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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

Organizational culture should be developed, maintained, November 17, 2006, 2D.

Cultures are defined by what people have in common.  Common languages, customs, histories, heroes, traditions, religions, stories, beliefs, and values help define national cultures.  The things that are shared by a group of people give it an identity.  People from outside a particular culture can readily identify when they have stepped into a new culture—the “ways of doing things” can be completely different from what they are familiar with “back home.”

Countries can have national cultures and subcultures that exert powerful influences on the beliefs and behaviors of its people.   In fact, the influences can be so powerful that they sometimes incite groups of people to make war against others to protect and defend their cultures.

Organizations also have cultures and subcultures.  The shared experiences, patterns of interaction, sense of identity, lingo and jargon, stories, customs, values, and histories common to organizational members all contribute to its culture.  To ensure that a culture continues within an organization, it has to be taught to new members.

Cultures can have either strong or weak influences on the behaviors of organizational members.  Strong cultures are widely recognized and supported by organizational members and can be part of the glue that holds organizations together.  They help give a sense of identity to organizational members and help keep them tied to the group.  Weak cultures are less widely shared and have less influence over the behaviors of members.

Organizational cultures can have positive or negative influences on members and their organizations.  Positive influences occur when the culture supports the values and ideals of the organization and when it promotes the desired performance of the organization.  Negative influences result when the culture encourages and values ideas and behaviors that are counter to those of the organization. 

Managers and organizational leaders should be aware of culture and its influence on the behavior of organizational members.  Strong and positive cultures should be fostered and maintained.  In fact, strong and positive cultures make it easier for a leader to guide, direct, and encourage appropriate work behaviors and attitudes—cultures serve as a substitute for and complement to the influences of the leader.  A strong organizational culture with negative influences on behavior can be destructive for organizations.  They encourage behaviors and attitudes that are in opposition to the goals and values of the organization and can counteract leaders’ attempts to move members toward organizational goals.  Ineffective and weak cultures should be changed or eliminated.

Because leadership involves working with people, the concepts of organizational culture are tremendously important to organizational leaders.  Creating and maintaining strong, positive, and effective cultures and eliminating ineffective and negative cultures should be a primary goal and responsibility of organizational leaders.  Through their use of language, symbols, goals, vision, rewards, shared victories and experiences, stories, heroes, and values, leaders should shape strong cultures that support the ideals and mission of their organizations.  Leadership is about getting work done with and through other people, and one of the ways that is accomplished is through the development and maintenance of organizational culture.

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© 2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved