To What Extent Can Organisational Culture Be Managed? Is It Critical to Organisational Success?

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To what extent can organisational culture be managed? Is organisational culture critical to the success of an organisation?

Peter Anthony (1994) asserts that the pursuit of change in a cultural sense has been considered synonymous with the pursuit of excellence for organisations. It is true that a wide variety of management practitioners view the control of organisational culture as something both possible and necessary for organisational success (Brown 1993). A survey of organisational practices of a range of firms revealed that 94% of the firms had engaged in ‘culture management’ of some sort (IRS 1997). However, despite the apparent popularity of these practices and the strong level of importance placed upon these activities, it can
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If, however, a more detailed, complex view of culture such as Schein’s definition is applied, it can be seen that the extent to which culture can be managed is limited to only the shallowest level, and that underlying beliefs, values, and assumptions are not readily malleable.

The widespread attempts to manage organisational culture are founded on the theory that corporate culture can be used as a source of competitive advantage (Barney 1986, Ott 1989, Pfeffer 1994 and Wilkins and Ouchi 1983). Despite the proliferation of a range of studies that claim to have identified such a phenomenon (see Deal and Kennedy 1982, Johnson 1992, Kilmann et al. 1985, Krefting and Frost 1985, Mitroff and Kilmann 1984, Ouchi and Price 1978, Pascale 1985, Peters and Waterman 1982, Prahalad and Bettis 1986, Reed and DeFillippi 1990, Schall 1983, Schein 1985, Scholz 1987 and Weick 1985), the proposal that organisational culture is critical to organisational success is far from a fact. Through a critical examination of the various studies that form the backbone of the ‘organisational culture as critical’ argument, inherent flaws in assumptions, methodology and conclusions can be discerned, thus refuting the overarching argument.

As mentioned earlier, the assumptions that underpin ‘organisational culture’ as a concept are widely different between researchers. A number of scholars have
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