Even though behavior, values, and events are often attributed to organizational culture, there has been little agreement as to what it is. This paper outlines the culture of a medium sized business, specifically examining personalities and circumstances in one troublesome department. All data were obtained by the author during an extended period of communication and interaction with the organization's members. This paper redacts three compelling models from the corpus of literature on organizational culture into a multilaterally comprehensible summary of organizational culture. Using the composite definition, discussion returns to the previously mentioned company and demonstrates the ability of the models to reconcile theory to reality.
The company began as the dream of a husband and wife who wanted to do something exciting and needed to make a living. When they founded their shampoo distribution company in 1971, the husband served as president, salesperson, and warehouse employee, while the wife was the vice president, bookkeeper, secretary, treasurer, and auxiliary warehouse employee. The president's father was the delivery person, and the vice president's mother assisted with the bookkeeping. These two young, naive, entrepreneurs, learning each new step as they went along, sought to establish a name for their product, Kesher hair and skin care products, and their company, PJR, Inc. Some of the original and fundamental values which the husband and wife team determined PJR would embody were commitments to customer service, keeping the image of the Kesher line professional, and employing responsible, success-minded people. As the famous phrase coined by Winston Churchill states, the founders worked "with blood, sweat, toil, and tears" to make the company thrive. Eventually, success was a fact, and PJR's warehouse and office became overcrowded. In 1982, PJR moved to its--then spacious--present location which would engender further corporate success.
As a well established company, it is necessary to have a definition of the organization's past, present, and future. PJR decided to develop a definition of itself. Almost five years ago, an organizational consultant aided in gathering data from employees and founders. A statement of corporate mission was drafted and adopted that reads:
We seek to achieve and maintain a position of superiority and growth with our parent company and in our served markets, as a distributor of Kesher products and in doing so to:
* Maintain the Kesher professional status
* Constantly serve, educate, and upgrade professionals in our industry
* Offer opportunities for success to motivated employees
* Provide a consistent return on owner investment
Today, enlarged copies of this framed text are placed in prominent places throughout the office. Implicitly, within the statement of corporate mission are the values on which the founders based their company twenty-three years ago. The combination of such values, corresponding beliefs, and behaviors, constitute PJR's organizational culture. It is a culture that guards the original values of the founders; it is a culture that is oriented toward success; and as PJR began as a family business, it is a culture in which the metaphor of family is salient (Cleary & Packard, 1992). This paper will address how culture occurs at PJR, and will examine three pertinent theories of organizational culture to establish a multilateral definition. Finally this paper will apply the theories to the specific culture at PJR and confirm their complementary validity.
PJR Inc. is the exclusive distributor of Kesher hair and skin care products in Michigan and Canada (except for the province of British Columbia). Supplied by the manufacturer, Kesher Products Company of Santa Barbara, California, PJR sells product to barber shops and beauty salons across Michigan and Canada. The head office and warehouse are located in Southfield, Michigan and a subsidiary office and warehouse are operated for the Canadian business in Windsor, Ontario. PJR employs about fifty people. Almost half of PJR's employees are salon consultants who sell Kesher products in geographically assigned territories to barber shops and beauty salons. Salon consultants are guided by district managers who report to the president. The remaining portion of employees are office staff, managers, and warehouse workers. PJR's office is divided into five departments: inside sales (telemarketing), computers, customer service, bookkeeping, and the warehouse.
The inside sales, computer, customer service, and bookkeeping departments have between four and six staff members and a manager. The Windsor office is staffed by a secretary and an administrator. Although they have equal authority in all departments, the president oversees the warehouse and the sales force, including the inside sales department, while the vice president directs all other departments of PJR. The Windsor warehouse has a team leader and four team members. The Southfield warehouse has a team leader and fifteen team members. The concept of the warehouse as a team developed in response to negative reactions elicited from warehouse employees about the terms manager and supervisor. Changing the manager to a team leader, thereby adjusting a stifling outlook on one's job exemplifies that the responsibility of PJR to its employees is more than financial.
PJR's computer department consists of four data entry positions and a management position. The data entry personnel perform four key tasks: processing orders called in by salon consultants (recorded on a voice-mail system) and by the inside sales department, processing customer returns, updating the stock receipts file as shipments arrive from the manufacturer, and recording the transfer of inventory from PJR's Southfield warehouse to its Windsor warehouse. In order to process orders, one must understand the data entry procedure, which includes knowing the product codes of over two hundred items. If the wrong item is entered during this process, orders will be incorrectly printed and shipped; therefore, before invoices are printed, the person entering the order must compare what is on the screen to what was on the voice-mail. Processing customer returns is essentially the reverse of entering customer orders.
Updating the stock receipts file as shipments arrive from the manufacturer is a complicated process which includes multiplying every individual product's price per case by the quantity of cases received on a calculator, as invoices from the manufacturer do not show the gross price per item, and then entering the result into the computer. A similar process must be done to transfer inventory from PJR's Southfield warehouse to its Windsor warehouse and is crucial for PJR's Canadian business to operate. These exercises involve many stages at which errors can occur; errors consequently create incongruence between the inventory in the computer and the inventory actually in the warehouses, distorting the actual dollar amount of PJR's inventory. Accuracy in entering merchandise received from the manufacturer or transferred to the Windsor warehouse is imperative and double-checking all figures is required. If a mistake is made and found, it is difficult to change, and with certain errors, the firm which provides PJR with system support must be contacted and asked to enter the system-program to remove the incorrect figure. While these processes might seem complicated to a novice, with experience they become routine. In this department, accuracy is paramount, and tasks are tedious, repetitive, and boring.
To supervise the members of the computer department, there is a manager who also serves as the company's resident expert on the computer system. PJR hired Vance in 1990 for this position. Vance had recently left the Air Force where, for many years, he had worked as a manager of computer systems. As a computer expert and someone skilled in managing people, PJR put its faith in him to keep the computer department and the whole system on track. Vance was good at his job; he learned PJR's system inside and out; could solve almost any problem that related to the system; and adequately managed his department. For all the attributes that made Vance a key figure in the company, Vance's commitment to the PJR was questionable. He once threatened to leave PJR, and then did, claiming an ambiguous but never-substantiated objection to his health-care plan. He returned less than a week later, objection-less, and integrated back into his job. Another problem with Vance was that he could be abrasive and disrespectful to employees who were not his superiors.
Vance kept the system running smoothly, and while he shared some of what he did with one department member, the rest of the department did not know how perform anything other than the basic four tasks. This was a concern to Vance's superiors, as they wanted him to teach others how to do more on the system to reduce his work load, and so that if he were to leave PJR again, the department would be able to function above a rudimentary level. Vance never actually taught the other employees how to do additional tasks, and therefore retained a tight hold on his status as the department's manager and integral computer guru. In the spring of 1994, a year and a half after Vance's first resignation, he resigned again. One day after Vance's departure, Rhoda, the one employee in the department who knew some of the vital tasks also resigned. Except for the firm that created PJR's computer program, Minnesota Computer Solutions, Inc. (MCSI), nobody knew the custom-made system as well as Vance and to a lesser degree, Rhoda. This motivated the President immediately to seek a replacement, for without Vance or Rhoda, system problems would turn into nightmares.
Upon Vance's departure, the computer department lacked cohesion among its members. Working in private cubicles at their terminals doing repetitive, boring data entry tasks, employees have no real opportunities for interaction with others during the day except for two fifteen minute breaks and a half-hour lunch period. This fact, combined with the precarious combination of personalities assembled in the computer department, engendered a particularly negative attitude in the department. Darlene, a middle-aged woman and the senior-most employee in the computer department worked diligently, but was severely introverted. She did not interact with anyone in the office and her colleagues considered her a spooky character. Ray, a man in his late twenties, produced work that was error-free, however, he had an inconsistent attendance record and a habit of excessive gossiping with other employees. Ray's overall capriciousness jeopardized his future with PJR. Ramona, a woman in her late twenties, made it clear that she was working at PJR only until something better came along. Ramona had a surly attitude and her work was riddled with errors. Her superiors were unwilling to terminate her and risk a lawsuit or the cost of supporting her on unemployment, and they hoped that she would find something better soon.
Aside from Ray, whose gossip made him notorious, the computer department did not mix well with other PJR employees. Organizational citizenship behavior, altruism and other helpful actions usually exhibited among co-workers did not exist in the computer department, and although throughout the office one could locate any number of "good citizens," none could be found in the computer department. This was the composition of the computer department after Vance and Rhoda left. The department was a group of individuals whose overall job skills were--because of a lack of instruction--low, whose commitment to their jobs was low, whose job satisfaction--due to the nature of the work and perhaps the aloofness of their former supervisor--was low, and whose organizational citizenship behaviors were poor. The combination of personalities and the environment of this department, in total, led to an unpleasant working atmosphere.
Two days after Vance's departure, Ivan, an acquaintance of PJR's founders, contacted the president and told him that he recently sold his partnership in a software firm. PJR was in dire need of an individual who knew something about computer systems and could bring the department together to form a cohesive unit; and Ivan was without a job. Highly motivated to win this position, Ivan convinced the president that his experience of over ten years in the software industry and his skills as a manager of people made him an excellent choice for the job. He also stated that without much training, he could easily take over where Vance had left off. Relieved to have found a qualified replacement for Vance, PJR hired Ivan to take charge of the computer department and bring order to a chaotic situation.
On Ivan's first day, the president introduced him to everybody in the office. Members of the computer department were assembled in PJR's conference room, called the "glass room," to get to know Ivan and vice versa. Ivan requested that they outline their daily work schedules for him and explain the standard operating procedures within the department to orient him to this new job. Ivan concluded the meeting by saying that it would be a while before he learned PJR's system, and in the meantime, they should be patient with him. Ivan dug into his work of learning the system and managing the department. PJR's system is a holistic program whose capabilities range from documenting a sale to processing an order's shipment and delivery records. Contrary to promises Ivan made, knowledge of the software sold by his former business did not adequately help him in learning or managing PJR's system. Ivan's limited computer skills were inconsequential because PJR's system was totally different from any he had ever encountered, and it required that he understand all of PJR's standard operating procedures. As minor computer problems arose, Ivan could solve them without much trouble, however, when confronted with more complex issues, Ivan had to call MCSI for assistance.
Working on the computer and talking to MCSI were the easy parts of his job--dealing with people caused Ivan more serious problems. At the first gathering with his department, the members already demonstrated resistance to change implicit in Ivan's presence--not because they preferred Vance, rather they were resentful of the new coach of their game. After winning the job, Ivan had to win his department's support, however, Ivan entered the situation at a serious disadvantage: he inherited a precarious and unruly group of people. The members individually were undependable and unpleasant, and collectively had no interest in the company's success. Aware that his department needed an attitude adjustment, Ivan tried to deal with them in a professional manner. His style, however, was interpreted by the employees as gruff and cold, and inter-office gossip spread about how belittling he could be. Ivan's unsuccessful interactions did not represent a mean nature, rather, they indicated his own difficulty in adjusting to the new culture and the accompanying challenges. Unfortunately, department members did not know Ivan in any other context and began to dislike him, avoid him, and disobey his orders. After an instance in which Ivan asked Ray to follow up on some items that Ivan needed, Ray commented: "That man has the personality of a paper bag," and crumpled up the memo on which Ivan wrote a list of projects for Ray to complete. Ivan could also act petty at times, for example, he once loudly questioned Ramona's honesty in earshot of many employees a day after she called in sick. Disrespect and mistrust flowed in both directions, and Ivan, if not the catalyst for the problem, exacerbated it. Such a situation set the department and Ivan on a track of direct confrontation.
A few weeks after Ivan took over, he hired Elana to replace Rhoda. After a week and a half, she quit. An employee being trained in the computer department spends his or her first week informally learning the four basic tasks and other standard operating procedures of the department. Elana watched Darlene work on the computer for a while and was then given light, supervised work. Elana seemed to be doing fine, however, upon resigning she told Ivan that she felt overwhelmed by the amount of work she had to do and that she was not given enough training to understand her job. Elana also told Ivan that the environment was too unpleasant for her and that Darlene, her trainer, had told her to keep her resume updated because, "not many people stay here for very long." Ivan was infuriated by the whole episode. Coupled with the upsetting fact that the department was not completing an acceptable amount work on a daily basis, Ivan hastily called a meeting to institute some changes with the department's operation.
Computer department meetings are infrequent and for the whole group simultaneously to be off the computers indicated something ominous. Assembled in the "glass room," Ivan calmly addressed the first issue regarding Elana. He said that negative conversation with trainees about PJR would not be tolerated and he threatened to "write up" future offenders for insubordination. ("Writing up" is a procedure PJR uses to reprimand employees--three "write ups" are considered ample cause for termination.) About departmental productivity, Ivan stated that every employee would be required to turn in a summary of what they did each day from then on so that he could evaluate the department's work individually and determine why the results were so low. He then asked if anyone had any comments. Ray stated that he refused to lie to someone new, and that if he was asked what he thought about the company, he would "tell them the truth," intimating that the truth was something dreadful that others must know. Darlene, the actual target of the discussion, was silent. Ramona then asked Ivan how long the program of outlining the day's work would last. Frustrated by the tone of the meeting, Ivan sharply responded: "That's none of your business." At this point, the meeting deteriorated into a shouting match involving everybody but Darlene, who remained silent. Ramona responded to Ivan, Ivan counterattacked Ramona with harsh words, and Ramona then rebutted Ivan's response, and Ray expressed tangential objections of his own. The disrespect aimed at Ivan by his department was incredible, as was his choice of how to deal with questions of his authority. The meeting exemplified how the oft-combative department was being crippled by clashes on many levels.
Ivan's relationship with his department remained contemptuous, to the increasing dissatisfaction of his superiors. Ivan was always in close contact with the president and vice-president. Whether Ivan joined his superiors for lunch--which he did almost daily for his first month at PJR--or in private meetings, assessing the rebellious department's situation and considering management strategies were usual topics of conversation. Unfortunately, despite the discussion and energy that Ivan's superiors devoted to his success, Ivan did not always follow through with what he was told. The situation in his department was getting progressively worse as he did less and less of what he said he was doing. Ivan's superiors realized that under his management, the computer department was still in turmoil vis-à-vis the persistent, negative affect and low daily output. Ivan's laxity in rectifying those problems--or his inability to do so--prompted his superiors to begin actively supervising him and his daily projects. As a result of veritable misfortune, Ivan was hopelessly embroiled in conflict with individuals both above and below him in the company's hierarchy.
Organizational culture, says Benjamin Schneider, "like Jello, seems difficult to nail to the wall" (1987: 448). There is not one accepted definition of organizational culture, however, there are many propositions: "It is an evolving, pervasive system of assumptions, habits of mind, customary behavior, and attitudes which stamps an organization with a distinct personality by predisposing its members to think and act in a way generally favorable to the survival of the organization" (Brown, 1973: 68); "[Culture is] the strength and pervasiveness of core values, beliefs, and assumptions to which the organizational workforce completely adheres" (Furnham & Gunter, 1993: 234); "Culture is said to be transmitted through myths and stories, and when large groups within organizations share the meanings of these myths, a culture is said to exist" (Schneider, 1987: 448). Paradigms for understanding organizational culture have also developed to complement these explanations. Sackmann (1991) suggests visualizing culture as an iceberg on which metaphorically sit manifestations of behavior, feelings, and cognitions above and below the surface. The corpus of literature that discusses organizational culture is vast. To better consider the organizational culture at PJR, three theories will be presented and applied: Sackmann (1991) offers the Iceberg model of organizational culture; Cooke and Lafferty (1989) discuss the Organizational Culture Inventory and the three distinct types of culture it identifies; and Schneider (1987) proposes an Attraction-Selection-Attrition framework of culture's formation.
In the Iceberg theory of organizational culture, Sackmann distinguishes between cultural manifestations and cognitive components of culture, or visible and invisible culture. Visible culture is represented by traits located above the surface of the iceberg while invisible items are located below the surface. Examples of visible components are institutionalized behaviors, and traditions; cognitive components commonly typify clarifying thoughts such as "this is how we do things around here." Visible culture specifically includes corporate artifacts such as buildings, decor, logos, and physical products; verbal behavior such as speech, stories, and jokes; and nonverbal behavior such as rituals and ceremonies. Invisible culture specifically includes tacit, commonly held beliefs about an organization's priorities, processes, causes, and improvements (Sackmann, 1991: 297). From visible culture one encounters the manifest cultural reality, but not the latent devices of that reality. To better understand culture, one must probe beneath the manifest and explore how latent components of culture are interpreted and applied. The inductive method of exploring submerged parts of the iceberg led to the development of this theory's precepts of organizational culture. Sackmann suggests that invisible culture relates to an organization's goals and achievements, its strategy, its structure, and its orientation toward people (1991: 310). The Iceberg model outlines the principal aspects of culture, however, it does not identify specific qualities that characterize organizational cultures.
Cooke and Lafferty (1989) present the Organizational Culture Inventory as a model that isolates cultural traits within organizations. The theory defines the foundations of culture as: normative beliefs, which are individually held assumptions about acceptable behavior in a group; and shared behavioral expectations, which are those normative beliefs accepted by a group. Empirically derived from these sources emerge three distinct cultures: Constructive, Passive-Defensive, and Aggressive-Defensive. These three cultures are further reduced to twelve specific cultural traits. A Constructive culture generally promotes interaction with others, and self-fulfillment through the following traits:
Achievement: In such organizations, members are encouraged to pursue a standard of excellence, set challenging yet realistic goals, and work diligently to reach those goals.
Self-actualizing: A culture that emphasizes creativity, quality over quantity, both task accomplishment and individual growth, and enjoyment of work.
Humanistic-Encouraging: Participative, person-centered management is important in this culture and members help each other grow and develop.
Affiliative: Constructive interpersonal relationships are given high priority, and members are friendly, open, and sensitive to their work group (Cooke & Lafferty, 1989).
In Passive-Defensive cultures, interaction among group members is cautious and members seek security. The following traits tend to exist in such cultures:
Approval: Conflicts are avoided, interaction is--superficially--pleasant, going along with others is important.
Conventional: Conservative culture, traditional outlook and actions, members are controlled by a bureaucracy and are expected to follow the rules.
Dependent: Hierarchical and nonparticipative environment, members do what they are told and clear all decisions with supervisors.
Avoidance: Success is not rewarded but mistakes are punished, and responsibility is shifted to others to avoid possibility of being blamed (Cooke & Lafferty, 1989).
Aggressive-Defensive cultures expect members to be strong, independent, and very Machiavellian:
Oppositional: Confrontational culture, negativism, and pointing out flaws are rewarded.
Power: Culture structured on the basis of the authority inherent in members' positions, and members act to maximize personal power.
Competitive: High performance, working against others, and winning are essential to be noticed in such an environment.
Perfectionistic: Perfectionism, persistence, and hard work are valued, although objectives are narrowly defined (Cooke & Lafferty, 1989).
The twelve traits of culture listed above frequently occur in differing amounts within all organizational cultures. Combined, the traits form a continuum on which it is possible to classify an organization as Constructive, Passive-Defensive, or Aggressive-Defensive. From such definitions it is possible to evaluate the unique combination of traits that constitute an organization's culture. In all cases, organizational culture, as a component that affects the satisfaction and performance of its members, will have differing effects depending upon the orientation of the particular culture. Constructive cultures have a positive effect on their members; the influence of Passive-Defensive cultures on individuals is mixed, depending upon the members' personalities; and Aggressive-Defensive cultures tend to have undesirable effects on organizations.
In an attempt to reconcile nature with nurture, organism with environment, person with culture, Benjamin Schneider proposes the Attraction-Selection-Attrition (ASA) model. His thesis is: "that the people make the place" (1987: 437), or that organizational culture is a function of people and their behaviors. Schneider's ASA model is "influenced by both cognitive psychology and the developmental epistemology of Jean Piaget" (1987: 439). In this theory of dynamic culture, person and situation are intertwined. Organizational culture, he explains, is the effect of individuals behaving in organizations, but culture is a living entity that also acts upon individuals. Schneider argues that the notion of organizational culture determining behavior is fallacious: "People and human settings are inseparable; people are the setting because it is they who make the setting" (1987: 440).
Schneider's ASA model can be visualized as an interactive circle (1987: 445). On the periphery of the construct are the equidistant components of attraction, selection, and attrition. At the center of the circle are organizational goals. A goal is the cardinal reason for any organization's continued existence, and the pursuit of goals results from the day to day efforts (i.e., standard operating procedures) of the organization's members, facilitated by a common form of culture. From where do goals, SOPs, and culture originate? "The goals, structures, and processes that attract people to organizations are determined by the founder's choices, that is, by his or her choices to found a particular kind of organization" (Schneider, 1987: 443). The founders of organizations develop a vision of the direction of the organization which necessitates articulating a goal, redacting general practices into standard operating procedures, and funneling basic beliefs and values into organizational culture. Manifestations of goals and SOPs: "determine the kinds of people who are attracted to, selected by, and stay with a particular organization" (Schneider, 1987: 445), which over time cause an organization's culture to be what it is.
The ASA model contends that individuals are attracted to specific cultures based on personal attributes, will remain in the organization if its culture corresponds to personal beliefs and values, and will remove themselves from the organization if the relationship between self and culture is not harmonious. People whose personal attributes successfully match their organization's culture were originally: "attracted to that environment, selected by it, and stayed with it" (Schneider, 1987: 440). Different people are drawn to different cultures, and if an individual errs in selecting a suitable organizational culture, he or she will opt not to remain due to the dissonance that results. Given that individuals seek agreement between self and culture within any organization, those who do remain and prefer its culture tend to be: "a more homogeneous group than those who were initially attracted to the setting" (Schneider, 1987: 442). In effect what happens during the attraction-selection-attrition process is that, based on pronounced features of culture, organizations limit the range of individual beliefs that occur but foster those individuals whose beliefs are similar to their culture.
Culture appears in organizations in various guises. As Sackmann's Iceberg model demonstrates, culture is a series of visible and invisible characteristics that influence the behavior of members of organizations. Visible manifestations of culture at PJR are obvious in the office's decor and upkeep, and in the product that PJR distributes, Kesher. These two tangible items are important symbols of PJR's culture. The facility itself is kept neat and clean; offices are not cramped; equipment is modern and functional; and throughout the building, there are various kinds of potted plants and flowers. All cubicles in which employees work are located near open walking space so that interaction is possible. On the walls are framed Kesher posters with male and female models of many racial backgrounds and copies of the statement of corporate mission. Verbal manifestations of culture at PJR can be seen in the jargon and acronyms developed by employees to communicate regular points of discussion. "Are we going to Canada today," is how employees ask whether a shipment is being transferred from PJR's Southfield warehouse to its Windsor facility. "I am A'ing right now," is shorthand for running a daily sales report on the computer, and one can also "be B'ing". Statements like: "what a crazy place this is," or "we're all crazy around here," tend to be used as tongue-in-cheek allusions to the casual, but sometimes frenetic nature of working at PJR. One notices that employee interaction is generally amicable and relaxed, and while an element of professionalism is always present, employees can speak frankly with one another. Of visible culture that occurs nonverbally as ritual and ceremony at PJR, breaks and lunch time quickly come to mind. Everyone is given two fifteen minute breaks and a half-hour break for lunch. Some employees use the full amount of time, some liberally exceed the allotted time, and a few spurn their downtime and seem to work straight from eight o'clock to four-thirty.
A yearly ritual dear to PJR is that of the holiday party, which is another example of visible, nonverbal culture. This gathering is the one social event that PJR annually sponsors. Employees and their families are invited to an evening of cocktails and dinner at a fine restaurant or country club. PJR's holiday party offers other elements of Sackmann's Iceberg theory to explore--items below the iceberg's surface. Invisible culture regards internalized beliefs about an organization's priorities and processes. The holiday party is PJR's way of recognizing and rewarding its employees for their hard work. It is also PJR's alternative to a "Christmas bonus," and turnout consistently is very high. Every year after the meal, a member of the sales force and a department manager present gifts to PJR's president and vice president on behalf of all PJR's employees. Then the president and vice president give speeches in which they reflect on the past year and wish good fortune to all the employees and their families in the coming year. The whole series of events is very much an institutionalized ritual and the holiday party's emphasis on family, giving deserved praise and thanks, and its generally positive affect exemplify Sackmann's theory of visible and invisible culture within PJR.
Classifying PJR's culture is possible using Cooke and Lafferty's Organizational Culture Inventory. The three cultures identified, Constructive, Passive-Defensive, and Aggressive-Defensive, are built upon twelve traits of organizational culture. Of the twelve, the following four cultural traits are most prevalent at PJR: "affiliative," "approval," "conventional," and "dependent." "Affiliative" is a trait of Constructive culture while the remaining three traits--plus an absent "avoidance" trait--constitute Passive-Defensive culture. "Approval" within PJR's culture is evidenced by pleasant, professional interactions between employees and the value of being liked by others. Members of the computer department surely suppressed their negative feelings for Vance to avoid conflict with him. Better to "go along with the program," than to provoke confrontation. The "conventional" trait applies to organizations that are conservative and bureaucratic. In the computer department, SOPs are primary to how work is done and rules and regulations, while not excessive, are important. The "dependence" trait--hierarchical, centralized control--is writ-large at PJR. Employees are expected "to do what they are told" and do not have much autonomy regarding choice of work programs and pace of work. Employees generally must clear decisions with their superiors, and the president and vice president readily admit that PJR's culture is necessarily more dictatorial than democratic.
The final characterization of PJR's culture is the "affiliative" trait. Although it comes from the Constructive culture set while the others are from the Passive-Defensive framework, this trait is important in PJR's culture. Cognizant of the previously outlined traits which construct PJR's culture as hierarchical and centered on elite rather than popular control, the seemingly misplaced "affiliative" trait also occurs in this culture. This trait emphasizes friendly interpersonal relationships and a positive, constructive environment. The example of Ivan's major confrontation with his department in the "glass room" contradicts the notion that affiliativeness is part of PJR's culture, however, in this case, the exception proves the rule, as what happened in that meeting was very unusual. News of what transpired in that screaming match rapidly spread by word of mouth afterward. Intense verbal aggression is seldom seen at PJR, and the aftereffects of that meeting will probably have an impact on the culture for some time. All in all, the culture really does value and capitalize on good-natured relationships spanning across departmental and hierarchical lines.
"Avoidance" is the one trait included in Passive-Defensive culture that does not apply to PJR's culture. This trait promotes punishments when individuals fail but not rewards when individuals succeed. In such cultures, individuals try to deflect blame if something goes wrong. At PJR, responsibility for one's work is emphasized, and when one does well, he or she is duly recognized. Organizational punishment is sometimes necessary at PJR, as in most organizations, albeit not as a coercive tool to improve performance. Using the Organizational Culture Inventory, one can glean as much about an organization's culture by examining the traits that it does not posses as by examining those that it does. The remaining six traits that do not occur in large quantity in the culture at PJR are: "oppositional," "power," "competitive," "perfectionsitic," "achievement," "self-actualizing," and "humanistic-encouraging." What one can learn about the essence of PJR's culture from Cooke and Lafferty's inventory is that PJR, while not extremely progressive or liberal, espouses security and good-natured relations.
The Attraction-Selection-Attrition model created by Schneider allows an instructive overview of how and why PJR developed its specific culture. At PJR, the assembled group is constantly changing, and the ASA model, an outline of the joining and departing of organizations, suggests that this phenomenon is caused by culture. Culture originates from the vision and goals that founders have for their organizations. From the founders' visions and goals emerge a set of principles--a nascent culture. At PJR, the founders hold perennial organizational values such as an honest day's work for an honest day's pay, and most of the specific values related to PJR's overall culture from the Cooke and Lafferty model. Such values attract certain types of people to PJR and repel others. Those who have been at PJR the longest originally chose to join the organization because their values and beliefs agreed with those of the company. They bought into a philosophy that was similar to their own, and PJR's culture was one in which they could satisfactorily live and work.
An emerging culture is vicariously passed from founder to employee, but when it is more firmly established and internalized by the organization, it passes from employee to employee. Employees who have been at PJR the longest obviously have a good conception of the culture, as Schneider's theory implies, and they tend to agree with it. Were their values and beliefs not in line with those of the organization, they would either experience dissonance and remove themselves from the organization, or the organization would eventually remove them. In Vance's case, his values and beliefs were clearly not in alignment with the culture at PJR and he was only tolerated (an aspect of Cooke and Lafferty's "approval" trait) because he was necessary. As illustrated, the whole computer department displayed behaviors that were not compatible with PJR's culture. Nobody in the department--not Darlene, Ray, Ramona, Elana, or even Ivan--was able to adequately reconcile their beliefs and values to those of the organization. In Schneider's ASA model, dissonance leads to attrition. It should, therefore, come as no surprise to learn that by November first of this year, every member of the computer department had been removed or chose to remove himself or herself from PJR's culture. As was stated before, the exception is being given to prove the rule; other departments at PJR have not had such extreme cases of person-culture incongruence. And PJR's employees are no more wayward than any others. Over half of PJR's employees have been with the company for three years or more, which makes a significant statement about culture's effect on attraction, selection, and attrition.
Culture, as defined by Sackmann, is as a shared set of manifest and latent beliefs and values. Cooke and Lafferty assert that culture has many qualities and use a series of twelve adjectives to describe its most important variations. Schneider argues that people and culture are an interactive dyad, and that people choose to work in organizations with cultures that best match their personalities. What one can learn through these definitions of culture is that it shapes organizations and is shaped by members of organizations. PJR's culture clearly exists in both visible and invisible components, as Sackmann proposes, including PJR's actual building, common speech patterns, and rituals. The overall culture, using Cooke and Lafferty's term, is described as Passive-Defensive, however, it requires the switching of one trait from another defined type of culture. Passive-Defensive culture, although it sounds rather negative, is actually exemplary of many contemporary businesses. Some facets of PJR's culture, then, are a hierarchical structure, respect for authority, and pleasant but businesslike interactions. Founders are the origin of organizational culture which employees learn vicariously. Individuals who have worked at PJR the longest, states Schneider, know the culture best and presumably like it, or they would have removed themselves from it. The existentially compelling question of culture in organizations is well documented, but suggested answers for it are many and constantly in flux. What can be known is that organizational culture is a powerful force that affects individuals in very real ways.
Brown, J.D. 1973. Human nature in organizations. New York: AMACOM.
Cleary, C., & Packard, T. 1992. The use of metaphors in organizational assessment and change. Group and Organizational Management, 17: 229-241.
Cooke, R., & Lafferty, J. 1989. Level V: Organizational culture inventory--form I. Plymouth MI: Human Synergistics.
Furnham, A., & Gunter, B. 1993. Corporate culture: Definition, diagnosis, and change. International Review of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 8: 233-261.
Sackmann, S.A. 1991. Uncovering culture in organizations. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 27: 295-317.
Schneider, B. 1987. The people make the place. Personnel Psychology, 40: 437-453.
Statement of Corporate Mission (vol. II). PJR, Inc: 1992.
Return to the Introduction to Organizational Psychology Home Page.
Contact the author via e-mail. Or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 1996, The Regents of the University of Michigan,
All rights reserved.
Revised - November 4, 1996