Friday, January 6, 2012

Organisational Culture

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The organization I work for is Soft Craft Systems, an Information Technology (IT) company based in Tokai, Cape Town. The company promotes a family like culture and has grown out of this. In the seven years Soft Craft has been in existence, the company has grown from two to the current twenty employees. There is some gender bias in that, of Soft Craft’s twenty employees, only two are females. The directors have been looking at ways of addressing this imbalance, yet females in the IT sector seem to be higher sought after, so they have not found it easy to begin building a more balanced workforce.

I have been with Soft Craft for three and a half years so have been part of some interesting developmental phases within the company as we seek to move forward in the business world. Management encourages the entrepreneurial spirit within the employees and is very supportive of any initiative shown on the part of the employees. As a result, employees are given some amount of freedom in that they are able to explore various ideas with the backing of the company. This has been borne out of a desire to expand the company into a successful business enterprise. Creativity and innovation are thus encouraged within the employees.

Organizational culture can be defined as a cognitive framework consisting of attitudes, values, behavioural norms, and expectations shared by the organizational members (Shein in Baron & Greenberg, 1). At the root of any organizational culture is a set of core characteristics that are collectively valued by the members. Characteristics that are considered to be particularly important are sensitivity to the needs of customers and employees, freedom to initiate new ideas, willingness to tolerate taking risks and openness to communication options (Martin in Baron & Greenberg, 1). After doing an employee survey was conducted among the employees last year, Soft Craft has been addressing all the above-mentioned areas in developing a culture that best represents everyone that is part of the organization.

While most organisations typically have a dominant culture, this culture is normally made up of a number of subcultures, depending on the size of the organization. A dominant culture reflects the organisation’s core values and the dominant perceptions that are generally shared throughout the organisation. An organisation’s culture provides a sense of identity for the members and the more clearly an organisation’s shared perceptions and values are defined, the more strongly people can associate themselves with the organisation’s mission and can feel that they are a vital part of it. A second important function of culture is generating commitment to the organisation’s mission. When there is a strong, overarching culture, people feel they are part of a larger, well-defined whole and are involved in the entire organisation’s work. Bigger than any one individual’s interests, culture reminds people what their organisation is all about.

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A third important function of culture is to clarify and to reinforce standards of behaviour, which is essential for newcomers, but is also beneficial for seasoned veterans. In essence, culture guides the employees’ words and deeds, thus making it clear what they might do or say in any given situation. In this sense, it provides stability to behaviour, both what an individual might do at different times and what different individuals might do at the same time.

One system for categorizing varieties of organizational culture is known as the double S cube, which characterizes culture along two independent dimensions, both of which begin with the letter “S”, sociability and solidarity. The sociability dimension is a measure of the friendliness of an organisation’s members. Among the first things a new employee notices about a company is its degree of sociability. Some companies are very friendly and have people who always socialize and go out together (i.e. high sociability). Others are composed of people who largely refrain from socializing and who stick to themselves (i.e. low sociability). Sociability has both a positive side and a negative side. On the positive side, sociability helps to promote creativity, because it encourages people to work together in teams and to share information, there by making them open to new ideas (Amabile in Baron & Greenberg, 1). On the other side, sociability may cause workers to form informal cliques that can become so influential they actually subvert the decision-making process. In keeping with this idea, members of highly sociable groups may be reluctant to disagree or to criticize each other, thus possibly leading to groupthink.

Solidarity focuses on the extent to which people share a common understanding of the organisation’s tasks and goals. In organisations with a high degree of solidarity, employees tend to stick together in a highly focused way to accomplish an agreed-on goal. By combining high and low levels of both sociability and solidarity, four basic types of organizational culture can be identified.

Networked cultures are characterized by high sociability and low solidarity. They are extremely friendly and light-hearted in style. People tend to keep their doors open and they tend to talk about business in a casual, informal manner. They tend to socialize regularly and get to know each other quickly, feeling part of the group. The mercenary culture is characterized by low sociability and high solidarity. People are highly focused on pulling together to get the job done. Communication tends to be swift, direct and handled in a no-nonsense way. A business-like manner predominates and chatting is not encouraged, because it is considered to be a waste of time. Winning is considered everything and people are considered to put in whatever time is necessary to make that happen.

The fragmented culture is characterized by low sociability and low solidarity. People are likely to have little contact with their associates and only talk to each other when it is necessary, but generally leave each other alone. Members of a fragmented culture do not identify with the organisation in which they work, but rather identify with their profession. The communal culture is characterized by high sociability and high solidarity. People are very friendly and get along both personally and professionally. Communal cultures wisely exist among many computer-related companies. Since individuals in such organisations tend to share so many things, communication flows easily across people at all levels of the organisation and in all formats. Employees strongly identify with communal organisations and wear the company logo and support the organisation when talking with outsiders.

In terms of this model, I would classify Soft Craft’s culture as communal, having progressed through both a mercenary culture and a networked culture. When I first joined Soft Craft, the attitudes and views of the founders predominated in Soft Craft and the culture tended towards the mercenary. The focus was very much on getting the job done and the atmosphere was a lot more formal. Employees would be encouraged to “put in the hours” and this was seen as being a sign of commitment to the company. Since then the management team has undertaken to listen to the needs of the employees and as a result a more communal culture has emerged. This transformation of culture was initiated by a company survey done by the employees to determine their perceptions, values and opinions. As a direct result of this, and through the intervention of a human resources specialist, communication was opened up between employees and management such that the culture has shifted toward a communal one.

Another key event in the shift toward a communal culture was a strategic planning workshop where, guided by the same HR specialist, the employees together with management created the company’s mission and vision. Each person was given a chance to give their input on various matters and employees felt valued and appreciated. Nowadays, employees are given the freedom to express any concerns or issues they may have at bi-monthly staff meetings or access to the services of an HR consultant should they wish to discuss any company or personal problems. These issues are then discussed openly and honestly with management and the relevant employees.

Employees have also been encouraged to bring in new business through an incentive scheme whereby they receive a commission. New ideas are encouraged and employees are given the chance to try out these ideas in the market if they are considered promising business propositions. This gives the employees greater freedom to explore their creativity and to express who they are through their work.

The company encourages creativity and innovation. Creativity in individuals and teams involves three skills, domain-relevant skills, creativity-relevant skills, and intrinsic task motivation. Domain-relevant skills refer to those skills and abilities an employee already have. There must be the capacity to perform a certain task at even a basic level for creativity to be present. Creativity also involves special abilities that help people approach what they do in novel ways. Creativity is enhanced when people do not limit themselves to the old way of doing things � they think outside the box, break mental sets and take new perspectives. Considering complex ways in which ideas interrelate and understanding these relationships also leads to creativity. Creative people consider all options and avoid premature judgments. Productive forgetting, which is the ability to abandon unproductive ideas and set aside stubborn problems, is also a skill which leads to creativity. People also sometimes follow certain strategies known as creativity heuristics to help them come up with new and creative ideas. These are rules people follow to help them approach tasks in novel ways.

For creativity to be present, people must not only have the creative skills, but must also be willing to perform the task in question, which is referred to as intrinsic task motivation. When a person has a personal interest in the task, intrinsic motivation is said to be high as the person will be motivated to perform the task and do it creatively. Task motivation is also high when the person perceives that he or she ahs internal reasons to perform the task. People who come to believe they are performing a task for some external reason, such as high pay or pressure from a boss, are unlikely to find the work inherently interesting and are unlikely to show creativity when performing it.

Innovation may be defined as the successful implementation of creative ideas within an organisation. Organizational innovation requires that organizations have the kind of cultures that encourage innovation and this normally starts with management. Innovation also requires that an organisation has the resources to be innovative. Unless an organisation has the necessary skilled people and finances available with which to innovate, stagnation is likely to result. An organisation must also have the skills in innovation management, most importantly, balance. Specifically, managers promote innovation when they show balance with respect to three key matters goals, reward systems and time pressure. Goals should be linked to the company mission but not too specific and reward systems should generously and fairly recognize one’s contributions, but should not be so specific that they connect every move to a bonus or monetary reward. Innovation also requires carefully balancing the time pressures under which employees are placed. If such pressures are too great, people maybe unimaginative and offer routine solutions and if they are too weak, employees may have no sense of urgency or believe that the project is not important enough to warrant any creative attention on their part.

The management Soft Craft has taken on seeking the balance in innovation management. They seek to encourage creativity and strive for Soft Craft to be an innovative organisation. They have made a concerted effort to understand the factors that contribute to creativity and innovation and actively encourage these qualities within the employees of the organisation.

New employees are made to feel welcome in Soft Craft and encouraged to express their unique skills and character within the organization. As expected, Soft Craft is generally very specific with regards the employees it employs and they are generally handpicked for a special quality they can bring to the organisation. Management employs people that are considered creative and innovative and who will bring a unique quality to the organisation. Employees are made to feel valued and appreciated.

Soft Craft has a process that is followed when new employees join the organisation. Employees are initially welcomed by the management team and are then guided through an orientation and induction process. He or she is introduced to each employee and is also formally welcomed at the next staff meeting. Once the employee has completed a form to capture all his or her important personal details and to set up their email and logon accounts, they are given policies and procedures document to read through. This document contains information about the processes that are followed within the organisation with regards to email policies, telephone answering, office security procedures, salary and bonus expectations, the performance appraisal process, the annual leave policy, time-keeping requirements, client expectations and technical procedures. After reading through this document, the employee has a good idea of what is expected of them in terms of what to do and what not to do. He or she should also get a sense of the culture of the organisation.

The management of Soft Craft is continually looking at ways of improving the culture of the organisation. They have taken on understanding the people dynamics of the organisation as well as the role that they play in leading and shaping the culture of the organisation. An employee satisfaction survey that was run within the organisation last year highlighted the perceptions and concerns of the employees and management has undertaken to address these concerns to create a successful environment in which creativity and innovation are encouraged. This process has lead to employee empowerment, as employees are encouraged to take on more responsibility for creating the company that they want. I have been involved in this organizational change process and will continue to suggest ways to improve the organisation.

Soft Craft has undergone the unfreezing process described by theorists. Unfreezing refers to the process of recognizing that the current state of affairs as undesirable. This has resulted in changes in organizational structure as the balance of power has shifted from management to employees. Management still have the final say on matters and guide the employees in maintaining set standards, but employees have been given the freedom to take on more responsibility and have a say in the decision making process. More recent changes have been brought about due to the realization that the company needs to generate more income through new business and this has encouraged the entrepreneurial spirit within the organisation, as well as having the effect that each employee realizes that their contribution to the bottom line is important. This has stimulated a sense of urgency within the organisation.

The majority of the employees seem to welcome the change, while some find it unsettling, as they have been comfortable with the way things have been up until recently. These employee’s concerns have been addressed and they have been encouraged to embrace the organizational change and contribute to the organisation to ensure its success. Overcoming the resistance to change within the mindsets of management as well as employees is perhaps one of the challenges that Soft Craft faces. There are various ways that resistance to organizational change may be overcome.

For change to be accepted it is important to win the support of the most powerful and influential individuals in the company. This has been the case with Soft Craft as management has been the driving force behind the transformation process. Sometimes people are reluctant to change because they fear what the future has in store, especially around economic security. As part of educating employees about what organsational change may mean for them, top management must show considerable emotional sensitivity. This has improved tremendously in Soft Craft and employees are beginning to realize that management considers the best interests of everyone before making decisions.

People who participate in making a decision tend to be more committed to the outcome than those who are not involved. The management of Soft Craft have recognized this and have involved employees in the decision making process with regards company strategy and the development of the mission and vision of the company. Another successful way to facilitate organizational change is rewarding people for behaving in the desired fashion. Feedback on the progress of employees in this regard is important.

Organizations that have developed the capacity to adapt and to change continuously are known as learning organizations. In these organizations, people set aside their old ways of thinking, freely share ideas with others, form a vision for the organisation, and work together on a plan for achieving that vision. To become a continual learner, management must establish a commitment to change, adopt an informal organizational structure and develop an open organizational culture. In these terms, Soft Craft is a continual learning organisation.

We have also been on a number of team building exercises, which have been successful in terms of encouraging employees to get to know one another in an informal environment away from the office. Further team building exercises are being planned and are becoming a regular activity within the organisation. Another process that was implemented to encourage commitment and engender a sense of fun into the organisation was the initiation of a team competition. The employees have been divided into three teams and accumulate points each month based on hours worked, time keeping, and generating new business. There is a monthly prize for the team with the most points as well as a grand prize at the end of the year. This concept has worked well and has created a sense of friendly competition, teamwork and creativity.

It seems that the transformation the organisation is undergoing is related to the growth and willingness to listen that management have undertaken. This has been filtering down to the employees and has created a learning atmosphere within the organisation. People have learnt to accept the views of others and there has been increased tolerance for individual differences. This has been encouraged through open discussions, which have become part of the culture of Soft Craft.

Further improvement in the culture of Soft Craft is being sought by both management and the employees and with the guidance of an HR consultant, from whom I am learning a great deal, a continual process of growth has been created within the organisation, both from an individual perspective and an organisational perspective. It is interesting and exciting to be involved in this process and to be consulted on various issues where I am given the freedom to express my thoughts and contribute to the growth and success of the company. Cox, T. (11). The multicultural organisation. Academy of Management Executive, 5(), 4-47.

Greenberg, J. & Baron, R.A. (000). Behaviour in organizations (7th ed.) New Jersey, Prentice Hall.

Ivancevich, J.M. & Matteson, M.T. (16). Organizational behaviour and management (4th ed.) United States, Irwin.

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