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This last point is especially important: Corporate culture is primarily the purview of a company's management and of its leaders. It is something that top executives in a company attempt to manage through a number of strategies.
Such attempts to manage the culture of a company are often highly unsuccessful, and an examination of many -- if not most attempts -- to bring about changes within a business tend to fail precisely because managers work to impose changes through a ready-made shift in corporate culture in which employees (as well as the managers themselves) are asked to make a number of changes in a short period of time without any time to allow these changes to be internalized, examined, adapted, and "owned" as being an authentic expression of the ways in which business is done in that organization.
The following description of organizational culture emphasizes the difference between corporate culture and organizational culture:
Gareth Morgan has described organizational culture as: "The set of beliefs, values, and norms, together with symbols like dramatized events and personalities, that represents the unique character of an organization, and provides the context for action in it and by it." Beliefs and values are words that will pop up frequently in other definitions, as well. Norms might be described as traditions, structure of authority, or routines....
Schein's definition of organizational culture is: "A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems that has worked well enough to be considered valid and is passed on to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems." Although the words are different, the two definitions are nearly the same in terms of content.
Another more simple way of looking at organizational culture is to view it as a group's general reaction to stimulus. An organizational culture is a group of people who have been trained, or who simply have learned by those around them, how to act in any given situation. In this way, corporate culture functions just as any social learning does.
The other aspect of organizational culture that is often true is that it becomes very deeply rooted. It is the identity of a company, and because of that, in some ways it becomes an identity of those who work there, as well. This is always important to remember, as culture becomes like a circular argument. The people end up affecting the culture as much as the culture is affecting them. (Definition of organizational culture, http://www.organizationalculture101.com/definition-of-organizational-culture.html)
I have quoted this definition at length because it so precisely encapsulates what I believe is the key distinction (or the key set of integrated concepts) between corporate and organizational culture. Organizational culture -- as can be seen in the sentences that I have added emphasis to -- is something that is a form of learning, trial, more social learning, more experimentation.
Organizational culture might be seen as analogous to the formation of a coral reef. Such reefs are created section by section through the coordinated effort of individuals acting within their own small sectors. If there were some sort of Coral Supreme God (or perhaps Senior Manager of Coral Reef Construction) attempting to direct the construction of an entire reef from above and without the result would be far less effective as well as far less vital and enduring. We learn far more from our neighbors -- and the co-workers on our own level -- and so create a culture that serves both us and our organization far better than if we are simply asked to submit to a ready-made culture designed by someone else.
An Example of a Successful Family Business
Of course there are any different number of types of any different form of business. There are highly functional -- and terribly dysfunctional -- large corporations. And highly functional and terribly dysfunctional entrepreneurial start-ups. And highly functional and terribly dysfunctional small family businesses. And when small family businesses fail it tends to be because the culture of the family itself is unable to be converted, transformed, or modified into that of a business. Another possibility is that a family may have a culture that is inherently attuned to being woven into that of a business.
This might imply that there is something wrong with a family's culture -- that it should so easily conform to that of a business, for while families are supposed to be about support and love, businesses are supposed to be about profit. But those who own family businesses that are geared both toward profit and social justice tend to find that their familial values are easily transferred to that of a business.
A typical -- though by no means extraordinary -- example of such a business is the Straus Family Creamery in Marin County, just north of San Francisco. A multi-generation family business, the current generation has incorporated the values of their forebears -- who believed in being respectful of the land and in acknowledging that each person's talents are both unique and complementary. This is how they describe their business:
We call the creamery, where we process our products, StrausFAMILY Creamery. Four siblings grew up on the farm, where we get the milk to make Straus products. This farm is a very important part of our lives. When the farm made a new beginning in 1993, we all jumped in to take part in helping to make sure that Straus Family Creamery succeeded. Like other family operations, we all have different talents and interests. (Tales from the family farm, http://www.strausfamilycreamery.com/?section=Farm%20Tales
This family is primarily motivated by their concerns for the environment and the welfare of animals.
Other families are motivated by other philosophies that are also transferable to the world of business, such as the Thorpe family that also runs an organic farm in Aurora, New York. They describe their family and business interests as follows:
Our family is happy to welcome you to our farm. We, Mike & Gayle and our 6 children and 3 grandchildren;Jeremiah & Aubrey with Levi age 3, and Janie age 1,Abraham & Kristen with Noah age 4 months, Elijah, Abigal, Naomi, and Hannah; along with Grandma Carol Ewert and our dedicated helpers believe God created a very complex, magnificent system of life. (Thorpes Farm, http://thorpesorganicfamilyfarm.com/)
In both of these cases, family organizational culture and business culture merge seamlessly and any analysis of why such businesses succeed must begin with an acknowledgement of such a merger.
Black, R.J. (2003). Organisational culture: Creating the influence needed for strategic success. London: Tavistock.
Definition of organizational culture, http://www.organizationalculture101.com/definition-of-organizational-culture.html)
Hill, C. & Jones, G. (2001) Strategic management. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Huczynski, a. (2001). Organizational behaviour: An introductory text. New York: Prentice Hall.
O'Donovan, G. (2006). The corporate culture handbook. London: The Liffey Press.
Tales from the family farm, http://www.strausfamilycreamery.com/?section=Farm%20Tales
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