INTRODUCTION 497 EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF WORK AND ORGANIZATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY, 1999, 8 (4), 497–502

Organizational Culture
Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium LTP, Amsterdam, The Netherlands Since In search of excellence (Peters & Waterman, 1982) researchers as well as practitioners have been interested in organizational culture. Although much confusion and discussion about the concept remains, organizational culture as a concept has not disappeared from organizational literature and practice. Organizations and their managers still want to have an impact on organizational culture, whether by consolidating it or by changing it. But management of organizational culture is a controversial topic. Some authors think that organizational culture can easily be managed (Anthony, 1994), whereas for others this is seen to be much more difficult (Burack, 1991; Nord, 1985; Trice & Beyer, 1990). According to these authors, organizational culture management is constrained by such diverse factors as the multiplicity and complexity of sub-cultures, conflicting political interests, bad timing, and communication failures. Organizational culture pragmatics argue that organizational culture can be, should be, and has been managed, and they often offer guidance how to do this. Organizational culture purists find it ridiculous to talk about managing organizational culture—organizational culture cannot be managed, it evolves (Martin, 1985). This debate of organizational culture management seems to depend on the organizational culture approach the researcher believes in. Some researchers suggest that organizations should be conceptualized as cultures. They favour the view that organizational culture is part of what an organization is rather than something an organization has (Smircich, 1983). Those researchers who argue that organizational culture is a socially constructed system of shared beliefs and values would find it inconsistent to think systematically managing or attempting to control the organizational culture phenomenon. They claim that organizational
Requests for reprints should be addressed to K. De Witte, Department of Work and Organizational Psychology, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Tiensestraat 102, 3000 Leuven, Belgium. Email: karel.dewitte@psy.kuleuven.ac.be © 1999 Psychology Press Ltd

Karel De Witte

Jaap J. van Muijen

CRISIS O U INTERACTION BETWEEN INDIVIDUAL AND ORGANIZATION O E S C T T E L E S S B S I U N E S S V S O N I I O C E S S S E LEADERSHIP PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS FIG. It is not the intention of this special issue to give final answers to this ongoing discussion. These researchers follow the opinion that an organization has a culture or produces a culture. 1. . Other researchers who are searching for more predictable methods of organizational control believe that organizational culture can be managed. These are influenced by the broader environmental factors.498 DE WITTE AND VAN MUIJEN culture can only be influenced in an indirect way and is the result of the interaction between the individual and organizational processes. Figure 1 gives an overview of the different elements that should be taken into account when dealing with organizational culture. Rather. The model refers to formation as well as to the change or development of organizational culture. and usually define organizational culture as the social and normative glue that holds the organization together (Deal & Kennedy. Influencing factors closer to the organization can be found on the next frame. 1982). When an organization is founded. R A K H O D R M A conceptual model for understanding organizational culture. we first offer a framework on organizational culture and will then site the different contributions within this framework. In this Introduction. the intention is to contribute to the debate by offering diverse contributions. The outside frame of the figure refers to the influencing factors in the broader environment. which influence the organizational culture. This model integrates literature as well as practical experiences within consultancy projects with the aim of changing the organizational culture. organi- A FRAMEWORK FOR ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE NATIONAL CULTURE P PRESSURE.

Katz & Miller. selection. training. Some are continuously present and other variables are regularly emphasized at different moments or phases of the organizational life cycle. acceptable. maintenance processes. 1988) help the individuals understand the content and reason of the vision. In fact. the evolution of the business. 1993). and stakeholders. As this may be not realistic. 1996. The development of a clear vision is often difficult for managers. professional associations.and personnel-related processes. The Organization The following influencing factors are situated in the more direct environment of the organization. Gordon. 1994). Simpson & Beeby. The organizational culture can be “tasted” and “smelled” through these different business. Finally. the organization should be aware of the different variables at any moment. realistic. directed (targeted). 1996. The importance of a vision is often emphasized in the literature (Frohman. Influences that are mentioned in the literature are the national culture. such as operational processes. and communicable. 1. This is visualized by the horizontal line in the middle of Fig. evaluation. 1992). attractive.INTRODUCTION 499 zational culture forms and develops from the interaction between individual and organization. 1997. 1996. Simpson & Beeby. flexible. They have more experience in controlling the current situation than in changing it into new required directions. Zamanou & Glaser. etc. Different authors stress the importance of leaders in the organization (Frohman. but at all levels (Kotter. 1985. Rites of rationalization and legitimation (Beyer & Trice. 1996)! Some authors underline that a change in leadership is required to realize significant organizational culture change (Dyer. are visualized as surrounding influences. it seems us that different variables are “controlled for” at different moments. which represents different organizational processes. An organization not only needs leaders at the top. whereas for others . These sensitizing acts legitimate the thinking. Through the last decades organizations have learnt that good management is one of the most important factors for optimal daily functioning. both in the broader and the more direct environment of the organization. Kotter. 1993. Kotter. This vision should be inspiring and challenging (Nixon. The different influencing factors. although the latter is required more and more nowadays. 1997. we find the outcomes of organizational culture: What is the impact on the individual members of the organization? The Environment From the literature it becomes clear that a diverse constellation of variables has an influence on the organizational culture. and necessary. 1991). making it appear worthwhile. Kotter (1996) mentions the following criteria for an effective vision: conceivable. R&D.

The perception of a crisis or the experience of pressure (e. internal revolutions. A triggering event is a stimulus that leads to the release of the tensions built up by the precipitating pressures. ideologies. and basic assumptions. top-down approaches generally result in overt compliance and not covert acceptance. namely artifacts and creations. Managing the deepest layers of organizational culture clearly requires a participative approach. Therefore. Organizational culture is manifest in behavioural norms. hidden assumptions. it is very difficult and time consuming to create organizational culture change (Kilmann. whereas incremental changes can be guided by the current leaders. Participative approaches to changing underlying assumptions are difficult and time consuming to implement. Organizational culture is a complex phenomenon. but are likely to result in changes that last and are felt in everything the organization members do. namely assumptions.g. The degree to which an organizational culture is consciously and overtly rather than unconsciously and covertly manifest. 365) writes. According to Gagliardi (1986). p. resource deprivation) and triggering events (environmental calamities.500 DE WITTE AND VAN MUIJEN organizational culture can be changed by a relatively stable leadership team (Lundberg. which results in overt commitment and covert acceptance. it can occur with relative ease. a combination of top-down initiation with participative feedback sessions to define the new behavioural norms through dialogue with the organizational members is to be preferred. environmental opportunities. A top-down approach to organizational culture change is feasible if the focus is on behavioural norms and not on assumptions. and human nature (Kilmann.g. but ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE FORMATION AND CHANGE . and human nature. values. and might be difficult to sustain. 1985). When organizational culture change involves changing surface-level behavioural norms and artifacts. atypical performance demands. influences how easily organizational culture can be managed and changed. who demonstrate new competences and distribute appropriate reconciliation myths to reduce conflict. “executives may try to dictate a new culture by making dramatic changes in their own behaviour and symbolic gestures and fiery speeches. Also. Schein (1985) suggests the usefulness of viewing organizational culture from different levels. However. At the deepest levels of organizational culture. substantial organizational culture changes require a change in leadership. stakeholder pressures. organizational growth and decrement. As Kilmann (1985. productivity) will challenge the existing organizational culture. 1985). The process of identifying and changing organizational culture is affected by the level of organizational culture under consideration. Lundberg (1985) makes a distinction between precipitating pressures (e. and external revolutions). 1985).

Den Hartog. and Konrad et al. Gonzalez-Roma. Van Muijen et al. Outcomes Brown (1985) finds the following outcomes in the literature: conflict reduction. uncertainty reduction. The importance of dialogue. De Witte & van Muijen offer an overview of critical questions for research as well consultancy on organizational culture. Each contribution investigates the relation between different elements of the framework. refer on the one hand to the national culture and on the other hand to leadership. as a step in changing the organizational culture is clarified and how this can be realized in practice is demonstrated. In addition. We hope the contributions will be helpful in thinking about organizational culture and will give some guidance for practitioners and researchers. because it differs from organization to organization. co-ordination and control.INTRODUCTION 501 only when work group members encourage one another to be receptive to overtures by other groups will culture change take place”. Peiró. describe an instrument to measure organizational culture and investigate the influence of national culture and sector on organizational culture. Koopman. the influence of the business and international orientation are under scrutiny. We have not tried to reduce the complexity of the phenomenon of organizational culture. It is difficult to describe this competitive advantage in hard business facts. and the researchers might have other concerns from the practitioner. Vandenberghe and Peiró describe the impact of organizational culture on the individual members of the organization. mentioned previously. But the reader looking for a definitive answer will encounter another illusion. Differences in leadership prototypes mirror differences in national culture. and Cañero report on a change project of managerial culture. Finally. CONTRIBUTIONS . but leadership itself appears to be influenced by national culture. particularly in avoiding possible pitfalls. The evolvement of an organizational culture consistent with the vision and strategy leads to an effective and competitive organization. Ruigrok and Achtenhagen analyse four cases of change in organizations and study the role of organizational culture in this change process. The practitioners might be less concerned about some theoretical problems. Leadership is needed for changing organizational culture. and a higher motivation among the employees.

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