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Sunday, 24 July 2011

Organisational Culture

Organisational culture is one of those terms that is mentioned in various times and in various contexts.

I often wonder how it actually relates to the way an organisation really functions. Is it something that does in fact drive behaviour? Is it something that people actually relate to? Is it something that people within an organisation reference consciously or subconsciously as they go about there day-to-day activities? Is it something that is developed top-down or does it resonate with staff at the lower rungs of the organisation? Do Chief Executives actually drive culture or are they a reflection of a more pervasive cultural norm that exists within the organisation and develops over time?

Current events within the Murdoch newspaper empire provide a confusing picture, depending on how you interpret the various public announcements, press coverage, parliamentary hearings and the like. On the one hand, telephone hacking has been variously described as common place in the United Kingdom amongst newspaper groups inside and outside the Murdoch controlled publications. On the other hand the News of The World appears to have mastered this activity as an art-form. Using this as an interpretive base do we assume therefore that a culture exists among that industry which is independent of the organisations working within that industry? If this is the case, then what role does individual organisational culture play in either countering a broader culture that is obviously problematic? Or does the broader culture exist irrespective of the organisational culture? What becomes the prevailing culture? To what extent does the CEO or Chairman of an organisation drive culture?

Organisations, irrespective of them being not-for-profits or operating within the commercial world, constantly seek to publicise culture as a hallmark of who they are, what they are and how they are perceived by a broad range of internal and external stakeholders. Many not-for-profits attract employees and volunteers by publicising either the unique culture of that specific organisation or, more broadly, the culture that is apparently alive and well in that sector.

The extent to which culture underpins organisational activity or the extent to which culture is a product of organisational activity may be critical to better understanding what it is and how it can, and should, be used.

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