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We’ve seen a resurgence in interest across the world around Organizational Culture at a time when many large global corporations continue to operate in virtual or blended work environments.

Research by Gartner revealed that 70% of HR leaders in a pre-pandemic world were confident they knew the culture their organization needed to propel business performance. But only 30% were confident that the actual culture of their organization reflected the desired culture. Culture has been a glue of sorts that has helped many corporations cope with the pandemic. The same survey revealed that 64% of hybrid and 66% of remote employees reported that their organization’s culture has a positive impact on their job. As one of the world’s pioneering Culture Advisory Firms we often get quizzed about the layers of culture. We’ll aim to give you an overview on the very term culture and the key elements of Organizational and Company Culture.

The layers of culture

You constantly hear about Companies and their culture. About how employees quit because they don’t see a ‘cultural fit’. At Hofstede Insights, we’ve always compared culture to an onion. Just like an onion, culture has multiple layers. Symbols occupy the outer most layer of the onion. These are external symbols. We recognise logos like the Mercedes-Benz three pointed star or the Apple logo instantly. In a country culture context these could include monuments like the Great Wall in China as well as food. A bowl of pasta will immediately conjure up images of Italy.

The second layer is the zone of heroes. These could include high profile corporate executives like Sundar Pichai at Google or real life public figures – for instance Roger Federer is strongly linked to Switzerland or most of us will instantly think of Lionel Messi when Argentina is mentioned. You will find meetings and rituals in the third layer – the closest to the core. This includes rituals such as karaoke in countries like Japan.

Culture: defined

Culture is an all-encompassing term. Professor Geert Hofstede defines it as: “The programming of the human mind by which one group of people distinguishes itself from another group”.  Culture is learned from your environment and is always a shared, collective phenomenon.

Now let’s take these layers of culture or the onion and apply it to a company culture context. Changing a logo doesn’t have the same impact as changing rituals. Symbols like powerful logos do have emotions attached to them. Kia Motors rejigged its logo recently but it’s unlikely that it impacted the emotional connect the brand shared with its loyal customers. Imagine a scenario where you move companies and have to deal with a new way of conducting meetings; this is not an easy change to get used to.

At the core of the onion you’ll find values or broad preferences for a certain state of affairs (e.g. preferring equality over hierarchy). Values are transmitted by the environment in which we grow up, like the behaviour of parents or teachers showing us what is acceptable and what isn’t. Most of our foundational values take shape by the time we are 10-12 years of age. It’s this collective programmingconsisting of values as the core, and the three layers that envelop  that core that we define as culture.

What is organizational culture

 Organizational culture is the way in which people in an organization relate to each other, their work and the outside world, in comparison with other organizations. Your Organizational Culture shows how your organization works: how things get done, the interactions between people, and employee relationships to their work and the outside world. The best organizations often place equal emphasis on strategy and culture. Such organizations create a culture that motivates their teams. Organizational Culture is what differentiates your business, so it is important to know the various factors that contribute to your company’s culture.

National Culture:

Refers to a group of people who have been brought up within a given country. In comparison to others, these individuals tend to share certain expectations of how things should be done and values around these expectations. National culture takes shape at a formative age, these impressions are completely formed by the age of 12 to 14 and are a product of the environment we grow up in. It’s easier to sense National Culture in larger groups because individual qualities supersede national qualities in smaller groups or if you interact with one individual

Culture is an important management tool

Culture is a group phenomenon, we use advanced tools to analyse and understand the behaviour of groups. Our tools also make an assessment of the likelihood of groups of people acting in a certain way. One person doesn’t represent the whole culture but in a group of people from one culture, people are likely to act in a way appropriate for that culture.

From a business point of view this makes culture an important tool of management, with regards to groups of people. You may not be able to change values of people but you can make appropriate changes in the practices of your organisation to ensure you’re working with those cultural values, rather than against them.

Reach out to us  to discover how Hofstede Insights can help you a more active approach and take necessary actions to improve your culture.


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