knowledge. But the diversity we had encouraged made selection that much more difficult. far more than we had anticipated. in this case that of functional specialists in Silicon Valley electronics firms. we were helped immeasurably by the unexpected response to our invitation: some 60 papers were submitted for consideration.
Riley seeks to uncover the institutional structures that lie behind political themes concerning signification. Especially in light of widespread interest in culture as an enabling mechanism for organized action. the semiotic approach to culture suggests one form such influence takes. First. legitimation. behaviors. and structuralfunctionalist biases of much earlier work. Simmons.Smith and Valerie M. where culture is interpreted as the product-and-process of organization members' sense making through their ongoing interactions. a time rife with emotionality and conflict. But." Barley investigated the signs and semantic codes of a funeral home and the explicit manipulation of signs by funeral directors to create and sustain a particular. and domination. ethnocentrism. we see two crucial points of connection. Gregory recommends 'native-view" paradigms because they avoid the management-orientation." by Patricia Riley. certainly the word "culture" could almost be excised from the piece without altering its meaning. Using interview data on professionals in two different subsidiaries of a parent firm. In one sense.normalized meaning for an untypical event. describes the symbols used to create the political image of an organization's culture. but at a level of collective symbolizing. which show the impact of functional specialization on perception. are reflected in individuals' descriptions. Structure and symbols are seen as both the medium of communication and the outcome of interaction. "A Rumpelstiltskin Organization: Metaphors of Metaphors in Field Research. the concept of culture seems irrelevant to the argument. Necessarily present interactions are constrained and coloredby prior commitments. since "signification refers both to the processes by which events. "Sign" here is to be interpreted broadly." by Kenwyn K." the organization's political themes and images that embody deeper layers of meaning and norms for members' behavior.September 1983 . The maintenance of such meanings in the face of the unimpeachable reality of death suggests the power of symbols to engage people in a guided interpretation of reality. power is an important aspect of culture. Second." by Stephen R.Introduction Lawrence and Lorsch (1967). particularlythrough the symbols or systems of signs they employ. the process by which 333/ASQ. addresses the meanings organization members create. "Semiotics and the Study of Occupational and Organizational Cultures. words. The implicittheme in this paper is that fairytales such as Rumpelstiltskin embody deep and powerful themes corresponding to people's experience -that would otherwise be covert and inaccessible. Riley's paper is "about" power. and how does their failure serve the deeper symbolic and psychological needs of followers? These and many other questions are raised bythis evocative paper. describes a field study of the staff at a psycho-educational facility for children. "Master structures. Smith and Simmons tell how the group began to use the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin to explain their situation. and objects carry meaning forthe members of a given community and to the content they convey. Their study portrays the early days of the organization. Barley. What elements of these old tales make them so powerful? Why do leaders fail. "A Structurationist Account of Political Cultures. Smith and Simmons also seek to appreciate "tnative"views.
as well as the economic character of the model. and the like)and the negative versions (explaining the failures of the organization as deriving from certain inbred faults. which it. devotion to higher duty. So much discussion of organization culture rests on an opposite set of 334/ASQ. Can the little person rise to the top?. anthropology. Seven stories are presented. Sitkin. Is the big boss human?. The paradox is that organizations claim uniqueness through cultural manifestations that are common across organizations. domination. shapes by the processes of signification. and legitimation. so structured and constrained. creating a context that determines the value of what is exchanged and affects the method of enforcement. "Transaction Costs. and so does it shape the processes of its subsequent recreation. People's behavior. processual nature and the multiple. Will Iget fired?. The underlying meaning of the claim to uniqueness may be a fundamental interpretive value. Property Rights. often incongruent features of organizational interactions. and beliefs. Martha S. and How will the organization deal with obstacles? Each story poses a question or situation and. Martinet al. Willthe organization help me when I have to move?. Mary Jo Hatch. takes a radicallydifferent perspective on culture. egalitarianism. 1967. like assumptions about rationalityand control. that we found striking. It is the external observer's view. employee support." by Gareth R. for instance). recreates the structures that in turn guide thought. communicates important organizational characteristics. yet each of which occurs widely: Rule breaking. "The Uniqueness Paradox in OrganizationalStories. expectations.September 1983 . The core of each story concerns conflict between organizations' needs and members' values: equality versus inequality. each of which makes a tacit claim to uniqueness. in turn. Both the positive versions (implicitlypraising the organization and its members for resourcefulness. and Organizational Culture: An Exchange Perspective. culture develops as the outcome of negotiation over property rights and the resulting expectations that are created. security versus insecurity. Structures express the commitments of the past. and Sim B. Jones. institutionalized in power arrangements. Exactly so is culture created. through the outcome. Structure is created through images and the symbolic order. control versus lack of control. Norms and values emerge to actualize rights and enact obligations among organization members.the power structure is created -the process of structurationis closely parallelto the process of culturation (as described by Berger and Luckmann. and persist into the present by affecting people's behavior. Here. and organization theory. like incompetent management or lack of support for employees) of the same story are to be found. seek to define common elements in organizational stories and to understand why this commonality exists. discusses organizational culture and organizational stories and focuses on the claim that such stories are unique to particular organizations. How will the boss react to mistakes?." byJoanne Martin. Riley's approach underlines the longitudinal. The stories provide causal explanations and self-enhancing attributions for success or failure by portrayingthe organization and its employees as uniquely good or uniquely bad. blending economics. Feldman.
the self-cuing aspect of such communication. "Communication to Self in Organizations and Cultures. They argue that the study of localized organizational culture is more salient for clan settings and less salient in bureaucratic or market settings. where alternative understandings mediate transactions. on the metaphoric level. the continued self-cuing. planning serves as selfcommunication. and the importance of planning as cuing for common views and visions is a perspective on planning significantly informed by the cultural metaphor and cultural processes. The final manuscript. which much traditional research 335/ASQ." by Alan L. ratherthan additive or quantitative. offers still another substantially different way of approaching organizations and culture. insure long-term equity. Wilkins and William G. The hazard is that hasty acceptance of their notions may legitimate unduly limited definitions of culture. Itis the meaning added in. The symbolic ideal embodied in the plan provides a pattern around which people can orient. What matters is the symbolic image -the sense of purpose and progress. the creation of a common image. Strategic planning fills an important symbolic role in this process. They suggest that in culture-thin organizations. Broms and Gahmberg offer examples of strategic plans that functioned in this way. share a processual view of culture as the continuous recreation of shared meanings (the two papers on transaction costs see the meanings as more fixed and limited). bureaucratic norms and rules provide the basis for organized action. This narrow focus stems both from their transaction cost framework and their economicefficiency priorities. which produces the symbols and shared images that form culture. The shared view. communication with the self. Ouchi. internal assumptions that Jones' approach. Such communication is qualitative. that makes it important and offers the explanation for some organizational communication. while the concrete details of actual happenings may readily be shifted from the planned details to alternates. by calling the others into question.September 1983 . to clarify the organization's image of itself. also presents a transaction cost perspective. The "truth" or legitimacy of such communication is to be found in the values it expresses. The benefit of such heresy is that it helps us to question the emerging consensus that culture is everywhere and always The explanation of choice for understanding behavior in organizations." by Henri Broms and Henrik Gahmberg. "Efficient Cultures: Exploringthe Relationship between Culture and OrganizationalPerformance. A central focus for Broms and Gahmberg is autocommunication. rather than with the wider symbolic order. Wilkins and Ouchi seem to equate culture with specialized modes of control. offers a provocative alternative. By capturing the element of belief crucial to organizational action. despite theirvariety.Introduction highly subjectivist. The linking of culture and organization legitimates attention to the subjective. but takes a very different tack by arguing that only some sorts of organizations develop culture. interpretive aspects of organizational life. Culture here is seen as group values embedded in shared value-laden images or myths. and thus encourage efficiency. THE COMMONALITIESAND DISTINCTIONS Most of the papers presented here.
Most focus essentially on culture as a guide for subjective meaning. Jones and Wilkins and Ouchi also seem to disagree on a point central to Jones' approach: that "culture" is the set of shared understandings about property rights. obligations. 336/ASQ. While the themes are different. that on group dynamics. Culture is intersubjective and simultaneously cause and effect. Bion's (1961) approach suggests fight. rather than unidirectionally causal models. Wilkins and Ouchi say that culture consists of "stories. Tensions arise around conflict among the themes. or bonding as the eternal dynamicto be found in all group actions. a code or key for understanding people in general. norms. control. The two papers on transaction costs." even while it can be further reduced (forthis paper) to its contribution toward control relevant to organizational performance. in organizations. for instance. rather than as a valid subject of inquiry. interactive. between expressed and desired dimensions of the themes. and exchange rules that makes it possible for a market to work.has sought to overcome by treating them as sources of error variance. This re-emphasis of fundamental human characteristics as an explanatory foundation for organization theory suggests a link with another stream of research. Most of the papers included here present interpretive. Both these papers are concerned to enforce rules for transactions and to manage for efficiency by minimizing transaction costs. equity. theirshared interpretations. Wilkins and Ouchi and Jones suggest that culture is outcome only. as the others assert. and around people's different needs and organizational agendas. While this claim has been described elsewhere by Simmel and by Howard Fromkin. and the significations they attach to what occurs.September 1983 . the appeal to underlying human characteristics or needs as the basis for explanation of organizational dynamics is similar. emphasize its operation in organizations. They provide a crucial connection. by Jones and by Wilkins and Ouchi. rights and obligations. flight. and other important cultural cues. between organizations and economic processes. values. Jones says that culture is the result oroutcome of shared understandings about exchange and value. the image offered by Wilkins and Ouchi and by Jones is that of economic exchange. At the level of meta-metaphor. Culture persists and is changed or maintained by virtue of its continual (re)creation through the interactions of organization members. Martinet al. take the valuable step of recognizing the uniqueness claim as a fundamental human characteristic. rather than both outcome and precondition. The importance of Martinet al's paper is that it calls attention to ubiquitous tensions ("dualities. portray culture in more fundamentally economic terms." in the paper) that pervade organizational life. and affection as the core dimensions of interpersonal behavior and suggests that all group activity can be better understood as a playing out of these themes. Martinet al. Schutz's (1958) FIROtheory posits inclusion. for most of these papers. To say that there seems to be less unique culture in some organizations than others is to ignore the role of shared social reality and common understandings -in making economic exchange possible. special language. often ignored in organization theory or analysis.
Of considerablyless visibility here 337/ASO. and Martinet al. apparently nonrational side of organizations and culture most distant from economic reasoning. then. The patterns embodied in a culture's myths offer guidelines and maps forthe recurrent tensions of organizational life. The underlying structures emphasized differ: myths. according to Smith and Simmons. or even economic transaction agreements. This is quite consistent with the implications of Smith and Simmons. and behavior. This persistent structure is simultaneously adapted and changed overtime as a function of people's perception. and Martinet al's core story content all describe how people in organizations try to make sense of their organizational world. The process. Each focuses on an aspect of culture. They say that myths are a useful method of capturing the dynamics and tensions of organizational life that people are unwilling or unable to discuss. We would add that this is because myths encapsule fundamental patterns of human experience and behavior. What does a cultural perspective let us do that other conceptual frameworks do not? What does the cultural approach leave out? What are the hazards of adopting a cultural perspective to the study of organizations? The special issue papers suggest that culture focuses our attention primarily on the processes and artifacts of organization sense making.. and each would have managers (and researchers) look beneath the surface to deeper realities. Smith and Simmons' metaphor. constraining people's perception. DIRECTIONSFOR FUTURE RESEARCH A more urgent set of questions remains. sensitivity to the underlying structure of meaning here the Rumpelstiltskin myth . as with Riley's structurationist exploration of political images and Gregory's native views.Introduction Martin et al's paper goes beyond noting the claim of uniqueness: the thrust of the explanation is to point to the importance of unconscious needs and the tensions of individualityand sociality. interpretation. Smith and Simmons emphasize the need for leaders to learn how to pay attention to the unresolved conflicts present in the situations they must manage. is toward some underlying structure of meaning that persists over time. covert. Leaders are often "sacrificed. The thrust of most of the papers in this collection. unconscious organizational dynamics. In each instance. or through exemplars that help people to make purportedly unique sense of their setting. a structure of meaning that would speak to members' understandings.September 1983 . by clusters of mutually reinforcing symbols that contribute to purposively manipulated meaning. For Smith and Simmons.can help us to understand how and why. interpretation. suggesting that myths may help. Each also presents a rather abstract discussion that goes beyond the surface of different organizational events to consider how to extract such meanings: by means of metaphors or fairy tales that tap into deeper meanings. Barley's cluster of signs. Barley. is common. Smith and Simmons stress precisely the interpretive. what is offered is an underlying structure of meaning grounded in field data and abstracted from it. different levels of meaning are the key. autonomy and affiliation. however. and behavior. unresolved conflicts." and. and covert dynamics.
as much of the popular press coverage on organizational culture does. What is proposed is a dynamic and interactive model of organizing as a process that persists and changes over time. There is little here to suggest. This collection lacks a broad. Homewood. Kohlberg. Rinehart & Winston. W. Irwin. The metaphor of culture adds a paradigm to our field's conceptual tool kit. responsiveness to change. The explanations here suggest that culture enables organizations to function. The limitations of this collection. IL: Richard D. suggest some directions for further research.. REFERENCES Becker. rather than to look to the external. Moreover.." "ineffective" or"effective" -whetherfrom a societal. 338/ASQ.are the outcomes in terms of organizational performance. 1961 Experiences in Groups and Other Papers. are simply too complex to be well explained by simple dichotomies (like mechanistic versus organic organizations) or by monochromatic codes of reference. 1982 "Culture: A sociological view. Chicago: Rand McNally. cultural context within which organizations are embedded. Garden City. William C. R. Howard S. Schutz. Goslin (ed. 1979 "On studying organizational cultures.. 24: 570-581. It is important to emphasize that the shift is not just from one noun to another (as from machine to organism) but from noun to verb (from organization to organizing). 71 (Summer): 513-527. like sophisticated moral reasoning. Lorsch 1967 Organization and Environment. Berger. 1969 "Stage and sequence: The cognitive developmental approach to socialization. societal analysis exploring the modern corporation as a cultural form. Simon 1958 'Selective perception: A note on the departmental identification of executives. William G. and Herbert A. Dearborn. but for the most part no stance is taken on whether that functioning is "good" or"bad. Lawrence.' Yale Review. Perry. Pettigrew. Lawrence H. expanding the old implicit models of machines or organisms to include the newer model of social process. societal. Handbook of Socialization Theory and Research: 347-480. Paul R. the nature of the process is conditioned by the nature of the human mind (which seeks to interpret or make sense) and the nature of the organization as a human artifact of the sense-making process. and Jay W. DeWitt C. 1970 Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years: A Scheme. Bion." Sociometry. Organizations and organizing. for instance (although Broms and Gahmberg seem to suggest that a strong culture will guide opportunistic response toward a culturallyacceptable goal). There is a tendency in all of the papers presented here to stress the internal. Andrew M. and Thomas Luckmann 1967 The Social Construction of Reality. that a "strong" culture will assist in adaptation to environmental change. September 1983 . and the necessarily tentative conclusions to be drawn from it." Administrative Science Quarterly. New York: Holt. or results. an organizational. 1958 FIRO:A Three Dimensional Theory of Interpersonal Behavior. or an individualviewpoint. Peter L. NY: Anchor Press. 21: 140-144.). New York: Rinehart." In David A. London: Tavistock.
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