Building Commitment through Organizational Culture

By Lahiry, Sugato | Training & Development, April 1994 | Go to article overview
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Building Commitment through Organizational Culture


Lahiry, Sugato, Training & Development


A bunch of individuals does not an organization make. Business leaders increasingly grasp what organization development specialists have long understood: Groups are the building blocks of organizations. This being the case, organizations are most likely to change for the better if they target improvement efforts at groups of employees. Widespread efforts at team building are one example of this trend.

In their efforts to promote organization-wide improvements, organization development practitioners try to understand the dynamic between the organization itself and the groups that it comprises. One group dimension of an organization is its culture. Organizational culture recently has garnered much attention from both researchers and corporate managers.

Definitions of organizational culture vary, but they tend to contain certain commnon themes. For example: * Culture represents the values, beliefs, and expectations shared by its members. * Culture exerts pressure on its members to conform to shared codes. * Culture shapes people's behaviors.

From an organization development standpoint, the concept of organizational culture suggests an avenue for fostering changes in behavior and attitudes in order to bring about desired results. But to do this successfully, OD experts must find out if they can predict certain behaviors and attitudes based on patterns of organizational culture.

For example, research has shown that employees' commitment to an organization affects how well the organization performs in various ways. If it turns out that employee commitment varies in certain predictable ways from one cultural pattern to another, OD specialists could try to strengthen employee commitment--and therefore, organizational effectiveness--by changing the organizational culture.

The concept of commitment

Researchers generally define organizational commitment as the psychological strength of an individual's attachment to the organization. Researchers differ on the basis of the attachment.

Recently, John P. Meyer and Natalie J. Allen developed a comprehensive, integrated model of organizational commitment. According to this model, organizational commitment is a mixture of three components--affective, continuance, and normative commitment--that vary in influence.

Affective commitment refers to employees' emotional attachment to the organization. Continuance commitment is based on the costs that employees associate with leaving the organization. Normative commitment is employees' feelings of obligation to remain with the organization.

Or, as Meyer and Allen put it, "Employees with strong affective commitment remain [with the organization] because they want to, those with strong continuance commitment because they need to, and those with strong normative commitment because they feel they ought to do so."

Numerous studies have correlated organizational commitment with what one author calls "a laundry list" of variables. Unfortunately, OD specialists cannot easily convert data about scores of variables into workplace applications. To build comprehensive programs, OD practitioners need to piece data on organizational and work-related experiences into patterns and to organize those patterns into workable categories.

The concept of organizational culture offers a way to categorize general patterns of experiences. So far, the few studies that have examined links between organizational culture and organizational commitment have focused on links between the strength of an organization's culture and the strength of its employees' commitment. These studies and anecdotal evidence suggest a positive link between strong organizational cultures and employee commitment.

Potential links between the content of organizational cultures and levels of employee commitment remain largely unexplored. The relative strength of a culture is an indicator of how widely people share the organizational values and beliefs--whatever the values and beliefs may be--and how intensely people feel about them.

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