Organisational Development

#5 Mild Factors with a Strong Effect: People and Corporate Culture

Corporate culture plays a decisive role in the development of your organisation: It is the subconscious link between employees. It consists of values, beliefs and unofficial social rules, which are the condition for integration into the group. Culture is a collection of thoughts and behaviors that influence the perception of right and wrong and – consciously or unconsciously – control the activities of individuals and groups in an organisation.

Every company has its own history. The cultural rules of the game are passed on and secured from generation to generation through stories and subtle as well as not so subtle reward and punishment mechanisms. Although most people in an organisation do not even know when, how and why certain habits developed, they are still often very strongly anchored in the collective memory. Whether you eat lunch together or not, work together or against each other,  feel comfortable in an individual office or an open-plan office, object to a board member or leave the office at 5 p.m. or 7 p.m., etc. All of this is a culture that established itself as “normal” at some point in the organisation’s history. This is corporate or organisational culture.

Culture also influences the way corporate strategies are developed and therefore has a direct influence on the company’s objectives. Regardless of whether an organisational culture is risk-averse or courageous, bureaucratic or innovative, very hierarchical or flat, based on trust or mistrust, etc., the culture not only influences the behavior of employees, but also that of top management, who develop the strategy.

Culture gives orientation and provides order in a social environment. Each new employee must adapt his or her thinking and behavior as a condition for integration into the group. This results in beneficial, connecting habits and familiar conformity for all. The value for each individual is the feeling of belonging and stability it provides to the organisation. The disadvantage, of course, is that each individual loses a little of their individuality and new ideas can be easily dismissed. 

Corporate culture creates a collective identity and connects those who adapt. It creates a feeling of security inside the organization and a boundary to the outside world. In other words, it is a very social and human affair and triggers strong emotions when it is threatened by change. Maybe you remember how it was for you at the beginning, as a newcomer in an organisation. I’m sure you too have gone through this process of cultural adaptation. Do you remember what you thought and felt then?

As summarised by McLean and Marshall: “Organisational culture is a collection of traditions, values, rules, beliefs, and attitudes that form a continuous context for everything we do and think in this organisation.”

If you want to develop an organisation, you have no choice but to work within the culture and, of course, the emotions that connect people. Every larger OD project means significant change for the people concerned and always impacts your organisation’s culture.

Major changes can be implemented more quickly in authoritarian regimes than in democratic societies. Fear and serious threats are well-known tried and tested means to change cultures or to get people to quickly do something they don’t want or aren’t used to doing. In these cultures, side effects are accepted with approval. Since I assume that power and authority do not correspond to your leadership values.

The next article will present a few alternative approaches.

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