Organizational Communication and Culture: A Study of 10 Italian High-Technology Companies

Article excerpt

The study of culturally based interpretative processes within organizations has generated a renewed interest in communication, power, influence, and control at a time when organizational communication understanding is complicated by the growing global characteristics of our organizational worlds (Deetz, 1992). Furthermore, globalization has given rise to new questions about generalizations across cultures of many widely-accepted theoretical and explanatory perspectives (Weick & Van Orden, 1991). Inherent in this evolution of thinking about organizational symbolism, sense-making, power, and control within global environments are important questions about communication processes, uncertainty, values, and overall conceptions of organizational outcomes. The purpose of this study, therefore, was to replicate in European high-technology environments a model of relationships among organizational cultural themes, employee values, organizational communication activities, and perceptions of important organizational outcomes previously developed and tested in U.S.A. high-technology companies. Additionally, the study extended previous work by examining whether cultural dimensions, operationalized as rule-value discrepancy factors, could be identified and related to a variety of perceptions of organizational effectiveness, organizational outcomes, and organizational communication behaviors.

Background and Research Perspective

The significance of communication and culture research has been underscored by Schein (1984) who contends that culture is embedded and transmitted through both implicit and explicit messages such as formal statements of organizational philosophy, design of physical space, deliberate role modeling, teaching, and coaching by leaders. Explicit reward and status systems, stories, legends or myths, leadership attention to measurement and control, leader reactions to critical incidents, organizational design and structure, organizational systems and procedures, and criteria for people management all become cultural messages for organizational members. Cheney (1983) relates communication of cultural messages to an individual's development of a sense of belonging or identification with the organization. Identification, according to Cheney, aids in making sense of experience, organizing thoughts, achieving decisions, persuading and being persuaded, and anchoring the self within the organizational experience. Hofstede (1984, 1991), in pioneering work on cross-cultural values, identifies five dimensions of differences among national cultures which impact all types of organizational environments. The five dimensions are: power distance, collectivism versus individualism, femininity versus masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, and long-versus short-term orientation. Accordingly, Hofstede develops extensive thematic descriptions for each of the five dimensions of culture. These thematic descriptions can be utilized to understand value differences across cultures, cultural convergency and divergency, development of structure, negotiations, and numerous other dimensions of organizational processes.

Cultural theme analysis has been widely utilized to examine perception and interpretative processes within organizations (Agar, 1979; Spradley, 1979, 1980; Schall, 1983; Morey & Luthans, 1985; Shockley-Zalabak & Morley, 1989; Morley & Shockley-Zalabak, 1991; Shockley-Zalabak & Morley, 1994). Morey and Luthans (1985) define themes as, "recurrent and important principles occurring in a number of cultural domains. Themes are used in this sense to link subsystems of cultural meaning because they are assertions of high generality that apply to a number of situations. People use them to organize their behavior and interpret experience (Spradley, 1980). As Agar (1979) explains, "themes deal with important beliefs, values, and rules of behavior that cross boundaries and context. The study of themes would be especially useful for analyzing organizations 'as if' (metaphorically) they were cultural systems" (p. …