Cultural Assessment: Differences in Perceptions between Boards of Directors and Other Organizational Members

Article excerpt

"Organizational culture has been presented as an enigma which has held the attention of practitioners and theorists world-wide for at least two decades. Indeed during the early 1980s organizational culture was presented as a universal 'quick-fix' solution to almost every problem which faced organizations" (Ogbonna and Harris, 1998, p. 35).

Scholars and practitioners alike concluded that all firms have cultures and that they vary in strength (Deal and Kennedy, 1982; Ouchi, 1981; Schein, 1992; Peters and Waterman, 1982). Despite the attention paid to it, the construct, in most cases, has not provided the promised solutions. This is partially due to its complexity and the difficulties with defining and measuring it. For example, while researchers have long recognized that subcultures exist in organizations, it has been suggested that "speaking of a profile of an organization's culture is only meaningful when there is high consensus among members about organizational values" (Chatman and Jehn, 1994, p.531). This study examines these issues and suggests that rather than attempting to force a consensus value among organizational members it might be more beneficial for the organization to examine the differences between its various groups. Specifically, this study examines the differences in cultural perceptions between members of the board of directors and other organizational members and discusses why this is an important issue for effective management.

Organizational Culture

Much of the confusion in culture research lies in the many definitions of "culture." For example, one researcher defined it as "the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of an organization from another (Hofstede, 1998, p.2). Another suggested that "the researcher studying organizations as cultures is concerned with learning the consensus meanings ascribed by a group of people to their experience and articulating the thematic relationship expressed in this meaning system" (Ogbonna and Harris, 1998, p. 39). Schein (1985) defined culture as "a pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems" (p. 19). Deal and Kennedy state that "beliefs and values form the bedrock of a company's cultural identity" (1999, p.4). They point out that values and beliefs are manifested in rituals and ceremonies of an organization.

Schein(1999) identifies three levels of culture: artifacts, espoused values, and basic underlying assumptions. Schmidt (2002) provides more specificity when he claims that "a company's culture is the values, norms and behaviors that characterize the company and its work environment. It encompasses the way people behave, how they are held accountable, and the way they're rewarded. In a nutshell, it's the modus operandi" (p.8). Schmidt goes on to identify a number of cultural attributes, including management style, decision-making process, degree of customer commitment, entrepreneurial spirit, innovation, creativity, value of teamwork and collaboration, accessibility of leadership, performance accountability system, rewards philosophy, and power relationships.

Why is corporate culture interesting to study? Much recent research into consequences of corporate cultures has focused on its functional or beneficial outcomes. For example, specific corporate cultures have been widely viewed as favorably affecting an organizations' strategy, structure, communication, and decision making (Peters and Waterman, 1982; Collins and Porras, 1994; Collins, 2001). In what is considered to be the first serious book exploring the relationship, Kotter and Heskett (1992) concluded as follows: (1) Corporate cultures can have a significant impact on a firm's long-term economic performance. …