As the main focus of this course was organizational behavior, it is appropriate to begin this series of essays with the topic of Organizational Culture. On the first evening of class, we dove into this subject directly by answering the question, “What is organizational culture?” Essentially, organizational culture is comprised of the value system, interactions, and social structure of a given organization. More eloquently put, as outlined in the prologue of The Ropes to Skip and the Ropes to Know (“The Ropes”) organizational culture provides a framework that explains what is going on within the organization as standard operating procedure, and an “interpretive system” that is complete with myths, rituals and symbols that are implicitly or tacitly understood and followed by those who choose to remain a part of that organization. In its simplest terms, organizational culture creates the blueprint for individuals to succeed (or not) and to fit in (or not) within a defined organizational environment.
The acronym P.I.E. (short for performance, image and exposure) provides a useful lens to determine a person’s current stance within the organizational environment, and it can be instructive in helping that person find their way and improve their lot within the organization. For example, it is simply taken for granted that employees who seek to become something more must be strong performers. They need to burnish an image that is consistent with their organization’s culture and with their own aspirations. And they need to ensure that the work they are doing is getting the right level of visibility (or exposure) and that credit is given where it is due. Without a strong showing in each of these three areas, many people are simply lost in the shuffle and are never afforded the opportunity to really shine and excel within an organization. Impression management is so absolutely vital to a person’s success, and yet it is rarely taught, ineffectively modeled, and often times only learned when the damage has been done.
In an exercise we conducted in class from the Experiences in Management and Organizational Behavior (“EMOB”) textbook, entitled “People’s National Bank, University Branch,” we gained first-hand knowledge of the organizational cultures that exist within a broader organization, and the opportunity to role play how a newly appointed manager, Gary Herline, needed to quickly learn the existing culture of his new branch so that he could effectively manage the organization. This ties directly to the premise of this course, as stated in the syllabus: “the basic principles of human behavior that effective managers use when managing individuals and groups in organizations.”
Our team observed significant differences between the corporate environment of People’s National Bank where Herline was on a management fast track and the culture of the University Branch, where the previous manager simply resigned with very little notice, leaving in his wake an organization with high turnover, customer service and business growth challenges, and a general lack of cohesion among the staff. Herline had to get a plan together very quickly, and his blueprint for the plan was largely based on the culture he was inheriting and his ability to turn things around.
In The Ropes, organizational behavior, a key driver and resultant byproduct of culture, is split into two key viewpoints, one being the technical and rational approach, looking at what went wrong and deciding how to do it right via process; and the other, cultural and interpretive, acknowledging that an organization is comprised of people and cannot be treated or programmed like machines. As culture is further dissected, the example of IBM is brought up several times. As pointed out by Geert Hofstede when he studied IBM’s global organizational culture, it is absolutely essential, as an insider or an outsider, to understand the culture you are working with so that you can anticipate how interactions will be managed, how crises may be caused and resolved, and ultimately how to operate effectively within the surroundings, a la “When in Rome …”
Socialization is the critical element for individual adaptation to and navigation of any given organizational culture, in which newcomers learn “proper behavior as well as proper beliefs, attitudes and motives (The Ropes, 11).” It is for this reason that the initial orientation is so critical to the success of new hires, and why companies such as Disney have been able to create such a believable and immersive entertainment experience for their guests by inculcating within their cast members the sense that they are part of something important, and that they need to play their roles without fail, as they learn in Disney’s “Traditions.”
Ultimately, a company is nothing more than its people, and when an organizational culture is toxic or dysfunctional, such as Al Dunlap’s Sunbeam, the company cannot sustain success, financial or otherwise, over the long term. It is for this reason that instruments such as Kaplan and Norton’s Balanced Scorecard exist, to ensure that managers are thinking about the balanced equation of good fiscal decisions that place a high value on customers, employees and other stakeholders and are oriented to sustainability and long-term perspectives.