Creating Shared Culture
Why Create a Shared Culture?
Merging organizations together can often be difficult and challenging. Different groups have different beliefs and values, which impact every aspect of the organization's performance. Organizations that have merged and failed to blend the cultures of its diverse groups will show signs of cooperate schizophrenia. Inter-company rivalry, loss of productivity, and tribalism can create a hostile environment for profitability and impact.
Creating a shared culture between merging organizations creates stability and a shared sense of purpose. With a shared culture, these groups will develop a shared meaning (Cameron & Quinn, 2005) and be able to work seamlessly together. In addition, with a shared culture, formerly separate organizations can merge into one unit resulting in a united focus on one set of terminal values and end goals. This unity of focus on one set of goals becomes influenced by the same instrumental values, or rather, the means by which a goal is achieved (Hultman & Gellermann, 2002).
Friedman (2007) proposed that organizations should be directed by strengths and not by weaknesses. By endeavoring to create a shared culture between previously culturally independent groups, a leader has the ability to harness the strengths and assets of both while purging the weaknesses and liabilities. By fusing the best of both cultures, the resulting organization would be stronger and greater than the sum of its parts.
"Culture is to a group what personality or character is to an individual" (Schein, 2010, p. 14). Culture is the culmination of every value, belief, and behavior of an organization (Hultman & Gellermann, 2002). To understand culture’s essential role in the success of an organizational structure, one must understand what an organization values. These values are often evident in the goals the organization has chosen. The values of an organization are the most important underlying force that acts as the engine that keeps the organization running (ibid). Values are the prime motivator that keep individuals focused and at peace. It is important for members to have a clear understanding of the organization’s culture, which is predicated by the organizations fundamental values. Members who have clear understanding of the company’s values can make decisions that are in line with the company's objectives without creating discord. The key to the success of most all successful companies and organizations can be found in their organizational culture (Cameron & Quinn, 2005).
Competing values within an organization often lead to discord and friction, while unified culture tends toward strength. Competing cultures can arise anytime multiple organizations, companies, departments or groups merge into a single unit. When merging multiple organizations, there must be an appreciation for different ways of doing things and different world-views in order to make diverse cultures blend (Webb, Darling, & Alvey, 2014). Without such an appreciation for differing values and cultures, issues may arise between various factions, each striving to become a singular dominant force.
When an employee is ignorant of the values of their company, decisions are often made that are in conflict with the values and therefore goals of their employer. This is especially important when two or more organizations are merging together to form one unit. If each individual piece of the new organization continues to function under its old values and goals, the newly created organization could possibly fracture or its productivity would grind to a halt. There are basically two functions to creating anything, including culture within a company. These two functions are process and delivery (Srinivasan, 2011). When an organization is culturally divided, the different values each group holds will impact different aspects of the process and delivery. A resulting tug of war is waged between quantity and quality, customer service verses employee focus, and profit verses philanthropy. "If one person believes strongly in respecting authority, that person may find it difficult to understand someone who challenges authority or does not easily defer to authority figures"(Northouse, 2015, p. 429). Differing groups will create a peculiar form of organizational ethnocentrism, viewing other departments through the lens of their own beliefs and values (Northouse, 2015). In order to maintain cohesiveness when merging two organizations, it is often helpful to blend the cultures together to create a new culture for members to follow.
When an employee understands the values of the company, they understand what the company considers important, and can therefore align more easily with the goals of the organization. If one is endeavoring to make great changes within an organization, the culture of the organization should be changed first or in tandem with these other major changes. Without changing the organization's culture, other major changes are almost certain to fail (Cameron & Quinn, 2005). Values are those things which help us meet our needs (Hultman & Gellermann, 2002). When the culture of company is unified, everyone in the organization operates in such a way that the needs of the company are met.
Leaders as Architects of Culture
Leadership is the act of shaping culture (Schein, 2010). Northouse (2015) defines leadership as "process" (p.5). This process "is not a trait or characteristic that resides in the leader, but rather a transactional event that occurs between the leader and the followers" (p.6). Leadership directly influences the values and behaviors of others (ibid). Furthermore, leadership can serve as that force that pushes an organization away from safety, toward innovation (Hultman & Gellermann, 2002). During times of mergers and acquisitions, it is important for leaders to understand their role in shaping the culture of a new entity. A leader’s role is to define and promote the new culture of the company or organization. If a leader is ignorant of the current culture within an organization, the culture will influence and dictate how that individual leads (Schein, 2010).
Culture gives stability and the sense of right and wrong within a company or organization (ibid). Leaders must step up and make proper cultural changes when merging more than one organization together. Without the leaders assertion of dominance, the culture of the organization will be left up to various members, producing a fractious, cliquish, and dysfunctional group (ibid).
Attempting organizational change often leads to resentment, strife, and failure (Cameron & Quinn, 2005). When leadership is dedicated to any type of major change, the culture of the organization must change also. Without making a cultural change, the company will often revert back to status quo, that is, the way the group was before the change (ibid). In order to make lasting change, the very foundational values of the company must be altered to match the goals of the organization (ibid).
A leader has the ability to ease the stress of wide spread uncertainty of behavior by forging culture (Cameron & Quinn, 2005). Uncertainty can lead to timid decision-making and unsteady outcomes. By utilizing one's influence as a leader and forging a clear and concise culture, individuals within an organization can feel more at peace with decision making and operating within the parameters of the culture. A culture provides a social construct that is the framework for a company's social order (Horley, 2012). Through utilizing culture forging, individuals will know what authority they have and how to execute such authority.
Disconfirmation and Cognitive Dissonance
Before a culture can change, it must be subjected to enough shock that individuals begin to question the values that make up the current culture (Schein, 2010). As a leader, one should engage in becoming the change agent, endeavoring to promote a desire to change in the members of the group. Without a sufficient shock and the motivation to change, the old culture will reassert itself as dominant (ibid). This is because humans often gravitate to the low-hanging fruit or the road of least resistance.
Generating enough information to make participants of a former culture question the values they have held can be difficult. When people come in contact with information that is in contrast to their currently held beliefs, they enter a state of cognitive dissonance (Cognitive dissonance. (n.d.). Retrieved March 26). This cognitive dissonance increases stress on the members of the group by producing anxiety and varying amounts of fear (Schein, 2010).
A good leader should make a point of connecting this new information that promotes cognitive dissonance to the old belief system and values (ibid). During this connection process, anxiety and even guilt are possible emotions for those who still adhere to the organization's former culture (ibid). These individuals may feel as if future calamity is their only option. Saul Alinsky (2010) said, "they must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and chance the future" (Kindle Location, 109). When challenging old cultures, values, or paradigms, it is often major shock that initiates change and not the slow, soft, steady knocking that allows members to remain comfortable.
When people reach the point where they feel helpless and hopeless, it is important that the leader point the way out (Schein, 2010). If a leader fails to make the connection between the information that dismantles current beliefs and a possible way out, it jeopardizes the organization and falling apart becomes a likely scenario. The key is to create a vision of the proper instrumental values, or the best process, that will pave the way out for those who are under stress. The stress of maintaining the status quo must be greater than the stress of learning new values and culture (ibid). While both groups may find it difficult to learn the new, shared culture, if a leader can reduce the stressors associated with learning the new norms while maintaining a high stress on the old status quo, both groups will be more apt to participate in learning and embracing the new values.
A leader must be patient with those who are in the middle of culture change. Not only do those who are subjected to the upheaval of cultural change have to learn a new culture, they are also tasked with unlearning an old culture, habits, and values (Schein, 2010). In scenarios involving major cultural shifts, patience and fortitude will serve a leader well.
Understanding and Influencing Beliefs
Beliefs are created through experience (Horley, 2012). When a company or organization grows in experience, the information received dictates the beliefs and therefore values of the group as a whole. Beliefs influence the way values meet needs. In order to successfully merge multiple organizational cultures, one should seek to understand the value system of the existing organizations.
Understanding organizational value systems is similar to understanding an individual's value system. Values are influenced by beliefs, and beliefs are built from experience. Essentially, values are learned beliefs (Horley, 2012). Knowing the history as well as the experience of the organizations can help a leader understand how and why the culture formed. With this knowledge, a leader can assess the strengths and weaknesses of the various organizations. Since values determine culture, the experience and beliefs that an organization possesses will be a strong indicator of how the group will react to a blending of multiple cultures.
"Truth is the foundation of all values" (Srinivasan, 2011, p. 122). For a leader to effectively influence the value and therefore culture of the company, they must be open and honest about what the values of the company should be. Attempting to deceive employees or customers about the values of the company can lead to cultural crisis. Truth eventually leads to trust and trust is the foundation of every good relationship (ibid). By being honest with members of the merging organizations about the new culture that is being forged, trust and acceptance can outgrow the fear of change and uncertainty.
Leaders should concentrate on creating and merging the core values of the unified company. Core values are where identity is forged (Horley, 2012). A company’s core values will guide every aspect of the decision making process. By controlling the core values of an organization, the leader can have the greatest impact upon the organization as a whole. It is from this position that leader can exert the greatest influence on culture building.
The world is changing so rapidly, it is nearly impossible to stay up with current cultural shifts (Cameron & Quinn, 2005). For the most part, modern culture looks down on and even frowns on the status quo (ibid). Organizations change radically from decade to decade in the modern era (ibid). According to Cameron & Quinn (2005), the three most common kinds of changes initiated in the past decade have been total quality management, downsizing, and reengineering. According to their research, without changing the culture of the organization each initiative has failed, with only a few groups reporting marginal success. The importance of changing or merging the culture of merging companies cannot be stressed enough.
There are many diverse elements that create a company's culture. A few examples of these elements are flexibility verses stability, discretion verses control, and unity verses rivalry. Every organization will have different mixtures of hundreds of elements, which act as a type of fingerprint of the organization. Organizations that are in their fledgling stages or are young are often defined by the actions and ingenuity of the leader (Cameron & Quinn, 2005). However, as these organizations grow larger and mature, they will often become more structured in order to manage a larger business with more components (ibid). During this transition from freewheeling to flow-charts, members of the organization who were part of its initial stages often feel abandoned and resentful about the changes taking place (ibid).
Values can be broken down into two types, terminal values and instrumental values (Hultman & Gellermann, 2002). Terminal values are a group or individuals preferred end state, while instrumental values govern how a group or individual gets to that end state (ibid). These two types of values are tasked with "defending against perceived threat, adjusting to society, and fostering growth" (Kindle Location 240). Because all types of values are psychological constructs peculiar to individuals, organizational culture is influenced by the beliefs and values of those who comprise the group (ibid).
When merging organizations, it is important to make sure each component group believes they are valued and are performing correctly. These feelings of value and being ethical produce group members with good self-esteem (ibid). Good self-esteem produces high morale, and high morale leads to more productivity and achievement (Sonnenberg, 1994, p.14-16). Because humans act on their own perception of reality (Hultman & Gellermann, 2002), when individuals in a group have high self esteem and trust within their group, morale increases along with a whole host of positive markers (Sonnenberg, 1994, p.14-16).
When merging organizations, it is important to remember the impact that the merger will have on both the new members and the old veterans. Favoritism, egotism, and tribalism can produce devastating effects on the merged groups. Individuals will experience threats to their self-esteem that must be managed by leadership. When an individual’s self-worth feels threatened, they will engage in defensive activities that protect the self-worth they already have and then strive to do things that promote their own worth (Hultman & Gellermann, 2002). This cycle produces people who gravitate toward their personal comfort zones and become hardened to change while seeking self-gratifying positivity loops. This destructive behavior can cause merged organizations to enter a type of cold war where members withhold information and actively sabotage other members that embrace the new culture of the organization.
Although merging organizations can be challenging, the reward of a high morale group is well worth the effort. A leader is instrumental in the success or failure of changing the culture. Cultural change should be engaged in for a variety of reasons. Any major organizational push or large new initiative should include a culture change in order to improve odds of success (Cameron & Quinn, 2005).
In the modern era, organizational culture will change drastically every decade or so. As technology advances, it is important to embrace new ways of doing things and learning to blend differing instrumental or terminal values. Leaders should be the catalyst for cultural change and cast the vision that pulls individuals out of their old culture and into the new culture.