The Culture of Organizational Development

Organizational development has many different definitions.  It refers to the culture of the company.  It includes the shared values and practices of employees.  It can also be defined as the personality of the company and what it stands for from an employee point of view.

Frequently when asked what is the organization culture like, employees will say “it’s the way we do things around here.”

The Culture of Organizational DevelopmentOrganizational Development Requires Shift in Culture

Organization culture is not fixed.  Culture change is contextual Continuous organizational development requires the culture to change for many reasons, for example, a change in strategy, technology, the marketplace or competitors’ products.  True culture change requires a complete psychological shift across the entire organization.

General Electric is 130 years old.  They have had many culture changes.  In the 1990’s they used the “4 E’s:  Energy, Energize, Edge and Execution.”  In the beginning of this century they changed to “Innovative Culture:  imagination, courage, inclusiveness and expertise.”  The result has been growth and scale.

A Culture of Meaningfulness

Organizational development requires culture to have meaningfulness in working and at work. (Pratt and Ashford 2003).  This is central to a positive organization.  Victor Frankl writes that individuals actively desire and seek meaningfulness in their lives.

Pratt and Ashford state that meaningfulness in work includes practices such as job redesign, employee involvement practices, path-goal leadership and nurturing callings.  Meaningfulness at work includes building ideologies and identities, visionary or transformational leadership and building charismatic communities of leaders.

Meaningfulness at and in work can bring forth the elements which create a culture of creativity and innovation.  These can be based on strategy, structures, support mechanisms, behavior that encourages innovation and open communication. (Martins and Terblanche, 2003)  These build the momentum needed to keep dynamic organizational development to match changes in the overall business context.

The Themes of Organization Culture

So how does one go about discovering what a culture is in a particular organization?  There are four themes of culture.  First, it is a learned entity.  This is the informal training new employees get on how to get things accomplished in the company.  This information is transmitted in one-on-one conversations with fellow employee, informal group sessions and the company grapevine.

Second, it is a belief system.  Information can be found in the annual employee engagement survey to uncover deeply held beliefs about the company.  The third element is the strategy that is communicated through new employee orientations, the employee handbook and large, all-department or organizational-wide meetings.  The fourth element is mental programming.  It addresses four layers of the organization:  symbols, heroes, rituals and values. (Hofstede 1980)

Organizational Development through Culture Management

Organizational development cannot be separated from managing the culture.  There are many tools that can be used to decipher the culture and then design and implement changes.