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Dr Adelbert Scholtz
Counselling Psychologist

HPCSA Number: PS 58157
Practice Number: 8639663

Gender: Male

Languages: Afrikaans, English, German
& Dutch

Range of Fees: According to the tariff
structure of medical aid funds; 15%
discount for cash payments

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Consulting Rooms:

67 Brookside Village
Schapenberg Road
SOMERSET WEST
(Behind Vergelegen Medi-Clinic)

10 Eighth Ave
Boston
BELLVILLE
(Inside church hall of the NG Kerk
Bellville West)

Phone for appointments:
021 852 6978 / 083 583 1476

E-mail:
adelbertscholtz@hotmail.com


Certified BrainWorking Recursive Therapy Practitioner


BrainWorking Recursive Therapy Professionals Worldwide


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THE CULTURE OF ORGANISATIONS

- Adelbert Scholtz

When the word culture is mentioned most people tend to think of art forms such as music, architecture, sculpture, poetry etc. These forms of art certainly are aspects of the culture of a given society, but "culture" is actually a much wider concept. It has to do with all the values, traditions, beliefs and relationships prevalent in that society. These can be expressed by means of art, but they are more usually manifest in the life style and behaviour patterns of the people.

What follows is applicable to any organisation - whether it is a commercial enterprise, a government department, a sports club or a church. All these types of organisations are comprised of people who fulfill different roles but who are also working together to achieve certain common goals.

Organisational culture

All organisations are characterised by their own different cultures. An organisation's culture can be described as:

the way things are being done by the members of that organisation,

or

the values, goals, traditions, assumptions, beliefs, attitudes, rituals and relationships, which characterise that organisation and help to establish its identity.

These values, goals, traditions, assumptions, beliefs, attitudes, rituals and relationships are usually taken for granted and are not always well articulated. They, nevertheless, exert a powerful influence over the behaviour of the members of the organisation.

The culture of an organisation is transmitted and perpetuated by the example set by influential members of the organisation. The way they usually do things and their comments on events set the trend and that is emulated by other members of the organisation.

Every organisation has, furthermore, certain stories, myths and legends about important events in the past. These stories explain the values of the organisation and the way things are being done. The culture is usually initiated by the founders of the organisation who deemed it necessary to do things in a certain manner and that sets the trend for the future.

In a large organisation, subcultures are likely. Different departments or sections will have their own ways of doing things whereby their identity is highlighted.

Cultures may be strong or weak. In a small and young organisation, it is to be expected that the members will not be as attached to the core values and traditions of the organisation as in a large and older organisation. The stronger and more entrenched a given culture is, the more stable it will be; efforts to change it will meet with resistance.

It is extremely difficult to merge two cultures. When one firm is taken over by another and their cultures are widely divergent then the merger will certainly cause much resentment and friction since people will not be very willing to adopt new values, strategies and relationships.

The elections for local authorities in South Africa at the end of 2000 resulted in the merger of many municipalities into greater units. The area of authority of the new Municipality of the Unicity of Cape Town, for instance, incorporated a number of previously independent municipalities from Gordon's Bay in the south to Atlantis in the north. The new city council decided with great wisdom not to merge these units in one go but to spread the process out over a number of years. The city council faced a tremendous challenge, namely to create a new culture for the new Unicity.
The present South African National Defence Force is the result of a merger of the previous South African Defence Force, the forces of the previous so-called homelands and the military wings of former liberation movements. At the time of writing, more than sixteen years after the merger, there is still a clash of cultures within the SANDF. Many competent officers of the old SADF left the service because they could not handle this clash of cultures. A number of tragic incidents, such as soldiers who went on shooting sprees that hit the headlines demonstrate the fact that this merger of cultures was not always proceeding smoothly.

Cultural dimensions

The culture of any enterprise or organisation usually deals with the following issues:

  • The identity of the organisation;
  • The organisation's place in the world and its relationship with the environment;
  • A frame of reference for interpreting events within and without the organisation;
  • The extent to which members of the organisation identify with the organisation as a whole and their loyalty towards it;
  • The way members are treated, penalised and rewarded;
  • The way clients and customers are treated;
  • The importance given to the evaluation and assessment of the efforts of members;
  • The importance given to the development and the careers of members;
  • The way in which members who retire or quit are treated;
  • The way decisions are made and how much decision-making authority and autonomy are given to juniors who are eager to be innovative and take the initiative;
  • The extent to which supervisors, managers and leaders interfere with the work of their underlings or followers or give them support;
  • How tight or how flexible the organisational structure is;
  • The way in which risks and challenges are assessed and approached;
  • The way in which the administration of the organisation is handled; and
  • Whether the organisation sticks to its main business or venture out into new fields.

The culture of any organisation plays an important role in the day-to-day running of that organisation. If leaders and other members have internalised the values and beliefs of the concern, they need less control since they can be counted upon to act and behave in a certain manner.

There is no question that the culture of some organisations is bad for productivity or the general health of the organisation. If it is, for instance, acceptable that customers or outsiders are to be treated with disrespect, that the opinions of junior members count for nothing and that absolutely no risks are to be taken then it may be expected that productivity will be low or that the organisational health will be below standard.

A culture that is conducive to high productivity or creative action is a culture -

  • That meets the challenges of the external environment;
  • That fits the organisation's goals with the strategy of the organisation; and
  • That is aligned with the available technology.

It is necessary that management regularly conduct a cultural diagnosis in order to determine whether the current culture is appropriate.

Pathological cultures

An organisation's culture may be seen as that organisation's personality, just as every individual person also has his or her own personality.

A person is more than a conglomerate of body parts and organs. He or she is a unique entity and that unity and uniqueness is brought about by having a definite personality. Likewise, an organisation as an entity is also more than the sum total of its constituent parts. This "more" comprises inter alia its culture - together with its structure, shape and internal relationships.

Every person has a number of personality flaws. We regard that as normal since no person is perfect. These flaws may, however, become pathological and that person may suffer from a personality disorder, a mood disorder, an anxiety disorder or a psychosis. In the same manner, organisations may also develop pathological personalities or cultures.

Researchers have identified the following types of pathological organisational cultures - which may also be true of certain churches or congregations:

  • The anti-social organisation:

    This organisation has no respect for the rule of law and disregards the human rights of clients and members.

  • The narcissistic organisation:

    This organisation has an over-inflated view of its own importance and thinks that the rest of the world exists in order to serve its interests. It regards clients as an unavoidable evil who disturb the organisation's peace.

  • The depressed organisation:

    This type of organisation interprets events in the darkest colours possible. Everything is seen as a potential danger or calamity and absolutely no risks are taken.

  • The hyperactive organisation:

    The members of this type of organisation are extremely busy. They have only one motivation for all their activities, and that is to impress the boss, the leader or the outside world - not to satisfy the clients.

  • The compulsive organisation:

    This type of organisation is unwilling to learn from its mistakes and keeps on repeating the same mistakes in a compulsive manner.

  • The schizophrenic organisation:

    This organisation has lost touch with reality and creates its own reality. It doesn't try to ascertain what the customers want or need and how technology has changed, but lives in its own world and stays busy with its own inner workings.

  • The paranoid organisation:

    The prevalent culture in this type of organisation is that of distrust and suspicion. Everybody, including the organisation's own members, is suspected of plotting to harm the organisation.

It is almost unnecessary to say that organisations with any of these cultures are doomed. These pathological cultures make their survival extremely unlikely - unless these cultures are changed.

Changing a culture

If management is concerned about substandard productivity, laziness, lack of commitment by the members and the negative influence of certain aspects of the organisation's culture on organisational actions or organisational health then there are basically three strategies to follow:

  • The first option is to manage the existing culture and take advantage of the existing values and traditions.

    That means that management should know exactly which values and traditions are prevalent and which behaviour rests upon these values. This knowledge can only be acquired by being part of the organisation for a certain length of time and having one's ear to the ground. The positive aspects of the culture must then be emphasised, encouraged and rewarded to such an extent that the less positive aspects become unimportant and eventually whither away.

    The reverse can also be tried. Management could make it clear that certain attitudes and behaviours will be unacceptable in future. This has to be made part of the organisation's ethical code and disciplinary policy. When people are caught in the act and found guilty in a fair hearing of transgressing the new values and norms certain sanctions may be imposed upon them, beginning with verbal and written warnings. It is important that these measures be applied consistently and fairly. It will definitely be counterproductive if leaders continue to set bad examples while other members are being punished or chastised for the same behaviour.

    This strategy must be applied with great circumspection because it certainly will cause resentment and resistance. Punishing bad behaviour must always be accompanied by rewarding good behaviour.

  • The second strategy is to actively assist the socialisation process of new members of the organisation.

    New members have to be taught the ropes before they can start to operate independently and productively. It is easy for them to pick up bad habits when they have to observe bad examples most of the time. Often a mentor is assigned to a new member to help him or her to adjust to the new environment and to show him or her around. If this mentor can teach the new member the good values and beliefs of the organisation's culture then the chances are that that person will be less likely to pick up bad habits.

  • The third option is to try and change the organisation's culture and eliminate the less desirable elements thereof.

    This is easier said than done since cultures become deeply entrenched and resist change. The best way is to stage some sort of crisis. When an organisation faces a crisis then change and adaptation is more likely. The crisis that is to be staged must be visible to all members. Such crises can be created by replacing the top echelon of the management team, by reorganising and scrambling the structure of the organisation and by widespread retrenchments. These crises will send out the message that things cannot continue along old paths and that a reappraisal of goals, strategies and methods is necessary. This must be accompanied by a well-publicised reformulation of the concern's vision and mission.

    Together with this, management ought to create new stories and myths by staging or organising certain events, situations, rituals and incidents to illustrate the new values and beliefs. When an influential member of the organisation, preferably the chief executive, deliberately behaves counter to the existing culture it certainly will cause a stir. The story of the incident will be told and retold and when that member persists in behaving in that way a new tradition can be established. It is important not to inadvertedly revert to the old ways because that will re-establish and strengthen the old culture.

    Since cultures are resistant to change, it will not be an easy task to carry through. Organisations who change their culture usually need a minimum of two years to accomplish this. All the strategies mentioned above need to be implemented simultaneously and consistently in order to achieve results.

    An organisation that succeeds in weeding out negative aspects of its culture and cultivating the more positive aspects will certainly succeed in improving productivity. These new positive aspects of the culture will prove to be just as resilient and enduring as the old negative aspects, which had to be changed with great difficulty.

It is desirable that organisations develop a culture -

  • in which previously powerless members are empowered;
  • of tolerance and mutual respect between the sexes and between members of different racial, cultural and religious groups;
  • where there is a sensitivity for the needs of the external environment;
  • in which the satisfaction of the customer is the first priority; and
  • where superior performance, high productivity, loyalty and ethical behaviour are held in high regard and receive recognition.

Perhaps the easiest and most effective way of establishing a culture of performance in an organisation is to design an effective appraisal system. When members know that their performance and outputs are to be monitored they are more likely to do their best and work efficiently and effectively. If management isn't interested in die performance and actions of members then these members will also show little interest in delivering good work or acting responsibly.

Adelbert Scholtz -

  • has a Ph.D. in occupational psychology;
  • practices as a counselling psychologist in the Cape Peninsula; and
  • is a labour consultant with the Humanitas Labour and Personnel Consultants.

He can be reached at humanitas@ananzi.co.za.