- LAST REVIEWED: 19 October 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 January 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0059
- LAST REVIEWED: 19 October 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 January 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0059
The concept of organizational culture was introduced to the field of management and organization studies in the late 1970s, and it began to attract significant scholarly attention in the early to mid-1980s. Building on insights from sociology and anthropology, organizational scholars argued that organizations could possess distinct cultures, or sets of shared values, beliefs, and norms that guide the attitudes and actions of organizational members. Researchers suggested that organizational culture could significantly affect organizational outcomes, reasoning that culture could be used as a resource to affect employee actions, distinguish firms from one another, and create competitive advantage for those with superior cultures. As such, understanding organizational culture has traditionally been seen as an avenue for equipping business leaders with the tools needed to enable effective performance through the creation and management of an appropriate culture. Although early studies of organizational culture generally portrayed it as consistent among employees, across levels and between departments, subsequent work spoke to the possibility of heterogeneous manifestations of culture within a single organization, suggesting that the creation and maintenance of a desired organizational culture may be more complex and nuanced than initially understood. As such, theoretical paradigms and research methods used for inquiry in this area have been diverse. For example, while some scholars have studied culture from a functionalist standpoint, focusing on normative forces promoting homogeneity and uniformity, others have approached it from an interpretive paradigm, emphasizing the meanings that social actions have for individuals in organizations. Methodologically, studies have employed both qualitative and quantitative methods, each of which has yielded unique insights on some aspects of culture. As a result, researchers in management and organization have taken a range of approaches to understanding organizational culture, from exploring the forces that may create and change culture, to studying it as a driver of performance and effectiveness, to linking it with identity and employee personality. The readings here reflect this diversity in theoretical and methodological approaches and are organized as follows. The first sections provide an introduction to organizational culture, including introductory works, early contributions, overviews, and textbooks. Next, major paradigmatic approaches are reviewed, and the roles of culture in organizational life, as independent variable, dependent variable, and moderator, are discussed. Then, methodological approaches are reviewed, investigating culture and related concepts. Finally, disciplinary influences and emerging approaches are discussed.
Andrew Pettigrew is widely credited with introducing the concept of organizational culture to the field with his 1979 article “On Studying Organizational Cultures.” Pettigrew 1979 offered insights on concepts and processes associated with organizational culture, which he equated with the birth of organizations; he described culture as an amalgam of beliefs, identity, ritual, and myth—a conceptualization still widely used today. The following year, Hofstede 2001 raised questions around the applicability of American management theory abroad and studied those cultural differences that interface with and influence organizational cultural characteristics. Deal and Kennedy 1982 studied culture as the manner in which things “get done” in an organization, offering a model of culture based on four organizational prototypes. Subsequently, Schein 1985, a foundational volume, discusses an organization’s culture as the basic assumptions and beliefs that are shared consistently across members of an organization and define taken-for-granted views of the organization and its environment. Importantly, Schein stressed the role of the leader as the creator and maintainer of culture within organizations. Schein 1990 offered a more concise, peer-reviewed version of the arguments put forth in Schein 1985. Organizational culture scholars have long recognized divergences between functionalist and interpretive approaches to research in this area. Smircich 1983 offered an introduction to modes of analysis of culture; Smircich positioned the development of the concept of organizational culture at the intersection of functionalist work in anthropology and research in organization theory and predicted the emergence of a range of scholarly perspectives. Martin 1992 offered one such perspective as she examined organizational culture from an interpretive paradigm; Martin highlighted three prototypes of cultures that may exist in organizations, thereby contrasting the functionalist approach of Schein 1985. Schultz and Hatch 1996 also shed light on paradigmatic disagreement in the study of culture in organizations as they proposed a multiparadigm approach to research to promote interplay between the functionalist and interpretive paradigms. The above conceptualizations of and approaches to understanding culture continue to underpin and influence contemporary research on culture as well as practical attempts to manage culture in organizations.
Deal, Terrence E., and Alan A. Kennedy. Corporate Cultures. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1982.
Describes organizational culture using four prototypes: work-hard, play-hard culture; tough-guy macho culture; process culture; and bet-the-company culture.
Hofstede, Geert. Culture’s Consequences. 2d ed. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE, 2001.
An international perspective on organizations that questions the universality of American management theory and suggests four dimensions of culture that vary based on nationality and that affect organizational culture and employees. First edition published in 1980.
Martin, Joanne. Cultures in Organizations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
An introduction to organizational culture from the interpretive paradigm that uses three case studies of the same organization to illustrate the plurality of understandings and experiences of culture. Suggests that organizational culture may be integrated, fragmented, or differentiated.
Pettigrew, Andrew M. “On Studying Organizational Cultures.” Administrative Science Quarterly 24.4 (1979): 570–581.
Widely agreed to be the field’s first publication regarding organizational culture. Characterizes culture as publicly and widely accepted meaning systems, and positions the creation of culture as the birth of an organization.
Schein, Edgar H. Organizational Culture and Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1985.
A book for use by both academics and practitioners that defines organizational culture from a functionalist point of view and focuses on the role of the leader in creating, changing and enacting organizational culture. Provides one of the most widely cited and used conceptions of culture available in the field today.
Schein, Edgar H. “Organizational Culture.” American Psychologist 45.2 (1990): 109–119.
A more concise work than Schein 1985 that offers Schein’s highly influential definition of culture, provides a brief history of the study of culture in organizations, and presents case materials to illustrate how to analyze culture and how to think about culture change.
Schultz, Majken, and Mary Jo Hatch. “Living with Multiple Paradigms: The Case of Paradigm Interplay in Organizational Culture Studies.” Academy of Management Review 21.2 (1996): 529–557.
Presents a new strategy for multiparadigm research that promotes interplay between functionalist and interpretive paradigms.
Smircich, Linda. “Concepts of Culture and Organizational Analysis.” Administrative Science Quarterly 28.3 (1983): 339–358.
Examines the significance of the concept of culture for organizational analysis and demonstrates that the concept of culture can take organization analysis in several different and promising directions.
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