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Currently, technological advancement has taken the root in the business world. Most importantly, there has been globalization that has been made possible by the advancements. Coming with this is a more complex corporate world where organizations are striving to be the employer of choice. To effectively attain the objective and win the war of talents organizations have to coin a unique organizational culture that will propel the whole team in the same direction. Leadership as a concept has also grown in recent literature because of the strong link that exists between organizational culture and organizational leadership. It goes without mention that the leaders shape the direction of organizational culture making it work for a given organization. The aim of this paper is to explore the concept of organizational culture, elucidating on its three levels and the meaningful insights they can offer for today’s organizational leaders.
Organizational culture also referred as corporate culture can be defined as a specific pattern or framework of shared assumptions based on invention, discovery, and development within a given group as the group advances in learning to cope with the hitches within it when adapting to internal integration and external adaptation (Vliet, 2014; Schein, 2010). Organization culture is, therefore, this set of patterns that is seen valid enough to be shared and inculcated to the new members as the best approach to the integration and adaptation problems (Vliet, 2014). The new members of the organizations are therefore bound to align their lines of thought and perceptions to the organizational culture. According to Schein (2010), there are three levels of organizational culture, namely artifacts, espoused values, and basic assumptions. All these levels have important insights on organizational leaders (Carpenter, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2010). It is noteworthy that a unique organizational culture acts as a source of competitive advantage giving an organization an upper hand over the other (Carpenter, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2010). This best explains how an ideal organization in this century can use its organizational culture to achieve its objectives in the competitive and dynamic market (Carpenter, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2010).
This is the surface level of organizational culture and includes all the visible encounters with a given group as well as the encounters that can be heard and felt (Clodi & Schuttler, 2013). Simply put, these are the structures and processes that are visible within my specific organization (Schein, 2010). Artifacts within the organizational context include the products, the physical architectural design of the environment of the organization, language, technology, logos, myths, stories, published values and observable rites within the organization among others (Clodi & Schuttler, 2013; Schein, 2010). This level of organizational culture is very difficult to decipher despite being easy to observe (Vliet, 2014). Organizational leaders are challenged to up with physical environments that are non-discriminative in any nature (Vliet, 2014). The environment should be sound enough for people from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds. The leaders are therefore challenged to come up with a common language that connects the whole team and ensures that all the images of the organization are inclusive (Carpenter, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2010).
The second level of organizational culture is espoused values that entail all the key conscious strategies, philosophies and goals within the organization (Schein, 2010). Espoused values within an organization are best expressed through standards, rules of conduct, norms, and values (Schein, 2010). The leaders have to ensure that they are in line with these tenets to ensure that the organization is wheeling in the right direction (Schein, 2010). The leaders, in this case, instill the values through their influence on their subordinates in the process of reaching a confluence in solving problems within the organization (Vliet, 2014). The leaders have the mandate of ensuring that the espoused beliefs and values are aligned with the underlying assumptions within the teams they are leading (Vliet, 2014). As such, a transformational leader will take time in understanding the shared values and transform them into the philosophy that will form the key unifying factor of the group, a source of social identity, and a mission for the organization (Carpenter, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2010).
When choosing the espoused beliefs to go by the leaders have to weight either side to ensure that everybody’s position in the organization is well catered for (Alvesson, 2012). For instance, the management should look into the aspirations and rationalizations that are future-oriented and look at the mutual relationship they form with the stakeholders, the employees and the customers in terms of low cost but high quality products and services (Alvesson, 2012; Schein, 2010). When there is, shared learning within the organization, led by the leaders, the organization achieves social validation where all the interests are covered (Ashkanasy, Neal, Wilderom, Peterson, & West, 2011). The leaders first begin with instituting shared values that through time become shared assumptions (Schein, 2010). It is worthwhile to note that the espoused beliefs are not mirrors of organizational culture (Alvesson, 2012). Rather, they aid in establishing the public image the organizational or corporate leaders want of the organizations they are leading.
At the core, the level of organizational culture is the basic underlying assumption, which is below normal awareness (Vliet, 2014). These assumptions are deeply embedded within the organizational culture and come out as unconscious and self-evident behaviors. Schein (2010) notes that these are assumptions that grow out of the values of an organization, but as time proceeds, they become taken for granted and the whole organization drops out of their awareness. When espoused beliefs are well implemented, there is the achievement of some degree of consensus within the organization (Vliet, 2014). These assumptions are a guide of behavior that guides the perceptions, thoughts, and feelings of the employees in a given organization. These assumptions cannot be confronted or debated and are rigid to any form of change. Basic assumptions are the key points that managers can use to change the perception of an individual (Carpenter, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2010). For instance, if a worker assumes that laziness is the best way to communicate with the management, and the rest of the workforce is intact, the employee is more likely to join the rest and despise their ill personal assumption (Ashkanasy et al., 2011).
Leadership has grown to become one of the most discussed topics in the corporate world. Organizational leadership is the one that decides that direction that a given organization will take (Clodi & Schuttler, 2013). Most importantly, the leaders are charged with the role of shaping the three levels that have been discussed. The question of how they must do this is best answered by the form of leadership that the corporate leaders take (Clodi & Schuttler, 2013).
There are very many forms of leadership that can be embraced, each dependent on the situation and context of the organization in question (Clodi & Schuttler, 2013). Each form of leadership has its own merits and demerits when it comes to the realization of organizational culture. Schein (2010) note that organizational culture stems from three major sources. First, from the beliefs, core values, and assumptions that are led by the influencers of the founders of the organization (Kummerow & Kirby, 2014). Second, from the experiences achieved through learning from among the members of an organization as the evolution of the organization takes root (Clodi & Schuttler, 2013). Lastly, through new beliefs, assumptions and values that are brought in by new leaders and members of the organization (Clodi & Schuttler, 2013).
Today’s corporate leaders have the mandate to set some influence in order to institute organizational culture (Iszatt-White & Saunders, 2014). There are very many ways the leaders can influence their followers into conforming to the three levels of the corporate culture. First off, when deciding on the artifacts, the leaders should encourage the exchange of ideas with their followers (Iszatt-White & Saunders, 2014). In this way, the leaders use the transformational approach where the values will be more profound within the organization (Iszatt-White & Saunders, 2014). The organizational leaders should ensure that there is consultation with the members when coming up with assumptions that will be held overall by the rest of the organization (Iszatt-White & Saunders, 2014). Through inclusive participation, the leaders are able to avoid resistance of a given culture that could have been so much important for the organization in question (Iszatt-White & Saunders, 2014).
Leaders must have a thorough understanding of the organizational culture, including its nature and associated impacts so that they are able to come up with visions and drive their followers’ commitment to the vision (Sharma & Sharma, 2010; Miner, 2015). This insinuates that organizational leaders should be in a position to coin the leadership style that will shape and maintain a given culture in the organization (Sharma & Sharma, 2010). The two best leadership styles that are efficient in maintaining and shaping organizational culture are charismatic and transformational leadership (Kummerow & Kirby, 2014). This is because of the degree of congruence of the result of either leadership style with the level of organizational culture as well as organizational behavior and performance. Organizational leaders should embrace charismatic leadership; leadership involving vision communication, to ensure that the organizational culture is stable (Sharma & Sharma, 2010). The leaders should be able to assess the needs of the subordinates relative to the status quo and then come up with a vision, which is an artifact (Kummerow & Kirby, 2014). The vision will not only serve as a unifying factor but also stimulation of problem-solving that will form a basis of solving other akin problems.
Organizational leaders are challenged to transfer their values to their subordinates (Iszatt-White & Saunders, 2014). This is because the followers will get the assumptions of the leaders by paying close attention to how the leaders behave in the organization. The followers will have perceptions based on the methods used by leaders (Iszatt-White & Saunders, 2014). The leaders must, therefore, be keen when reacting to challenging and critical organizational crises, when coaching and role modeling, and when setting criteria for recruitment, selection, exclusion, punishment, rewards, and promotion among others (Iszatt-White & Saunders, 2014). The reason behind this is that the assumption of the leader is greatly determined by the processes. When the organization has been aligned by the practices of the leaders, the coin values and beliefs based on the actions and act accordingly (Miner, 2015).
Organizational leaders should be charismatic enough to act proactively in exerting their social influence in various ways so that the employees under them are aligned with the organizational mission and other artifacts (Sharma & Sharma, 2010). Whenever there is a discrepancy in the manner in which the values are shared within an organization, the organizational culture is weakened (Sharma & Sharma, 2010). This translates to the corporate leaders increasing a consensus between the values of the employees Vis a Vis their behavior to strengthen the culture.
When recruiting and selecting employees, the corporate leaders should do this based on the alignment of the leaders’ values and the espoused values of the organization. This strengthens the commitment of the workforce or followers to the core values of the organization (Aydogdu & Asikgil, 2011). The organizational leaders should ensure that the evaluation systems of the employees are transparent, cooperatively anchored and monitored, and employee-driven. With this in place, the leaders should be able to integrate and align the evaluation systems to the achievement of set visions and goals (Aydogdu & Asikgil, 2011). In this context, the level of the artifact will be attainable by the whole team being that the organization will be acting with the same assumptions and guided by the same value systems.
The leaders should also have open communication channels so that there is an exchange in the manner in which the leaders influence their power (Sharma & Sharma, 2010). Communication is essential for instituting the change process especially when there is the need to adjust to new ways of doing things (Aydogdu & Asikgil, 2011). When the leaders establish open communication channels and language to be used within the organization there is some form of ownership and commitment of the employees in the values and beliefs that are shared.
Organizational leaders should be in a position to develop and build teams (Aydogdu & Asikgil, 2011). In doing so, they are preparing the whole organization for learning that is critical for the development of organizational culture (Aydogdu & Asikgil, 2011). Once the teams are formed, each is assigned a leader whose mandate is to ensure that there is some congruence between the three levels of an organizational culture of the whole organization and that of the team (Fitzpatrick & McCarthy, 2014). Through this, the leaders are encouraged to be creative and supporters of innovation and creativity (Aydogdu & Asikgil, 2011). Through good teams, the employees are able to integrate and adapt to the values and beliefs of the organizations turning them slowly into assumptions that then build the corporate culture.
The leaders are therefore challenged to create knowledge environments that ensure that there is sufficient learning and thus the promotion of the knowledge culture (Fitzpatrick & McCarthy, 2014). The ultimate challenge that the organizational leaders have is ensuring the sustainability of organizational culture (Schneider, Ehrhart, & Macey, 2013). When doing so, the leaders must have well-founded succession-planning criteria that are unbiased in nature (Wanberg, 2012). The leaders are mandated to shape the perceptions of the new employees while choosing the best employees they deem fit for the sustainability of organizational culture through effective leadership (Schneider, Ehrhart, & Macey, 2013).
At the capacity of organizational leadership, the managers should have individualized consideration so that through their needs, attributes, and abilities, they are able to motivate the followers and build their trust in a given value or norm within the organization (Wanberg, 2012). This not only helps in the development of the individual but also the shaping of their assumptions based on that of the whole organization (McCarthy & Human Synergistics International, 2005). The leaders should also be clear in the manner in which they present their visions and intellectually stimulate the followers.
The leaders must develop conceptual and cognitive stimulation of thinking amongst their followers (Sheraz, Zaheer, & Nadeem, 2012). The leaders should redirect the employees in the process of solving problems based on novel and overall points of view and promote the abilities of the followers to continue with the process of problem-solving (McCarthy & Human Synergistics International, 2005). Additionally, an organizational leader must be able to understand the future orientation of the organization and forge realistic ways of achieving the set objectives while at the same time fulfilling the set vision (Sheraz, Zaheer, & Nadeem, 2012).
The organizational leaders work hard in developing higher levels of achievement, performance, and autonomy in the organization (Schneider, Ehrhart, & Macey, 2013). The leaders are challenged to transform the organization through the creation of a new vision mobilizing the support and commitment of the followers (Schneider, Ehrhart, & Macey, 2013). Ultimately, the success of the three levels of organizational culture is anchored on the organizational leaders.
Organizational culture is not a novel concept in the literature of management. It is evident that there are three core levels of organizational culture namely, artifacts, espoused values and beliefs, and basic assumptions. All three levels are eminent when one is looking at an organization's culture. However, if one is not so keen, they are likely not to recognize the level of organizational culture. The most important thing to note is that the form of leadership that is ideal in shaping the organizational culture is either charismatic or transformational leadership styles. This is because the attributes of leaders who exemplify such styles is in tandem with the levels of culture. Communication is seen as an essential tool in ensuring that the leader changes the beliefs and value systems of their followers. Organizational leaders should come up with organizational cultures that are inclusive in nature to cater for diversity that has been brought by globalization. The organizational leaders must also be in the frontline in using their powers to influence the direction and sustainability through their power in the organizations. Finally, yet importantly, organizational leaders should consult with the stakeholders of the organizations when strategizing the direction to be taken in achieving the set visions that is part of the organizational culture.
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