What is Organizational Culture anyway?
A little while back, a coworker asked if I could write up a brief description of Sagitec’s organizational culture to help some new-hires get oriented to the company. Sure, I said, I’d be glad to. Just one problem: how do we define our culture?
We know that org culture is all around us, but we’re not always conscious of it. (The fish is the last to notice the water, right?) Regardless of whether or not we’re aware, every worker shapes—and is shaped by—his or her culture.
“Basically, organizational culture is the personality of the organization,” describes managementhelp.org. “Culture is comprised of the assumptions, values, norms and tangible signs (artifacts) of organization members and their behaviors.”
Some aspects of our culture are easy to see—all we have to do is look around the office. Are our coworkers wearing business suits? Shorts & sandals? Do they have their own offices? Cubicles? Or do they work in a communal space? These tangible aspects of our culture can affect how we perceive our companies and ourselves.
Other, more intangible aspects—like values and behaviors—can be more elusive. But often, these are the qualities of an organization that really impact the way it does business. They can affect relationships with partner organizations and ultimately enhance (or hinder) the chances of a project’s success. Which brings me to my first point…
#1) An Organization’s Culture Tells You What It Values
An organization’s culture tells you what it believes and values. Obviously, this is extremely important information to know, especially in an industry like ours in which strategic partnerships create an opportunity for culture clash. How can a project be successful if the values and goals of each organization in the partnership do not align or complement each other?
Of course, to understand an organization’s values, they must first be communicated. There are several ways to do this. Nowadays, most organizations create a mission statement. These provide clues if not outright statements of an organization’s values; and potential business partners should take them at face value. For example, if a vendor’s mission is to ‘deliver the finest package-based administration system on the market’, maybe they’re not the best partner to implement that custom GUI you’ve been yearning for. Communication can be the key to preventing a poor fit between partner organizations. To that end, a pension fund seeking a new solution could—and should—use their RFP as a means of communicating their values. Doing so might help ‘weed out’ potential vendors early on who wouldn’t be a right fit. And on the other side of the coin, knowing a potential client’s values would enable a vendor to better communicate why its solution is a good fit.
(Some org cultures can be downright creepy.)
#2) An Organization’s Culture Influences its Approach to Business
Noted MIT professor Edgar Schein describes org culture as “a pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems that has worked well enough to be considered valid and is passed on to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems."
In other words, org culture is a collection of accepted truths and a pattern of learned and encouraged behavior. Does this sound like a methodology to you, too?
Org culture influences—and is influenced by—an organization’s methodological approach to business. I’ll use Sagitec as an example here. When our senior partners formed this company, they did so with an understanding (i.e., accepted truth) that every client is unique. That single belief helped shape the entire business model of the company by informing our approach to solution development as well as the architectural design of our pension administration software framework. We had to devise a flexible methodology and a customizable solution—how else could we implement solutions that reflected the uniqueness of our customers? Knowing our culture means knowing what it will be like to work with us, and what kind of product we’ll provide.
#3) Understanding Org Culture Improves Org Transition & Readiness Activities
Transitioning to a new pension system can be a difficult process, especially when you consider all the variables in question. But deciphering the culture of the organization you seek to change is the best way to make that transition as painless and as successful as possible. In fact, it’s really the only way to develop a training plan that considers the unique nature of the organization and tailors an approach to suit it.
Think of all the questions one has to ask when developing a training plan: How many workers does your organization employ? Where do they work? What management style(s) are they accustomed to? What are their skill levels with various computer programs? How do they feel about the impending changes? What facilities are available?
The list goes on. And all these questions are directly related to org culture. When you understand how different the answers to these questions might be from one organization to the next, you realize how applying a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to the problem of org transition is terribly risky. It fails to account for an organization’s personality. And any manager in the world (or parent for that matter!) can tell you that personality has a tremendous effect on whether or not a management style will be effective. Like individuals, organizations have their own way of doing things and we would be wise to take that into account.
Whether easy to see or hard to define, an organization’s culture is worth considering when you’re entering into a business relationship. One size doesn’t necessarily fit all. Take the time to understand the beliefs, the values, and the character of an organization and you’ll have a much better chance at a successful partnership.
What defines your organization’s culture? Where does that culture originate? And what effect does it have on you?
Organizational change management plays an important role in the implementation of new technology. Download our free case study to learn more about "Managing Organization Change in IT Modernization Projects."
About Sagitec Solutions:
Sagitec Solutions, LLC designs and delivers tailor-made pension, provident fund, and unemployment insurance software solutions to clients of all sizes. Sagitec has the expertise necessary to help their clients achieve strategic business objectives, enhance service offerings, and lower operating costs. Find further information by visiting http://www.sagitec.com. For more information, contact Rick Deshler at (651) 335-3406 or at rick.deshler@Sagitec.com.