The Corporate Culture: Nurturing Success through a Positive Work Environment

Seen from the outside, all companies look alike: workshops, warehouses, offices, incessant movements of men and goods. Yet a thorough examination shows that no company is comparable to another.

Each has its own personality, has its own identity and image. Looking for the specificity of a company leads to analyzing its culture and therefore to recognizing the role of the people who make it up.

The concept of corporate culture is not new. Corporate culture is a set of values shared by all staff.

For Edgar Morin, culture is “a system that communicates a personal existential experience and a constituted collective knowledge. »

Faced with a rather vague concept, we can ask ourselves the following questions: What is the place of corporate culture within the organization? What role can corporate culture play in business?

What is corporate culture?

Originally, the notion of corporate culture served as the basis for the theories of organizational development, which proposed principles of psychosociological intervention along the lines of a programmed development of the functioning of organizations (Bennis 1975). Today, it attracts many disciplines and gives rise to a proliferation of approaches, such as corporate culture, for example.

Corporate culture is perceived homogeneously as a system of shared values and beliefs interacting with the population of a company, its organizational structures and its control systems to produce norms of behavior (Bosche 1984).

This conception is based on rites, symbolic kinship and other constitutive elements which draw patterns of socialization of individuals. It is then a question of filling in the boxes of a descriptive table of the corporate culture envisaged in its formal coherence. Thus, in particular, the components of corporate culture are grouped into six parts usually identified (Bosche 1984)

1) Values, in other words ideas, beliefs

the philosophy shared by the members of a company. They are expressed in the compact form of a slogan in the declaration of the purpose that the company adopts (love of the product, progress, well-being, profit, quality, etc.: thus IBM proclaims that “IBM stands for service ”), as well as through the “corporate credo”, a list of standards of behavior and principles that can replace rules and procedures.

Internal propaganda ensures the dissemination of these values through various media. In addition, these are not only manifested in explicit speeches but are actualized in all aspects of the life of the company, in constant interaction with the organization chart, the managerial style, the physical environment of the workplaces , strategies, etc.

2) Myths

the focus here is on the metaphorical nature of certain anecdotes circulating in the company. From a functional point of view, these anecdotes can be classified into two categories: those that report the conditions, often heroic or heroic, of the foundation of the company; those that illustrate and reinforce the values disseminated by the hierarchy.

3) Symbols

signs loaded with information of a cultural nature: in particular the style and clothing accessories (the uniform which can consist of a T-shirt, as at Apple), the rewards (sometimes decorations), the distinctive signs of status (characteristics office, furniture, company car or apartment, etc.).

4) The rites, indifferently called rituals

daily, systematic, scheduled activities, which can cover, for example, terms of address, meals in the company, procedures, or exceptional activities (rites of welcome, of passage, of departure).

5) Heroes

The heroes, who personify and reflect the standards of behavior in force in the company. A distinction must be made between “situational heroes” (model employees cited as examples and celebrated in front of their peers) and “born heroes” (mythified and charismatic founders embodying an ethic of creation).

6) The “cultural network”

The “cultural network which acts as a hidden hierarchy of the company, based on six types of characters, (“tellers of stories”; “priests”, guarantors of the values of the company; “whisperers”, checkers of the loyalty of individuals; secretaries; “spies”; plotters) and who is able to influence the cultural coherence of the company.

A false debate: does the company have or is it a culture?

In the debate “does the company have or is it a culture?”, the corporate culture approach posits that the company has a culture forming one of the subsystems of the organization.

For the supporters of the opposite opinion, culture is in the company a metaphor for the organization, as, like the organization, it is the repository and producer of meaning.

The theoretical problem posed is in fact that of the relationship between culture and organization. It is reduced to a debate on the existence of a relation of inclusion or equivalence between the two concepts – although nobody examines the idea according to which this relation would be established in such a way that it is the organization that would be a subset of culture.

If the company has a culture, it then becomes a simple control lever and, ultimately, the entrepreneurial strategy can even be confused with the activation of the culture.

If, on the other hand, culture is considered as a diffuse structuring system in the organization, we find ourselves in a conception closer to anthropology but equivocal and just as clumsy as the previous one. Few anthropologists today would indeed accept a formulation as abrupt as: “such a human group is a culture”.

Maurice Thévenet endeavors to clarify this debate by proposing the use of a grid in which the external cultural influences and the history of the company appear (even though any historical dimension remains absent in corporate culture, cf. Bosche 1984: 38 ), the declared values and symbols used in the company, the “obviousness” (points of consensus).

From this lower level of analysis, that of the manifestations of culture, two higher levels successively intervene: identification in terms of regularities, coherences and logics and the definition of the functional characteristics of culture (Thévenet 1984; 1986) .

According to this Author, the theoretical option “the company is a culture” is the one to which most of the work on corporate culture now belongs. Three perspectives emerge (Thévenet 1986):

  • A cognitive perspective, centered on the common knowledge used by the members of the organization, results in classifying companies according to the heritage of experiences, values, problem-solving capacities, into “entrepreneurial”, “scientific” companies. or “humanists”.
  • A symbolic perspective analyzes the processes by which members of the organization come to share a value system, using the anecdotes mentioned above as material. This second approach questions the existence of universal narrative types, the interpretation of the anecdotes endeavoring to highlight the dualities emanating from the contradictory requirements of the individual and the organizational: equality/inequality, security/insecurity. , control/lack of control…
  • Finally, a scenario perspective, in the spirit of transactional analysis, aims to discover the “scenarios” that have structured the existence of the organization since its origins, based on the hypothesis that a founder prints a set of messages in models which carry in germ all the future development of its organization.

If the first of these three approaches seems interesting although foreign by its typological orientation to the ethnological tradition, the second has the disadvantage, by looking for the genesis of symbolic cohesion, of presenting the problem of this cohesion as solved a priori.

As for the third, it gives culture a globalizing dimension as a fundamental explanation of everything that takes place in the company. No anthropologist will ratify this conception of culture-D.A.N. Once again, recourse to the notion of culture therefore takes place in artistic vagueness.

The terms of the alternative refer either to the classic reductionism of the cultural dimension” as part of the real irreducible to the economic, or to a crossroads of ambiguities as to the heuristic status of culture.

Instrumental vision of the culture of the organization: the business project

The business plan is a unifying document, which dynamically translates the wishes of the unit for the periods to come. It is sometimes summarized in the form of a charter which brings together its essential aspects. Tr

Very often the business project is concretely presented in the form of the triptych “what we are” (i.e. the affirmation of the characteristic traits of the company’s identity), “what we want do” (i.e. the indication of the major objectives that the organization wants to pursue over the coming years) and finally “what we are going to do” (the list of means that the company intends to use to achieve her goals).

Corporate culture is therefore the combination of different cultural materials (national culture, personality of the founders, professional culture, and significant events experienced by the company).

It materializes in the form of a set of values, rites, myths, taboos and signs shared by all company employees.

We are going to study the challenges of corporate culture for firms, i.e. its positive aspects but also the obstacles it can encounter within society.

Corporate culture issues

From this long paragraph we can distinguish three types of companies according to their culture.

The machine: it is the bureaucratic company and indifferent to its employees, a bit like IBM or the Post Office.

The jungle: as its name suggests, it is the one that makes the law of the jungle reign, that the strongest wins and woe to the vanquished, the type of company that communists adore because they make it possible to point the finger at the inhuman capitalism. Typical example from the book (and movie) The Devil Wears Prada. Consulting firms, trading rooms or fashion companies have, rightly or wrongly, the reputation of adhering to this type of culture.

The mother: the company pampers its employees, has an almost maternal attention for them. An interested altruism since intended to increase productivity, certainly, but a real altruism despite everything. The symbolic example is Google where employees benefit from quality food, buses for journeys, sports or relaxation areas and… a nice paycheck.

Companies have understood that culture can serve their interests, and many do not hesitate to play this card.

Positive impacts of the corporate culture concept

The company is naturally a place of conflict because individuals, groups with different aspirations, with divergent interests must work together. These conflicts are resolved by negotiation, even confrontation, but also by organization, in particular through strict work planning.

Even the employers have always wanted to develop a “house spirit” to ensure a good understanding in the company and reduce conflicting tensions. Analyzes in terms of corporate culture are relatively recent, since they only appeared in the 1980s.

The concept of corporate culture, corporate culture, has developed in particular in the United States to ensure the consistency of the operation of the company and to manage organizational changes.

The forecasting and planning system no longer ensures satisfactory consistency of the company when:

  • The environment is increasingly marked by complexity and above all uncertainty, which requires flexibility;
  • Quality takes precedence over quantity (need to integrate the control of each workstation and not to reject it at the end of the process).

The coherence of the actions must then be ensured by a common vision of the future shared by all the actors of the organization. The corporate culture forms this common vision which ensures the relevance of the initiatives taken by each of the players with regard to the environment.

Corporate culture can also be considered as a management tool.

According to the School of Human Relations, the employee is the “heart” and the company must know how to listen to their expectations. The Human Resources strategy must be attentive to the aspirations of employees, promote their environment, ensure their safety, take into account the collective aspects of work (promote the integration of new employees). Theoretically, the development of a house spirit will develop this strategy.

According to MASLOW, employees must satisfy the different stages of the pyramid of needs, including that of belonging to a group. However, by belonging to an organization with a strong corporate culture, employees will feel more integrated, protected, surrounded than in a more traditional structure.

The corporate culture also allows the manager to:

  • Ensure group consistency by improving communication in particular (emphasis on sharing common values instead of insisting on divergent interests)
  • Improve adaptation to the environment to ensure the survival of the group, in particular by forming a more cohesive group and by reacting more quickly to hazards thanks to a common vision of the future.
  • When all members of the company adopt common values, they identify with their company. This allows a better motivation insofar as the employees integrate the objectives of the company. The existence of a corporate culture is all the more necessary when internal controls are difficult and self-monitoring is important (quality objectives take precedence over quantitative objectives). The key idea of corporate culture is that staff will defend the company all the better if they consider it as a community to which they belong.

On the other hand, the corporate culture allows an increase in the competitiveness and performance of companies.

Indeed, a strong corporate culture strengthens the economic performance of a company by reducing its costs. The common beliefs, practices, and myths that define corporate culture provide an informal control mechanism that coordinates employee efforts.

New employees align more quickly with existing employees because they hear fewer different versions of company goals and practices. Moreover, this culture is not so much imposed on employees as socially constructed by them.

Consequently, their motivation and morale are better than when controls are exercised by a superior through the line of hierarchical authority. The cost of labor is also lower. The savings thus achieved thanks to a strong corporate culture can therefore allow this firm to hope for better financial performance, a phenomenon called “the culture effect”.

After highlighting the positive effects of corporate culture, we will show that poorly managed, it can be a handicap for companies.

Brakes to culture

Many factors can put a damper on the positive aspects of company culture.

  • First of all, it should be noted that some individuals do not identify with the culture of their company. Obviously, they will be marginalized by the group and may be excluded from it (limited promotions, siding positions, etc.). Conversely, it is possible that an individual refusing the values of the organization decides to remain there exclusively for its financial development. In this case, he will never be mobilized by the speeches of the company.
  • Then, conflicts between people within a structure can reduce the effectiveness of the corporate culture. Indeed, if the social climate of the company is bad, that information is not disseminated and communication blocked, the corporate culture alone will not be able to ensure the cohesion of the group.
  • A corporate culture that is too strong can also have the opposite effect to that intended. Indeed, a culture that is too strong, almost totalitarian, can provoke strong reactions among employees, who can even attempt psychological manipulation. This can first of all divide the work team and lead to conflicts or, on the contrary, marginalize non-member employees.

There are also many obstacles related to structural changes in the company.

  • A change in the production method can have negative effects on the corporate culture. We can cite as an example the company Marquet which manufactures and markets slippers. The leaders wanted to impose just-in-time management. The social climate inside the company quickly deteriorated. The employees recognized the advantages of this mode of operation, but they did not accept that progress was imposed on them.
  • Another context in which the management of the corporate culture must be taken into consideration is during a takeover bid which subsequently consists of the merger of two companies. We find that leaders tend to minimize the clash of cultures during such events.

In this sense, we can cite the example of the merger of the Allianz and Via groups. The employees of the two companies systematically reject any change in the working methods recommended by the other. It is once again a clash of cultures that is detrimental to the proper functioning of the company.

As a general rule, post-acquisition difficulties related to personnel mainly result from the cultural differences that exist between the two companies and the expectations of the employees of the acquired company. Corporate culture, which evolves over time, is often deeply rooted in the organization. Changing it can be difficult and time-consuming and lead to additional costs or union initiatives by company employees.

  • We can also note that the corporate culture, as strong as it is, is not eternal. Indeed, we can cite the example of the workforce reductions imposed on IBM staff. These have caused a brutal questioning of the corporate culture.

Marked from its origin by a modernist paternalism, IBM ensured a job for life and a high salary. As for those who refused to comply with company standards, all they had to do was leave. The new CEO symbolically broke with tradition by officially declaring that the IBMer uniform was no longer required. Employees, for their part, had already noticed the disappearance of lifetime employment.

Finally, the corporate culture leads to a phenomenon of “withdrawal into oneself” of the organization.

For example, during recruitment, more and more companies are looking for candidates with values and aspirations corresponding to the culture in place (example of the company Samsung which recruits by making a strict selection of candidates, the latter having to conform to the house culture).

If this procedure promotes the integration of the individual, it nevertheless slows down the evolution of the internal culture insofar as it is not contested and cannot be enriched by an external report. The critical eye of a new employee can contribute to the questioning of certain practices.

Consequently, by refusing to open up to the outside world and by limiting contact with employees with new ideas, the company refuses to question its working methods and therefore compromises its chances of development.

Conclusion

The corporate culture is a complex, barely palpable whole, which allows each individual to identify with their organization.

Faced with an unstable and increasingly complex environment, companies seek to boost their human potential, aware of its richness. Although it meets with reluctance from some players, the corporate culture seems to be one of the responses to the development of this potential.

However, we can still wonder about the future of these concerns in a context where modernization is largely based on the precariousness of employment and the demand for increased flexibility from companies towards their employees.

FAQs

  1. How can a company change its existing negative culture?
    • Transforming a negative culture requires clear leadership, open communication, and a well-defined plan for change.
  2. Is corporate culture solely the responsibility of leadership?
    • While leadership sets the tone, every employee contributes to and shapes the culture through their actions and attitudes.
  3. Can a strong corporate culture overcome other business challenges?
    • A strong culture can mitigate challenges by fostering resilience, adaptability, and a shared sense of purpose.
  4. What role does feedback play in shaping corporate culture?
    • Feedback provides valuable insights, helping organizations identify areas of improvement and align with employee needs.
  5. How can small businesses develop a robust corporate culture?
    • Small businesses can start by defining core values, involving employees in decision-making, and promoting a supportive work environment.
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