Where Does Organizational Culture Come From?


This paper focuses on the topic of sources of organizational culture in public and private organizations. It starts with an exploration of the concept of organizational culture followed by a discussion of the sources of organizational culture which include the characteristics of people within organizations, organizational ethics, organizational structure and the property rights accorded to employees by organizations. Lastly is a conclusion which sums up the main arguments of the paper. Various academic sources are used in the discussion.

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Organizational Culture Defined

An organization is a group of people who work together with coordinated efforts to achieve certain objectives or goals. Organizational goals and objectives are of various categories, and it is this variation of the goals and objectives which classify organizations into three main categories, namely profit-making, service-based, and social responsibility based organizations.

Organizational culture refers to shared beliefs, values, norms, and practices which characterize an organization. Norms are informal rules which are institutionalized by organizations. The norms govern the conduct of employees and constitute what is permitted and prohibited in different organizations (Parker 36).

One of the important aspects of organizational culture is teamwork. Organizations encourage employees to work in groups instead of working independently. Teamwork makes organizations benefit from the synergy found in groups. Working in groups gives employees an opportunity to exercise their creativity, innovativeness, skills, and talents. It also enables the group members to learn from the strengths of each other as well as from the diverse experiences of the group members. When employees work in groups, they learn how to welcome positive criticism (Parker 36). Working in groups also enables the employees to generate new ideas which are implemented by the organization. The new ideas increase employees’ motivation because they feel that the organization values their input. Teamwork motivates employees to come up with work norms, which eventually become part and parcel of the organizations’ culture.

Organizational culture is learned implicitly through interaction within organizations. New employees learn it by imitating those employees who they find in organizations. This imitation happens unconsciously due to the humans’ instinct to adopt behaviors which make them fit in the social environment which they find themselves in. Through communication and interaction with each other, employees may develop norms, values, symbols, and ways of doing things which are unique to their organization.

Employees also learn organizational culture through conditioning and reinforcement. For example, if a certain behavior is rewarded by the management of an organization, the employees would adopt that behavior, and it becomes part of the organization’s culture. Similarly, if another type of behavior is prohibited by the management, then the employees would avoid it. Organizational culture is, therefore, a very important aspect in any organization which aspires to realize its vision and mission. The reason is that organizational culture determines whether an organization can work together towards the realization of the vision.

There are various models of organizational culture. One of them is power culture, which is characterized by centralization of power to a few people within an organization. In this type of culture, decisions are made easy because there are no many hierarchical positions in the structure of the organization. There is also role culture, which is characterized by doing things as per one’s position, meaning that employees only care about what is of concern to them or what lies under their dockets. This culture is also characterized by rigidity in decision making because of the bureaucratic nature of the organizational structure, which leads to inefficiency.

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Task culture is characterized by the formation of groups of people with expertise or knowledge to perform specific tasks. In this type of culture, therefore, group work is very important while supervision plays little or no role because the management trusts the teams with their tasks. Lastly, there is a person’s culture which is characterized by a feeling of superiority among the employees, who think that they are very valuable to the organization. In this culture, unity and cooperation among the employees are rare because each employee thinks that he or she is the best and therefore not ready to share what he or she knows with others without extra payment.

A strong organizational culture is found in organizations where the employees are committed to their work and discharge their duties with little or no supervision while a weak organizational culture is found in organizations where the employees have little commitment to their duties, and they are closely supervised to discharge their duties effectively.

Sources of Organizational Culture

Characteristics of people within organizations

The leaders of organizations may include managers, executive directors, and board members. These leaders are responsible for shaping the culture of their organizations. The reason is that they are the decision-makers of their organizations and are therefore best placed to decide what is good and bad behavior in the workplace. The employees are just followers who simply copy what their seniors do or just follow what they are told to do, and thus, they do not play any role in shaping the culture of organizations.

If the leaders of an organization are not friendly to their employees, then the organization is characterized by fear and constant tension among the employees. Such a relationship may lead to confusion and inefficiency because employes are not allowed, or they are unwilling to consult their colleagues for fear of victimization. The overall result is the creation of an organization which the employees are not proud to be associated with. This negative attitude of employees towards their organizations may have serious effects such as increased turnover, reduced productivity, and general organizational inefficiency.

On the other hand, if the leaders of organizations are open and friendly to their employees, then the organizations create what is referred to as cohesive organizational culture. Many organizational researchers agree that a cohesive organizational culture is one in which all members of an organization have similar beliefs and values which hold them together as an organization. These beliefs and values are implicit or explicit to the organization. In this kind of culture, the organizational structure does not matter, but what matters most is the commitment of each member of the organization to these beliefs and values. For example, an organization may value hard work, cohesiveness, and teamwork and believe in transparency, faithfulness, work ethics, and morality.

Organizational structure

Organizational structure refers to how an organization is structured, and how power and authority to make decisions are distributed along with the structure of the organization. Organizational culture is closely related to organizational structure in that how decisions are made by the top management influences the relationship between the top management and the employees, which in turn determines the culture of the organization (Miner 57).

Organizational structures are broadly classified into two categories, namely mechanistic and flexible structures. Each category is associated with a different type of culture, but as a general rule, mechanistic structures are associated with weak organizational culture while flexible structures are associated with strong organizational culture.

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An example of a mechanical structure is the bureaucratic organizational structure, where the power and authority emanate from the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and flows down the hierarchy to the junior levels. The structure views organizations as being guided by formal regulations and rules which are formed and communicated well within the organizations. There are the rules of conduct in the workplace which govern things like working hours, holidays, the language to be used, communication protocols within the organizations based on the hierarchy and the communication channel regarding assignments for specific positions in the hierarchy. These rules and regulations govern the procedures and the processes of organizations to give them an identity and stability as well as enable them to predict their output because everything is planned and followed strictly without failure or compromise.

The structure recognizes positions in the hierarchy by their designations but not by the individuals who hold them. As such, there is no personification of ranks within organizations, and this ensures that authority is respected which in turn reduces subjectivity and increases objectivity in organizational undertakings. This idea of addressing positions by their designations in the hierarchy also ensures that there is no conflict of interest or unnecessary arguments or exchanges between various officials in the chain of command which in turn increases efficiency in organizations.

Consequently, the structure is associated with role culture, where every employee takes instructions from a particular person, and there is no room for employees’ suggestions regarding their roles and how they discharge their duties. They are supposed to follow directives without questioning their rationality or the consequences of their operations as they discharge their duties, especially regarding safety at the workplace.

This structure is also associated with a weak organizational culture which inhibits group or teamwork, thus making organizations lack the value associated with group or teamwork. Such a weak organizational culture does not give room for employees to be creative and flexible in their work and this makes organizations to lack the creativity and initiatives of the employees, some of which may be very important for the organizations. In this type of culture, there is poor harmonization of organizational processes and functions such as planning, employee development, manufacturing, processing, marketing, branding, labeling, public relations, and packaging. The lack of harmonization, in turn, compromises efficiency and effectiveness in organizations, thereby reducing productivity.

In organizations with a weak culture, it is very hard for employees to be creative because they are not provided with the necessary incentives to stimulate their creativity. The employees usually feel demoralized because they do not get the intrinsic value of work. Instead, they simply work for the sake of working, and they do not care whether anything goes wrong because it is not their concern anyway.

An example of a flexible structure is the functional organizational structure. The structure is based on the human relations approach, which is mainly characterized by a radical shift from the mechanical approach to humanistic approach in the management of organizations. This kind of structure is usually associated with a strong organizational culture where more emphasis is placed on improving the work environment and making the employees feel appreciated. In organizations with such a strong culture, employees are perceived as social beings with social, psychological, and financial needs. Such organizations also acknowledge that employees have the potential of being creative in their work. They also value the synergy found in group or teamwork. Consequently, supervision plays a minimal role because the employees are capable of forming group norms and rules which govern their work. Organizations with a strong culture also recognize the importance of employees interacting with their managers in a friendly way without fear of victimization.

Such a strong culture is conducive for innovation. When managers and employees of an organization perceive each other as colleagues, not as rivals, the employees view the organization as a personal business and put all their efforts to ensure that it becomes successful. Such loyalty stimulates the employees to think of new ways of doing things, which eventually leads to innovation and increased competitiveness.

Organizational ethics

Organizational ethics refers to how organizations relate to their internal and external environments. The ethical climate, therefore, touches on things like the working environment, the safety of employees, care, and conservation of the environment and practices which promote the interests of consumers. Organizational ethics are tied to corporate governance, which refers to how corporates are controlled and directed. It constitutes the ethical conduct of the corporates, administrative issues, policymaking, and public relations, among other things.

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According to Jones, organizational ethics may emanate from professional ethics, society, and individual ethics (Jones 47). Different societies have different beliefs about what is ethical and unethical. These beliefs greatly shape the culture of organizations because in many cases, Multinational Corporations employ local citizens as junior employees. Once employed, the employees come with their beliefs at the workplace and through interaction with each other; they shape the culture of the organizations (Jones 48).

Professional ethics also shape the culture of organizations. If for example, an organization provides health services, then the culture of that organization is likely to reflect the professional ethics of health workers. Individual ethics have to do with employees’ beliefs and values. In many cases, individual ethics are derived from the law. If employees of an organization share similar values and beliefs on what is ethical and unethical, they are likely to influence the culture of the organization (Jones 48).

The ethical climate of organizations constitutes adherence to principles of ethical behavior and conduct by organizations. It also constitutes how the organizations relate to their internal and external environments (Singh 63). Organizational ethics is also strongly influenced by the values held by organizational leaders. If they have values like hard work, creativity, integrity, transparency, and teamwork, the corresponding culture is likely to be based on these values. On the other hand, if the leaders or founders of organizations have values such as corruption, nepotism, lack of integrity, and lack of professionalism, then the resulting organizational culture would largely reflect these values.

Property rights system

All organizations have a property right system which stipulates the rights and responsibilities of the employers and employees. The system also has to do with the rights of employees to use organizational resources or enjoy certain privileges. Property rights are based on the idea that all employees do not have equal rights and do not enjoy the same benefits from their employers (Pejovich 94).

The three types of employment status include a worker, an employee, and self-employment. A worker has a contract or other work arrangements to render services for rewards or other benefits. Workers do not have written contracts. However, they are entitled to employment rights, which include the minimum wage, protection from unlawful deductions and discrimination, paid leave, and overtime payment for extra hours worked.

A self-employed person has no employment contract and employment rights. He or she is the boss and hence plans for his or her work. However, self-employed individuals may be contracted to provide services at a fee. Also, they are expected to pay their income tax.

Employment status helps in defining workplace rights and responsibilities of employers and employees, which helps in litigation for infringement of employees’ rights (Keyton 23). Furthermore, it identifies the sources of uncertainties in the application of employee rights, as well as the relationship between an employer and his or her employee (Keyton 23). Employment status also plays a significant role in developing a psychological contract.

The employment status determines the nature of rights and privileges enjoyed by different employees in organizations. This comes automatically because all employees have different qualifications, levels of education, age, and professional experience. These are the parameters which are used by organizations to accord rights and privileges to employees. As a general rule, top management employees have more rights and privileges than normal employees. For example, managers have certain rights, such as the ability to make decisions, huge salaries, the power to control an organization’s resources, stock options, and foreign trips. The normal employees, on the other hand, have rights such as pension or fringe benefits, permanent employment, notifications of layoffs, the right to be consulted during decision making, ownership of stock in the company, severance payment, work-life balance, and collective bargaining.

These rights shape employment relationships by determining the behavior of employees in the workplace. They also influence the culture of organizations by making employees have positive or negative attitudes towards work and their employers. When employees have positive attitudes towards work and their employers, they become motivated and maximize their talents, skills, innovativeness, and commitment to their work, which increases productivity. Consequently, they feel as if they are shareholders of the organizations which they work for.

Work-life balance refers to the balancing of work and social life of employees. It looks at whether work interferes with the social life of employees or not. If it does, then the employees lose morale in work. If it does not, their motivation is increased. Collective bargaining refers to negotiations and discussions which lead to agreements between trade unions and employers on the terms of employment. It affects employment relationships by limiting or strengthening the bargaining power of employees.


Organizational culture constitutes shared beliefs, values, norms, and practices which characterize an organization. The main sources of organizational culture include characteristics of people within organizations, organizational ethics, organizational structure, and property rights according to employees. There are two broad categories of organizational structure, namely mechanical and flexible structures. As a general rule, mechanistic structures are associated with weak organizational culture, while flexible organizational structures are associated with strong organizational culture. It is, therefore, important for managers and leaders of organizations to try as much as possible to have a strong organizational culture because it is not only good for productivity but also a key ingredient in employee motivation. Strong organizational culture also enhances cohesion among different organizational departments, which increases efficiency and curbs wastage of time and other resources.

Works Cited

Jones, Gareth. Organizational Theory, Design, and Change, Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2010. Print.

Keyton, Joann. Communication & Organizational Culture: A Key to Understanding Work Experiences, Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, 2011. Print.

Miner, John. Theories of Organizational Structure and Process, Montreal: Dryden, 1982. Print.

Parker, Martin. Organizational Culture and Identity: Unity And Division At Work, Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, 2000.Print.

Pejovich, Svetozar. The Economics of Property Rights: Towards a Theory of Comparative Systems, Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1990. Print.

Singh Kavita. Organizational Behavior: Text and Cases, Chandigarh: Pearson, 2010. Print.

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