Organizational Culture


By Brad Bell

Organizational culture can be viewed as an important concept in
organizational psychology and social psychology.   It is important to
define organizational culture.

Organizational Culture Definition:

What is organizational culture?  There are many possible definitions of organizational culture.  Below is one organizational culture definition:

Organizational culture reflects the values, beliefs, and norms that characterize an organization as a whole.

This definition suggests that organizational culture reflects what is
common, typical, and general for the organization.   Values, beliefs, and behaviors that are uncommon in the organization, or specific to a particular subgroup within an organization, would not be considered to be part of the culture of the organization.

Elements of Organizational Culture:

There are many possible elements of organizational culture.  The above definition includes three of the elements of organizational culture.

Organizational Values.  Values reflect what we feel is important.  
Organizations may have core values that reflect what is important in the organization.  These values may be guiding principles of behavior for all members in the organization.  The core values may be stated on the organization’s website.  For example, an organization could state that their core values are creativity, humor, integrity, dedication, mutual respect, kindness, and contribution to society.

Organizational Beliefs.  Beliefs that are part of an organization’s
culture may include beliefs about the best ways to achieve certain goals such as increasing productivity and job motivation.  For example, an organization may convey the belief that the expression of humor in the workplace is an effective way to increase productivity and job motivation.

Organizational Norms.  Norms reflect the typical and accepted
behaviors in an organization.  They may reflect the values and beliefs
of the organization.  They may reflect how certain tasks are generally
expected to be accomplished, the attributes of the work environment, the typical ways that people communicate in the organization, and the typical leadership styles in the organization. For example, the work environment of a company may be described as relaxed, cheerful, and pleasant.  Moreover, the organization may have a participative decision making process in which many people in the organization are able to express their views concerning important decisions.  Also, an organization may have many meetings to discuss ideas.

The Importance of the Organizational Culture Concept

Organizational culture may be an important concept for a few reasons.   First, understanding the culture of an organization may be helpful for applicants.  They may have a better idea about whether they would like to work for a company.  Second, understanding the culture of an organization may help in training new employees.  Third, understanding organizational culture may help leaders to identify possible sources of problems in the organization.

Organizational Culture and Leadership

There may be at least three ways in which leadership is important with respect to organizational culture.  First, a leader of an organization may play an important role in identifying the elements of the organization’s culture.  The leader could make a list of the organization’s current values, beliefs, and norms.  Second, after identifying the current elements of the organization’s culture, the leader can make evaluations of the elements of organizational culture that may be negative.  The leader could make a list of the specific values, beliefs, and norms that may contribute to major problems in the organization (e.g., a lack of job motivation).  Third, after identifying the possible negative elements, the leader could develop strategies to foster a positive organizational culture change.  The leader could make a list of the elements of a more ideal culture, develop specific ways to communicate the changes, and develop techniques to motivate people to adopt the new culture.        

Organizational Culture Change

There may be many reasons why the culture of an organization needs to be changed.  These reasons may include lack of  morale, lack of job motivation, lack of job meaning, and changes in the business (e.g., the development of a new product) that would require a change in the way things are done in the organization. For example, there may be too much micromanagment in a company.  
It may be better if employees had more autonomy.  This may increase morale.  Sherman (1989) found that unit morale was positively correlated with autonomy.  Because this finding is correlational, we cannot make causal conclusions. This process of culture change should involve all members of the organization.  This process of culture change could involve surveys in which members describe specific elements of the organizational culture that members view as negative.  

Culture vs. Organizational Culture

Although the concept of organizational culture is similar to the concept of culture(e.g., the elements of culture may be similar to the elements of organizational culture), it is important to make a distinction between the two concepts.  There may be a few ways in which these concepts may be different.  First, organizational culture may be more formal than culture. Some organizations may have a significant part of their culture in written form.  For example, they may have the core values stated on the website, and the values, beliefs, and norms of the organization may be indicated in employee manuals.  In contrast, much of the values, beliefs, and norms that are a reflection of a culture may be unwritten. Second, there may be less consistency between elements of organizational culture than elements of culture.  Some of the elements of organizational culture that are in written form may be inconsistent with certain norms observed in the organization.  In contrast, many of the norms of a culture may simply reflect the values of the culture.


Sherman, J. D. (1989). Technical supervision and turnover among
engineers and technicans.  Group & Organization Studies14, 411-