Introduction

Culture is
commonly thought of as “a pattern of shared basic assumptions that a given
group has invented, discovered, or developed in learning to cope with its
problems of external adaptation and internal integration” according to Edgar
Schein’s (1985: 9) most commonly accepted dichotomy of the definition of the
term.  In the literature, it is widely acknowledged
amongst mainstream views
that organisational culture leads to higher performance and is therefore
portrayed as a form of competitive advantage for firms: it can differentiate an
organisation from its competitors and become a key source of organisational
success. Indeed, mainstream views supporting this argument present on one side,
a “one best culture” formula that firms should adopt in order to succeed such
as Peters and Waterman (1982). On the other side, others advocate for a more contingent
approach to the debate, such as Handy (2009) and Deal and Kennedy (1982), where
the “right” culture for an organisation depends on internal and external
variables. Whether a strong culture is desirable or it should find the appropriate
culture for its organisation, these perspectives have their own limitations and
this essay aims to present a more critical view on culture. Indeed, corporate culture
can affect a company’s performance under certain circumstances. However, it can
also “undermine decision making as it may encourage conformity, group thinking
or inability to adjust and lead to failure”. This essay argues that performance is likely to be better for companies
possessing cultures that are both strong and able to adjust sufficiently well
to its environments.

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A “ONE SIZE FITS ALL” culture

 

The distinction
between strong and weak culture is often said to be what characterises the performance
of a company. Strong cultures emerge when the degree of commitment to
organisational values is high and these are widely shared by the employees of
the organisation (David A. Buchanan, Andrzej Huczynski, 2017: 124). According to
Denison (1984), “The strength of
corporate culture is directly correlated with the levels of profit in a company”.

Indeed, strong cultures are believed to generate motivation in employees and
therefore increases the responsibility felt in motivated employees for the
organisation’s success. Sempane et al. (2002) underline the necessity to incite organisational
culture to ensure motivation in order to achieve the company’s goals. Moreover,
strong cultures unite staff through common values and goals and increase a
sense of belonging amongst the organisation. Strong corporate culture directs
attitudes and actions in an organisation: it harnesses loyal, committed and
hardworking employees who are able to behave in a way consistent with organisational
purposes and goals (Deal and Kennedy, 1982; Peters and Waterman, 1982) however there
are limitations to the “one size fits all” school of thought.  

Companies such as Apple, Google or Disney are
commonly thought of as “strong culture companies” and serve as evidence for the
widely-accepted assumptions that strong cultures lead to higher performance
than weaker ones (David A. Buchanan, Andrzej Huczynski, 2017). However,
according to Chris Grey (2009) strong cultures with widely shared values do not
tell us anything about the values themselves and the ethics around them. (Example
seen in class here). Moreover, this ideology is furthered by David A. Buchanan
and Andrzej Huczynski, (2017) who stress that “Company success, measured in financial
terms, depends on a great many factors other than culture and a weaker culture
may have other competitive advantages (such as technological lead or product
appeal)” leading to higher efficiency and performance.  These various perspectives emphasise the need
to question the very nature of strong cultures and their values as well as take
into account different factors that constitute competitive advantages for
companies.