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Does Organizational Culture Matter? Part 1 of 2

One comment
  1. Michael Petit, Ph.D

    April 8, 2012 at 8:25 am

    Discussions about culture’s influence over an organisation’s strategy and performance are often confused and confusing. Ever since Jay Barney suggested that culture could be an organisation’s greatest competitive advantage people have been trying to understand what culture is and how it can be changed. The best known study on the relationship between and organisation’s culture and performance was conducted by John Kotter at Harvard. Kotter was interested in whether a strong culture resulted in better performance. Perhaps unsurprisingly Kotter found that a strong culture could result in better performance but it could equally result in poor performance. While there are diagnostic tools and methods available for getting a picture of culture they all have significant shortcomings. In my own research on the concept of dominant logic I have developed a framework for thinking about culture in relation to an organisation’s strategy, leadership and change for performance improvement. But in order to do so I had to look at organisation’s through an unconventional frame of reference. Rather than adopt the dominant metaphors of organism or machine with their shared underpinning assumptions of rationality, stability and uniformity I adopted the schismatic metaphor which recognises that there are various forces within organisations that work to hold them together while at the same time working to push them apart. Central to the schismatic metaphor is the role of conflict, specifically symbolic conflict, which is ultimately at the root of all culture. It explains not only how a particular culture arises but also why it persists. The framework that I developed sees culture simply as a legitimising mechanism. In other words it legitimises what behaviours are acceptable, what questions can be asked, how they can be answered etc. Organisational leadership is simply legitimised authority to determine what is legitimate, and strategy is ultimately legitimised action. The problem is that culture constrains strategy to action which is considered to be legitimate. Unfortunately, as the environment in which an organisation operates is not constrained in the way it changes problems can arise when the legitimate responses of an organisation are deficient in light of those external changes. At that point the organisation enters what has elsewhere been described as a stall point. For further discussion please visit my blog through my linkedin profile.  


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