Luis Fernando Sánchez

 

Better people, better teams,

better results

 

Organization Development Consulting

Costa Rica

www.CDOcr.com     www.HuellaDO.com

luisfernandosanchez@huellado.com

+506 8313-1000



 

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ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE

The concept of organizational culture refers to a group of elements that encompasses a company’s paradigms.   It includes the practices, behaviors and predispositions that each organization develops through social interaction in order to deal with its adaptation to the environment and its internal coherence.  It can be said that culture is to the organization as personality is to the individual.  It includes observable aspects such as the dress code, status symbols, and language.   There are other aspects that, while not as obvious, influence the culture patterns, such as social norms, actual values, and company principles.    At the deepest level of culture, the taken-for-granted beliefs or paradigms are the true root of culture.  Companies are seldom aware of what happens at this level, although this determines all culture expressions.

Understanding Organizational Culture

The understanding of organizational culture is a complex matter since most interactions occur at the unconscious level.   The process implies identifying the characteristics of the culture at different levels, searching for connections to the paradigms or taken-for-granted beliefs. 

 

Companies find significant value in identifying the elements that determine their own organizational culture.  It has been found that some traits are linked to desired skills such as innovation, creativity and discipline.   Many companies start change or modernization processes and find that they are hindered by their own culture. Understanding organizational culture is also important to become aware, review, and challenge the existing paradigms, in order to rethink the company philosophy.  It is also useful for initiating changes in the value structure that enhances and encourages productivity.

 

The process includes:

  • Understanding the concepts associated to organizational culture

  • Guided research of company culture in its different levels

  • Comparison of company culture versus the business strategy

  • Rebuilding of all conflicting elements to assure that culture enforces strategy

Cross-cultural Adjustment

It is common that individuals have to work at different geographical locations or interact with colleagues from other countries.  In these cases, individuals normally face culture shock and uncertainty.  It is caused by the different culture traits of each society.  The greater the difference among culture, the greater the culture shock will be. This process causes personal disorientation, and causes a loss in personal productivity.

 

In an increasingly global society, executives and employees are trained, work, and perform negotiations in other world locations.  In order to take advantage of the experience and avoid a decrease in productivity, the individual needs to understand the culture he/she will be immersed in as well as its business practices.  He also needs to be aware of his own frame of reference and develop quick adjustment mechanisms.  When he does it, he will be most effective and will attain the best results when  in contact with another culture.

 

This process includes:

  • Becoming aware of own culture.

  • Understanding of social and business practices of the culture to be immersed in

  • Forecasting likely conflicting areas that need cultural understanding

  •  Identifying support structures in order to have a successful exposure to the foreign culture

Organizational Climate

 

The organizational climate includes all perceptions that workers have about their work environment.  It includes different areas, such as interpersonal relationships, trust and openness levels, physical and emotional work conditions, among other topics.

 

It is important to understand the characteristics of organizational climate since it is positively associated to job satisfaction and employee commitment, which, in turn, influence employee motivation, productivity and retention.  As a result of understanding their team’s organizational climate, managers can take actions to improve their quality of work life and influence their performance and work dedication.

 

The process employed to transform an organizational climate includes:

  • Use of structured instruments and participative methodologies to gather required data

  •  Identification of areas for improvement and development

  • Establishment of indicators to monitor the evolution of work climate and resulting business productivity

Insertion Into Another Culture

When an individual has to move to another country or region in a relatively permanent mode, s/he is inserted into another culture. In this scenario, the impact of culture shock is more severe than when the individual only has to visit the culture frequently.  The process needs a deeper understanding of the culture to be entered, and making adjustments to personal paradigms in order to be an effective and functional citizen of the new environment.

 

Frequently, relocation happens to similar cultures (for example, a culture with the same language), resulting in misinterpreting the impact of cultural shock.  This error in  evaluation may cause significant losses in personal productivity.  By the same token, if the new culture is very different to the known culture, the insertion could be long and difficult and might bring an important reduction in personal effectiveness.  When the adjustment is dealt promptly, the individual will be fully productive sooner.

 

The process to deal with immersion into a different culture includes:

 

  • Becoming aware of own culture traits

  •  Learning about the destination culture

  • Understanding the process of personal transition and its implications to the frame of mind and productivity

  • Knowing tools and planning their use to facilitate the process in all of its stages

This process is more effective when it is started at least one month before departure to the new culture. 

Merging Organizational Cultures
 

When a company acquires an organized business, or two companies merge, managers typically pay special attention to integrating all operating systems of the new entity.  However, it is common to neglect the impact of mergers on organizational cultures.  This is so because cultures are intangible and operate at a relatively unconscious level.  Also, there is little knowledge on how to handle the process.   Merging cultures is the result of integrating two organizations with different paradigms, behaviors and predispositions.  The process may take years or not happen at all unless it is managed in a directed and guided manner.  As a result, a company may have two different cultures indefinitely, presenting conflicting elements that undermine organizational effectiveness.

 

All companies that face mergers or acquisitions should consider the cultural aspect seriously.  Even when the operating systems are fully integrated, if the desired culture is not identified and aligned, the actual effectiveness could be seriously undermined for a long time and generate unnecessary costs resulting from continuous alignment efforts.

 

The alignment process includes:

  •  Identification of the culture traits of the organizational cultures to be integrated in order to raise awareness of the different ways to conceive the work process and operation mode

  • Identification of the traits to be kept from each culture

  • Explicit documentation of the culture traits to be encouraged

  •  Selection of mechanisms to make the new culture operational and to reinforce it in the daily activity