Many people would agree that there can be potential conflict between organizational culture and organizational development. Before we go further, we need to understand these two concepts.
Organizational Culture? Organizational Development?
Organizational culture is like the genetic makeup of the organization from which the organization’s image and brand is created. It embodies the organization’s mission, vision, philosophy, values, policies, principles, products, processes, market history and historical data. It is not a one-off idea; it is built over time and shaped by experiences shared over time.
The culture of the organization usually determines the environment and mood of the organization and it can be created deliberately (if the organization’s management and owners need it to achieve certain set goals and objectives or if it is needed to steer the employees towards a set path). It may also be something developed unconsciously; it starts as an idea or a set of ideas. From there, it becomes embraced and repeated till it becomes part of the fabric of the organization.
Usually, the culture of an organization is built and nurtured deliberately. This is done to ensure uniformity of vision, mission and purpose and it is used to ensure conformity.
Key Identities of Organizational Culture
A good organizational culture creates an identity that connects every individual in the organization. This is what binds everyone to the core of the organization. It also creates a sense of belonging and inspires a desire to be part of what the organization symbolizes (Coca-Cola and its culture of ‘Sharing Happiness’)
In an organization where there is good and vibrant organizational culture, leaders and employees work towards a common goal or objective. No department is allowed to stray off course and no person is allowed to work contrary to the overall and mission; every project, every process, every idea is expected to add to the standing objective or lean towards the achievement of the organization’s purpose.
The correlation between work and the value system of an organization is an important element of cultural identity. A major sign that the culture of an organization is relevant can be found in the relationship between the organization’s values and the work practices adopted by its employees. In an organization where employees view organizational culture as important and relevant, they work in line with what the culture dictates; their work processes, practices, thought patterns and their response to work reflect the existing culture to varying degrees. If employees refuse to acknowledge the culture of an organization or are unable to define and articulate what the culture entails, there is high tendency for them to work contrary to what is expected or demanded by the organization’s leadership.
The Work Environment
An organization’s culture is usually reflected in the kind of work environment created by leadership. If the culture promotes communication, team spirit and collaboration, it will be reflected in the layout and aesthetic design of the work environment (there may be transparent glass barriers separating offices instead of the usual walls). Work area may be an open space with the work space of each employee nothing but table and chair. If the workplace does not promote relationship building or prohibits collaboration, employees will be kept isolated from one another as much as possible
Shared language is not necessarily restricted to the accepted language for communication within the organization, it also includes accepted code words, technical jargon, acronyms, terminologies, words and phrases (many of which are usually unique to the organization while others are unique to the industry). In other cases, the language may also refer to the slang used within the local environment in which the organization is located.
Can Culture Affect Organizational Development?
Culture is one of the strongest forces within any organization. It is designed to last for generations and is made up of interlocking entities (vision, mission, processes, ethics, values, behaviors, methods, etc.) – all of which come together to form a complex web that serves as a foundation for the organization’s internal and external structure. It is usually built to stand the test of time and as such, it is designed in such way that changing it becomes impossible.
It is usually the binding force of the organization and this means that everything and everyone in the organization is connected to it. No reasonable change can occur or stand the test of time if it goes contrary to the culture of the organization; this means that any development that takes place within the organization has to be connected (directly or indirectly) to the culture of the organization.
This is why one-time attempts designed to change culture rarely work. This has remained a major challenge for change leaders who try to create new cultures or try to introduce changes that are contrary to existing culture.
Does this mean that culture is completely rigid and impossible to change?
Culture (regardless of how rigid it is) can be made flexible and accommodating to embrace change. It is largely dependent on the leader – his power of influence, his knowledge of what change management entails, his competence and skills as a change leader and his ability to foster cooperation between the major elements of change (the workforce).
To also achieve change, there is need to review existing culture identities and elements, identify what needs to change, communicate this throughout the organization, help followers see the need for the proposed change and work with them to carry out the change in a gradual, systematic manner. Organizational development will not happen in a day and trying to force change-focused development will only work effectively where there is willing participation from all.
Organizational development can also be hampered or accelerated by organizational culture.
To achieve organizational development, culture will be directly affected (positively or negatively). This, however, will only be achievable if the people within the organization welcome the proposed development. If there is higher preference for culture, introduction of new developments will be met with resistance.