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Here we discuss some of the seminal studies that have been undertaken on OC.

By Theresa Fadero
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  1. Organizational Culture and Information Systems
  2. Organizational Culture and the Bottom Line
  3. The Assessment of Organisational Culture: A Methodological Study

1. Organizational Culture and Information Systems

Claver et al. 2001 analyzes how organizational culture influences information systems (IS/IT). Investing money on IT/IS is not enough for them to generate positive results for a firm, the human component within IS is crucial to IS success. This human component is essentially qualitative, organizational behaviour. They differentiate between informational and informatic cultures and organizational culture and conclude that the notions of informational and informatic cultures mainly account for the values shared by corporate members concerning IT/IS. Their analysis of possibilities shows that an informational culture is the one that allows firms to best profit from IT/IS. They suggest a need for increased research studies on how actions may be taken on both IS and organizational culture, so that they may be a source of competitive advantage and everything this entails. (Claver et al. 2001)

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Figure: Influence Among IT/IS and Organizational Culture (Claver et al., 2001)

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The performance of information systems through organizational culture (Claver et al., 2001)

Jackson (2011) in his studies on organizational culture and IS/IT adoption confirms the importance of organizational in the success or failure of IS adoption. He suggests IS culture can be enhanced by combining theoretical approaches and the three perceptions of culture- integration, differentiation and fragmentation. These can offer a more penetrating account of how organizational culture influences IS adoption.

2. Organizational Culture and the Bottom Line- A Case Study

In Miller Consultants case study on XYZ company, the owners of XYZ suspected the OC and leadership styles may be the cause of its problems. The study recognised a number of factors that contributed to XYZ problems among these are: employees do not feel part of the company; employees were fearful and overwhelmed; employees believed that their main responsibility was to do as they were told; the company was inconsistent in espoused values and rewards; the company suffered form an atmosphere of mistrust; the leadership styles of the new management team clashed with the older established culture; and the adversarial relationship between the two owners contributed to a “confused” culture. The company’s adoption of a plan to address its cultural issues convinced the management that culture which is created in a company is critical to its financial success and achievability of its goals. It is evident from this study that factors that are taken for granted contribute to the making of an organization’s culture. Such factors as:
  • Physical layout of the plant and the offices
  • Who attended meetings and where people sat
  • The language and tone that people used in communicating with each other
  • Who talked with whom and who initiated conversations
  • Who had input to decisions and how the decisions were made
  • Who had access to what information
Thorough and useful assessments of an organization's culture generally require the efforts of those who are inside of the culture and live it every day partnered with the more objective perceptions and observations of someone outside of the culture. The case study was conducted by ‘outsiders’ to XYZ company which confirms the fact that outsiders are more likely to observe things that insiders take for granted. This shows the degree of importance of OC, it serves as the mirror through which the outsiders view and judge a company.

3. The Assessment of Organisational Culture: A Methodological Study

Reiman and Oedewald 2002 examines the assessment and development of organisational culture in complex organisations using both quantitative and qualitative methods. Determining the culture prevailing in a company at some moment in time requires the study of the company’s values, practices, artefacts and of the core task defined by them. By comparing these elements an attempt is made to clarify the underlying assumptions prevailing in a company. Core-task analysis, on the other hand, helps to determine the main content of work and the critical demands it sets for working practices.

Vicente (1999) sets three criteria for the effectiveness of a sociotechnical system. According to his definition, an effective sociotechnical system is safe, productive and healthy. The culture should support the achievement of all these objectives. Thus new kinds of methods, taking into account the overall objective of the organisation, are needed to assess a culture appropriately. By the term organisational culture is meant values, norms and underlying assumptions which arise over time during a company’s history and which affect all of a company’s operations. All of these may also have an influence on a company’s safety, productivity and well-being (Reiman 2001a, 2001b, Oedewald et al. 2001, Reiman & Norros 2002).

Assessment methods and Studies:
  • Using the self assessment of organizational culture research method, Reiman and Oedewald 2002 conclude that it is very difficult for a member of a given culture to study that culture himself, the aid of an external expert is required for a valid result.
  • The cultural research method using a questionnaire study conducted in an regulatory organisation (Reiman 2001a, Reiman & Norros 2002) showed that impressions of the connection of one’s own work with the organisation’s overall objectives influenced perceptions of the organisation’s culture.
  • Studying the critical events (special situations) of an organisation’s history can, according to Schein (1992), reveal much about the organisation’s ways of reacting and its working practices in exceptional situations. An organisation’s operating models in these situations provide lots of information about the kind of underlying assumptions prevailing in the organisation for example about its workers (does the organisation try to survive financial difficulties by e.g. reducing its workforce or by cutting wages?) or about the exercise of power (does the organisation trust the workers’ opinions and ideas at moments of crisis or does it control the crises solely from management levels?).
  • Observation method involves an external researcher coming into the organisation to observe everyday activities. Observation can be participatory (whereby the researcher has some certain role in the performance of work) or it can be merely so-called objective observation without personal participation in activities. A good example of participatory observation combined with interviews is offered by Parker (2000), who reports three case studies, all of which examine cultural change from the influence of information technology. Schumacher (1997) carried out a five-year ethnographic study in a software company. Kunda (1992) also employed the ethnographic method to study the culture of a high-tech company. The presence of an outsider is necessary because only someone who comes from outside the culture in question is able to understand and interpret the unconscious dynamics of operations and the underlying assumptions that prevail in the culture.
  • Seminars and working group method- joint development seminars for all personnel are one way to work on matters relating to organisational culture, e.g. values and aspects of operations that require development. Schein (1999) proposes that a good way to clarify an organisation’s underlying assumptions is to assemble a small core group and, together with a consultant, to ponder its views of the organisation’s different activities.
  • Contextual assessment of organizational culture- the core-task concept and analytical approach using the core-task research method. The core task includes those operational demands that have to be fulfilled so that the objectives of the whole organisation can be achieved. The core-task concept combines Vicente’s (1999) work domain analysis, activity theory (Engestrom 1998, 1999) and pragmatic philosophy (Peirce 1903, Dewey 1929). The core-task concept can be used to sharpen the definition of organisational culture: organisational culture is defined as a solution created by the organisation for the demands set by the core task (see Reiman 2001b, Reiman & Norros 2002). Core-task analysis therefore serves as a tool for studying the general demands of the organisation’s core task. It is the fulfilment of these demands that has given rise to the organisation’s culture. The core-task concept combines the productivity, safety and well-being demands presented by Vicente (1999) and determines the demands set for their fulfilment in each operating environment.

Organisational culture is a phenomenon that is difficult to measure, and the selection of criteria used to ascertain its effectiveness is not unambiguous. (Reiman and Oedewald 2002) For a better understanding of their study, Reiman and Oedewald 2002 analyzes Schein 1992 three layers of organizational culture as follow:

The first cultural level consists of various quality systems as well as information systems and databases connected with safety and the control/monitoring of operations (cf. Reason 1997). Similarly, cultural artefacts can be considered to include accident statistics, sick leave and corresponding indicators, which, correctly interpreted, can be used to form conclusions about the deeper characteristics of an organisation’s culture. This interpretation requires effective and diverse research methods and an understanding of the internal dynamics of the culture.

The second cultural level in the Schein model consists of the organisation’s espoused values. These are apparent in, for example, the organisation’s official objectives, declared norms and operating philosophy. Espoused values, however, do not always reflect a company’s everyday operations. Most important in terms of operations is the culture’s deepest level, namely its underlying assumptions (Figure 1) (Schein 1985, 1992). Underlying assumptions relate to the group’s learned solutions to problems relating to external adaptation and internal integration. These solutions gradually become self evident assumptions that cannot be called into question later. Problems related to external adaptation concern views of an organisation’s tasks and objectives as well as the means to implement and assess them. A solution has to be found for them so that the organisation can function and succeed in its environment. Problems related to internal integration and to maintaining operating capacity concern the creation of a common language and concepts, defining group limits, the level of authority relationships and interaction, as well as methods of reward and punishment. A solution has to be found for these so that members of the organisation can function together in an organised and predictable working community (Schein 1985, 1992).

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Figure 1 Schein’s Model of Organizational Culture

Schein (1985, 1992) also distinguishes so-called deeper underlying assumptions, which relate, for example, to views of human nature as well as to the nature of information and the human activity in question. One can assume that the deeper underlying assumptions originally acted as a basis for interpretation in determining and resolving the problems of internal integration and external adaptation. In other words, they influence how the members of an organisation perceive, think and feel in matters relating to the organisation. Underlying assumptions function as an unconscious basis for action and a range of decisions that shape the culture further. According to Schein, even though underlying assumptions direct the actions of a company’s members, the organisation’s underlying assumptions cannot be inferred from such actions (which are only cultural artefacts, see Figure 1). Actions are also always influenced by situation-specific and individual factors (Schein 1999). Espoused norms and an organisation’s official rules may, however, be in conflict with everyday (artefact level) actions. Thus they can also be in conflict with the underlying assumptions, which in the end direct these actions. Organisations may not necessarily perceive this conflict themselves or they may even actively deny its existence. Although Schein’s theory has been criticised (e.g. Hatch 1993, Collins 1998, Parker 2000), it covers the central elements of culture well, namely its holistic, partly unconscious and learned nature. Organisational culture, therefore, is not merely a single new variable which describes organisations and which can be examined separately from the other variables that affect an organisation’s activities, such as the organisation’s structure, strategy, market orientation and the technology it uses. Organisational culture as a scientific concept strives to describe and explain activity in the organisation as a whole. An integrated organisational culture reduces the uncertainty and ambiguity experienced in an environment and maintains an organisation’s operating capacity (Schein 1992, Weick 1995). Organisational culture is a dynamic phenomenon. In its actions an organisation creates its own opportunities and boundaries again and again (Weick 1993, see also Giddens 1984). Leadership has a central position in organisational culture. Managers (and the founder of an organisation) play a key role as creators of a culture’s underlying assumptions (Gagliardi 1986, Schein 1985).

The manager’s task is considered to be the creation of a culture and its manipulation. The power of cultural theories is seen particularly in fields in which direct control and guidance mechanisms are difficult or impossible to maintain. In a strong culture all workers must, according to these theories, adopt the manager’s values as their own underlying assumptions and act according to them. Conflicts or differing opinions are considered harmful and every effort is made to eradicate them (Alvesson & Berg 1992, Kunda 1992, Parker 2000). The above-mentioned features are also found in Schein’s theory (see e.g. Parker 2000, p. 61-67). The roots of Schein’s theory lie in system theory (see e.g. Lewin 1947) and in structural functionalism (see e.g. Parsons 1951). As a result, Schein’s theory emphasises the unity and functionality of culture.

There are differences in the motives of individuals to do work; some seek security from an organisation, others look for challenges and risks. These individual factors have an influence on how an organisation’s culture is experienced. Collins (1998) sums up the matter by stating that cultures are historically developed, socially maintained and individually interpreted. Every culture, however, has an in-built tendency to unify behaviour. This happens by creating common norms and a shared social identity. The norms determine how one ought to behave in each situation and role. The norms simplify and regulate social interaction and make it predictable. They therefore standardise the operation of the group (Hogg & Abrams 1988, p. 159, see also Goffman 1959 and Levi 2001). A new individual infers the true norms of the group that guide its actions from the behaviour of the group’s members. Some of these norms are conscious, some are unconscious (i.e. underlying assumptions).

Alvesson, M. & Berg, P.O. (1992). Corporate Culture and Organizational Symbolism.
Alvesson, M. & Berg, P.O. (1992). Corporate Culture and Organizational Symbolism.
Claver Enrique, Llopis Juan and González M. Reyes (2001) The Performance of Information Systems Through Organizational Culture [Online]. Information Technology and People, Vol. 14, Issue 3, pp 247-260. Retrieved from:
Collins, D. (1998). Organizational Change: Sociological Perspectives. London: Routledge.
Engestrom, Y. (1998). Kehittava tyontutkimus. Perusteita, tuloksia ja haasteita. Helsinki: Edita. [In Finnish]
Engestrom, Y. (1999). Activity Theory and Individual and Social Transformation. In: Engestrom, Y., Miettinen, R. & Punamaki, R-L. (eds.). Perspectives in Activity Theory.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gagliardi, P. (1986). The Creation and Change of Organizational Cultures: A Conceptual Framework. Organization Studies 7/2, 117-134.
Giddens, A. (1984). The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structure. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Goffman, E. (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Doubleday.
Hatch, M.J. (1993). The Dynamics of Organizational Culture. Academy of Management Review, Vol. 18, No. 4, pp. 657-693.
Hogg, M.A. & Abrams, D. (1988). Social Identifications. A Social Psychology of Intergroup relations and Group Processes. London: Routledge.
Jackson, Stephen (2011) Organizational culture and information systems adoption: A three-perspective approach [Online]. Information and Organization Journal, Vol. 21, Issue 2, April 2011, pp 57-83. Retrieved from:
Kunda, G. (1992). Engineering Culture: Control and Commitment in a High-Tech Corporation. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Levi, D. (2001). Group Dynamics for Teams. Thousand Oaks: Sage
Lewin, K. (1947). Group Decision and Social Change. In: T. Newcomb & E. Hartley (eds.). Readings in Social Psychology. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. Pp. 330-344.
Miller Consultants Organizational Culture and the Bottom Line- Case Study [Online]. Retrieved from: [Accessed 02 May 2013]
Parker, M. (2000). Organizational Culture and Identity. London: Sage.
Parsons, T. (1951). The Social System. New York: Free Press.
Reason, J. (1997). Managing the Risks of Organizational Accidents. Aldershot: Ashgate
Reiman, T. (2001a). Organisaatiokulttuuri Sateilyturvakeskuksen Ydinvoimalaitosten valvonta -osastolla. VTT Julkaisuja - Publikationer 853. Espoo: Valtion teknillinen tutkimuskeskus. [In Finnish]
Reiman, T. (2001b). Katsaus turvallisuuskulttuurin arviointimenetelmiin ja tehtyihin tutkimuksiin. TAU B013. Julkinen raportti. [In Finnish]
Reiman, T. & Norros, L. (2002). Regulatory Culture: Balancing the Different Demands of Regulatory Practice in the Nuclear Industry. In Hale, A.R., Hopkins, A. & Kirwan, B. (eds.). Changing Regulation ñ Controlling Hazards in Society. Oxford: Pergamon.
Reiman, Teemu & Oedewald, Pia (2002) The assessment of organisational culture. A methodological study.[Online]. The Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT), Tiedotteita . Research Notes 2140, Espoo: Otamedia Oy. Retrieved from:
__[Accessed 02 May 2002]
Schein, E.H. (1985). Organizational Culture and Leadership. San Francisco: JosseyBass.
Schein, E.H. (1992). Organizational Culture and Leadership (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Schein, E.H. (1999). The Corporate Culture Survival Guide: Sense and Nonsense about Culture Change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Schumacher, T. (1997). West Coast Camelot. The Rise and Fall of an Organizational Culture. In: Sackmann, S.A. (ed.). Cultural Complexity in Organizations. Inherent Contrasts and Contradictions. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Vicente, K. (1999). Cognitive Work Analysis. Toward Safe, Productive, and Healthy Computer-Based Work. LEA, London.
Weick, K.E. (1993). Sensemaking in organizations: Small Structures with Large Consequences. In Murnigham, J.K. (ed.), Social Psychology in Organizations:
Advances in Theory and Research. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Weick. K.E. (1995). Sensemaking in Organizations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Recommendation for further reading
Reiman, Teemu & Oedewald, Pia (2002) The assessment of organisational culture. A methodological study.[Online]. The Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT), Tiedotteita . Research Notes 2140, Espoo: Otamedia Oy. Retrieved from:
__ [Accessed 02 May 2002]

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