Managing Culture In Business Management Essay

The notion of culture has been a significant and popular part in the study of organisational analysis. It is believed that strong organisational culture is a symbol of excellent management which organisations own (Peters and Waterman, 1982). Hence researchers are desired to analyse this question: can cultured be managed?

The effort of this essay is to analyse this question of great importance. It might be necessary to focus on the crucial aspects rather than provide an all-encompassing overview, for the sake of offering a convincing argument. This essay’s structure is as follow. Firstly, it will present some literature reviews revealing the previous studies on this question. There are three diverse views: culture cannot be managed; culture can only be manipulated under some contingencies; culture can be managed. Secondly, a comprehensive and in-depth analysis will be conducted. It will first refute the former two arguments and then prove why the third view is supported. Finally, conclusions will be drawn based on the analysis.

II. Literature Review

Before presenting the review of various literatures on managing culture, it seems useful to define the concept of organisational culture. Organisational culture is a widely used term, while there is some degree of ambiguity on its definition. For instance, Schein (1985) defined culture as the atmosphere and custom that organisations develop within their employees, the stimulated value and widely accepted beliefs of an organisation. According to Brown (1995), organisational culture is described as a batch of norms, faiths, principles and the behavioural patterns that jointly provide organisations distinctive features. Schein (1985) categorised three levels of the cultural phenomenon, which are: artifacts and creations, values and basic assumptions. The basic assumptions, which mean those things that are taken for granted, are described as culture by Schein. According to Smircich (1983), there are two different views to describe culture: culture as something an organisation is and culture as something an organisation has. Ogbonna (1993) demonstrated that these two views seemed to be mutually exclusive. On the one hand, when culture is viewed as something that an organisation has, it turns out to be a potent instrument for organisations, which forms the behaviour, offers the employees within the organisation the sense of identities and sets the widely accepted principle. On the other hand, when the culture is viewed as what an organisation is, the concepts of the culture and the organisation become inseparable.

There was always a drastic controversy on whether the culture can be managed. According to Ogbonna and Harris (1998), these viewpoints could be categorised into three types: culture cannot be managed; culture might be only manipulated under some contingencies; culture can be managed. Firstly, many researchers, such as Martin and Siehl (1983), argue that culture exists itself and cannot be managed by people. They indicated that since the culture is described as assumptions, it simply exists itself without people’s consciousness. Krefting and Frost (1985) presented that if organisational culture is formed unconsciously and unorganised, it is possible that trials for managing the culture would not successful. Some researchers viewed the culture as what an organisation is, so they claimed that the culture and the organisation are interactive, to some extent, the organisation is the culture. Thus Martin (1985) argued that organisational culture’s changes cannot be managed but might be manipulated when some contingencies happen, which became the second viewpoint we mentioned.

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However, other researchers argued that culture can be managed, because they viewed culture as an organisational variable which, similar to other organisational variables, was subordinate to the control of management. They emphasised the research on the management approaches to directly control the culture. The proponents of this perspective had provided many cultural change models to facilitate cultural management (for example, Bate (1994); Bowman and Faulkner (1997)). Berger and Luckmann (1966) demonstrated that culture is a social phenomenon that depends upon human behaviours and interactions. Researchers believed the leaders are supposed to create and maintain culture. Hampden-Turner (1990) presented that leaders developed the culture, the culture shaped the employees, and culture is one of the leaders’ responsibilities.

III. Analyses and discussions

Firstly, the first stance, which argued culture cannot be managed, is logically inconsistent as well as empirically flawed. The basic approach to manage culture by implication could be classified into two types: conforming, which means maintaining the current order, and transforming, which means changing the existing pattern (Bate, 1994). Although there are many instances that organisations’ changing efforts degenerated into changing behaviours and failed to change the culture, which indicated that the efforts to manage culture is unsuccessful, it does not mean that culture cannot be managed. There also existed many examples that the culture within organisations had been successfully changed. Ogbonna (1993) pointed out that:

“By implication, if the value system guiding members’ behaviour is no longer appropriate, it must be replaced by that which is more appropriate by manipulating the elements identified”.

In this way, culture change is not only possible but also desirable.

The second argument is that culture can only be manipulated under some contingencies, such as certain crisis. This assumption could also be challenged by some real examples. In the literature, there are also some examples indicating the dramatically change of the culture within the organisation. There are even more appropriate examples in the contemporary business fields. Organisations have to change their existing culture, so as to be consistent with the external environment. For instance, now many companies are intended to change their business strategy to customer-centric strategy, so as to retain their competitiveness. All the staffs are trained to build up the awareness of the new strategy, and the existing culture is facing the silent but adamant change.

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Since it has been proved that the culture can be managed, it is useful to discuss how to manage culture and what significant factors can affect the culture management. In order to deal with the issue of managing organisational culture, the first thing ought to identify the impacts of the existing culture as well as the desired culture. Then the organisations need to evaluate whether the current culture need to be changed, maintained or manipulated. Since culture change can be a difficult, slow and even annoying process, the change of success is low especially when the staffs don’t understand or support the aim of the organisational change (Park et al, 2004). Hence it is possible to make use of the knowledge management system to facilitate the culture management. As we know, knowledge management system could enhance knowledge sharing, so it is useful to help to inform the employees of the organisations of the purpose of the culture management, as well as convince them to accept and support the leader’s decision. Schein (2000) suggested that it is better to facilitate cultural evolution rather than implement drastic culture change. According to McDermott and O’Dell (2001), it is more effective to align the knowledge management system with the organisation climate than to directly change the organisational culture. It is worthwhile mentioning that managing culture does not imply that the culture would be completely changed. Culture management includes not only changing culture but also creating culture, maintaining culture and even abandoning culture (Ogbonna, 1993). According to Silverzweig and Allen (1976)’s Normative Systems Model, there are four steps to change the culture: analysing the existing culture; experiencing the desired culture; modifying the existing culture; sustaining the desired culture. In this model, the most significant parts are the critical factors including leadership, work-team culture, information systems, performance and reward systems, training, first-line supervision and results orientation, which are vital for managing culture. For example, work-team cultures, which are also called subcultures, are the components of the organisational culture. Hence each subculture should be developed positively to be consistent with the organisational culture. Meanwhile, the information systems within the organisation also should support the desired culture (using knowledge management system to facilitate culture management would be a suitable example). Performance and reward systems are applied to indicate what employees should do so as to guarantee that employees’ actions are consistent with the desired culture. First-line supervisors are expected to cope with the barriers and conflicts between the management and the employees. In other words, they are in charge of bridging the gap between them.

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Although the Normative Systems Model has demonstrated many crucial aspects that could affect the result of culture management, there are still some challenges of its feasibility. Some researchers argued that the real business situations are not as ideal as the model hypothesised. For instance, in this model, employees are expected to experience the desired culture by attending the workshop. However, it is possible that people’s performance in the workshop could be different from the real work condition. Employees might cooperate actively in the workshop, while going back to the routine that they are familiar with at work. Then the effect of experiencing the desired culture might not be achieved.

IV. Conclusions

Culture management has been an important part of organisational analysis since 1970s. However there still exists the disagreement on whether the culture can be managed or not. The purpose of this essay is to try to elucidate the author’s viewpoint on this question. This essay first analysed the three different views from previous literatures on the feasibility of culture management. It was proved that the argument, which insisted that culture cannot be managed, was improper both logically and empirically. Then the second stance, which considered that culture can only be manipulated, was proved inappropriate as well by actual examples that happen in business fields. Though the analyses, this essay drew the conclusion that culture can be managed. Then we discussed how to manage culture and what factors should be focused on to ensure the culture can be managed successfully. The knowledge management systems and Normative Systems Model were demonstrated. The questions on the model’s validity was analysed afterwards. It is worth noted that although the model appropriately described vital factors for culture management, the actual business conditions are not as ideal as the model assumed. Empirical evidence also proved that it would always be a tough task to manage culture as planned. Further studies have to put emphasis on the real effective approaches for managing culture.


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