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Key Elements of Organizational Culture

written by: V!kas Shukla•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 3/29/2011

Culture is something which is created and resides in the minds of people. The elements of organizational culture are a set of shared values and norms that control members’ interactions with one another and with outside stakeholders such as customers and suppliers.

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    Physical Artifacts

    Physical artifacts These are the tangible manifestations and key elements of organizational culture. If you visit different organizations, you’ll notice that each is unique in terms of its physical layout, use of facilities, centralization or dispersion of common utilities, and so on. These uniquenesses are not incidental, instead, they represent the symbolic expressions of an underlying meaning, values and beliefs, which is shared by people in the organization. The workplace culture greatly affects the performance of an organization.

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    Language, Jargons and Metaphors

    Language These elements of organizational culture play an important role in identifying a company's culture. While language is a means of universal communication, most business houses tend to develop their own unique terminologies, phrases and acronyms. For instance, in the organizational linguistics code, "Kremlin" may mean the headquarters; in Coal India Limited, the acronym J.I.T.(Just In Time) was jokingly used to describe all the badly planned fire-fighting jobs.

    Such specialized usage of words and phrases makes an organization’s language incomprehensible to those who do not belong to that culture. And thus, language becomes a means of identifying the members from non-members.

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    Stories, Myths and Legends

    These are, in a way, an extension of organizational language. They epitomize the unwritten values and morals of the organizational life. If you collect the various stories, anecdotes and jokes that are shared in an organization, they often read like plots and themes, in which nothing changes except the characters. They rationalize the complexity and turbulence of activities and events to allow for predictable action-taking.

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    Ceremonies and Celebrations

    These are consciously enacted behavioral artifacts which help in reinforcing the organization’s cultural values and assumptions. For example, every year Tata Steel celebrates Founder’s Day to commemorate and reiterate its adherence to the original values of the organization. Stating the importance of ceremonies and celebrations, Deal and Kennedy (1982) say,

    “Without expressive events, any culture will die. In the absence of ceremony, important values have no impact."

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    Behavioral Norms

    This is one of the most important elements of organizational culture. They describe the nature of expectations which impinge on the members’ behavior. Behavioral norms determine how the members will behave, interact and relate with each other. The group norms determine whether or not one can openly disagree with superior, or whether or not people can be friendly with employees in other departments. behavior of employees is an important parameter while promoting the organizational culture. The enforcement of behavioral norms also weeds out those members who do not “fit" in the organization.

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    Shared Beliefs and Values

    All organizations have their unique set of basic beliefs and values (also called moral codes), shared by most of its members. These are the mental pictures of organizational reality, and form the basis of defining the right or wrong in the organization. In an organization, for instance, if the predominant belief is that meeting the customers’ demands is essential for success, any behavior which supposedly meets this criteria is acceptable, even if it violates the established rules and procedures. Values and beliefs focus organizational energies toward certain actions, while discouraging the other behavioral patterns.

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    Resources

    Understanding Organizations, Madhukar Shukla

    Organizational Theory, Design and Change, Gareth Jones

    Images Credits:

    freedigitalphotos.net/admin

    freedigitalphotos.net/photostock