Often in scholarly literature has addressed organizational culture and climate separately, however, it is important for leaders to cohesively bring organizational culture and climate as the Yin & Yang of organizations. Leadership has the largest and most direct effect on company culture & climate.
Most of us are familiar with organizational culture, a topic that has been ransacked and dissected diversely. The colloquially referred to meaning of organizational culture is ‘how we do things her’; often times makes me think, what does that even mean?
Organizational culture is a collection of values, deeper lying assumptions and at its core a learnt behaviour. It is an unconscious system that feeds on behaviours or norms which are habituated & reinforced, Schein (2011). However, culture is known to be difficult to measure, here’s why?
1. It is ambiguous
A sum total of values, assumptions, beliefs that are vague and have been formed over a period of time. Culture is not restricted to a document or values which are constructed at nascency of a company, it is a system of processes, norms set by leaders & employee perception. For instance, as employees leave or an organisation grows, these set values evolve, which makes measuring culture a tedious assignment.
2. It is learnt behaviour
Organisational culture is a collective habit; for example- say there is an unlimited leave policy in a workplace but leaders or employees rarely make use of this benefit, this behaviour automatically becomes an unsaid norm. In this case, while there is a positive policy in place, the unsaid norm of nobody using their leaves could point at hypocritical culture, a system of unaddressed job burnout and other such manifestations.
Collective habits are behaviours reinforced by each other in a workplace without labeling, often they go unnoticed yet become a part of overall corporate culture.
3. Picking a dimension
Culture is pervasive & has been studied in scholarly literature since the 1970’s. Ever since, it has developed several wings- decision making, feedback, strategy, organizational hierarchy which have their own body of concepts. Organizational culture has a large umbrella of elements that can be measured, which means that deciding on what you want to measure decides what shall be changed. The role of leadership in displaying tandem with company values, behaviours becomes absolutely necessary to stop as well as create workplaces that are destined to win. In the show, Ted Lasso revolves around an American college football coach, of course named Ted Lasso and played by Jason Sudeikis, who accepts an offer “across the pond” to coach a professional soccer team called AFC Richmond. Ted focuses on being curious, not judgmental, and as part and parcel of this to shows empathy towards others. While this show specifically revolves around a professional soccer organization, the relationships are akin to your standard workplace setting with co-workers, superiors, and owners. The open communication and caring shown by these individuals towards each other help elevate each of them to do their job, and to be committed to the organization as a whole.
In a crux, most of what we refer to as organizational culture are abstract features that are subjective thereby making it hard to decipher. To make change stick, systemic evolution is most effective, Cao et.al (2004). Systemic changes are more difficult to achieve because they involve policy, behavior core level alterations through the discovery of current culture. However, it all trickles down to leadership buy-in, their effort in integrating cultural initiatives. Erin Mayer & Reed Hastings in their book on Netflix culture- No rule, rules; write about practicing radical candor. They state that in the beginning it felt uncomfortable and was hard to maintain a healthy balance between sounding mean versus offering critically specific feedback. They devised a feedback model which is a lucid framework designed to propel the idea of honesty as a large part of the culture.
When looked closely, the bridge between culture & climate is leadership that has been brought alive through systemic changes
Over the years, the meaning of organizational culture has been methodically cut to fit biased perspectives. The onset of the pandemic fueled these discussions even more due to hybrid workspaces, forced changes, moving towards remote work have made culture as a phenomenon goes through an evolution. Leaders, especially in the 21st century are faced with the immense pressure of just holding everything together. Going remote has made organizations shift towards data centricity, accountability & psychological aspects such as employee connection, authenticity which can be slowly achieved through leadership continually working to build healthier workplace climates.
Let’s take a look at the organizational climate which is the experience of employees’ feelings about their company work environment. It takes into account aspects such as employee perception, a feeling of operations in the company culture, the impact of leadership upon the general mood of an organization. In other words, it is an evaluation of the feelings & beliefs
of employees, their overall mood, a sense of belonging & acceptance, and whether leadership is walking their talk. It measures the visible, psychological elements of an organization that are dynamic & easy to decipher. Here’s what makes winning climate over organizational culture comparatively easier to drive change:
1. Has defined elements of quantitative and qualitative traits
This makes organizational climate fairly easy in terms of abstraction when compared to measuring climate that involves aspects like deeper assumptions that may not have standard criteria or may not stand the test of statistical analysis. For example, using climate survey tools, one can measure an organization’s identity using surveys & qualitative aspects using focus groups, etc.
2. It is easier to change
Organizational climate has aspects like role clarity, engagement, the workload that are specific actionable insights to work on. For instance, take the Litwin & Stringer model of organizational climate, which specifies
- Organizational Structure: Perceptions of the extent of organizational constraints, rules, regulations, & perceived psychological contracts.
- Individual Responsibility: Explore intensity of autonomy, decision making, and locus of control.
- Rewards: Feelings related to being confident of adequate and appropriate rewards.
- Risk and Risk Taking: Perceptions of the degree of challenge and risk in the work situation,
- Warmth and Support: Extent to which there is a feeling of general good fellowship and helpfulness prevailing in the work setting.
- Tolerance and Conflict: Explores a degree of tolerance amongst employees, ability to accept differing opinions.
3. Creates a unified perception Since organizational climate ties together the current situation at work, aspects like member identity, employee motivation, conflict management can all be tied into creating organizational identity. As it is built daily through reinforcing behaviors, leaders can focus on building cohesion through purpose using elements under organizational climate.
Organizational culture and climate are often looked at through the same lens or as extensions of each other. While culture is best understood through behaviors norms & expectations that make or break an organization, the climate is a shared psychological perception of the work environment.
Organizational culture is layered with deeply held beliefs & values whereas climate is the ‘perceived impact of a work environment on each worker’s personal well-being. Needless to say, both are pervasive and no one organizational variable impedes the other.
However, culture is disseminated through expectations rather than through internalized values or assumptions which may or may not be expressed or even known to the organization’s members, Glisson, (2015), that can be detrimental to an organization depending on their stage. Organizational climate asserts that individuals in the same work environment agree on their perceptions of the psychological impact of their work environment; their shared perceptions define the organizational climate of that particular work environment, Glisson, (2015). If one is looking for systemic change, it’s best to start with climate and move towards strengthening culture.
For example, to create a climate of well-being offering gym memberships, therapy & child services rarely create a healthy workplace. Most studies (Gallup, see references) conducted to find out the reason behind the failure of these wellbeing initiatives point at leaders failing to emphasize that they value their employees or the general lack of acceptance in the initiative through their actions. It is simply not enough to want or define key values or behaviors or offer schemes. Leaders need to find a way to tie these things back to the company climate for it to become an integral part of company culture. When employees notice such changes being systemically tied, it then becomes pervasive & begins to embody the principles of a company.
Lastly, I believe that culture & climate are integral in promoting effectiveness in organizations. These two dependent variables work together only when leaders & organizations believe in bringing about change & leveraging both certainly & learning through ambiguity in equal measures.
1- Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational culture and leadership (Vol. 2). John Wiley & Sons.
2- Cao, G., Clarke, S. & Lehaney, B. The Need for a Systemic Approach to Change Management—A Case Study. Systemic Practice and Action Research 17, 103–126 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1023/B:SPAA.0000018906.16607.cc
3- Bachmann, P. A. (2011). Organizational Culture Vs. Organizational Climate: Continuing the Integration Task (Doctoral dissertation).
4- A manager’s role in employee wellbeing. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/236249/manager-role-employee.aspx
5- Glisson, C. (2015). The role of organizational culture and climate in innovation and effectiveness. Human service organizations: management, leadership & governance, 39(4), 245-250.
6- Sims, H. P., & LaFollette, W. (1975). An assessment of the Litwin and Stringer organization climate questionnaire. Personnel psychology.
About the Author.
Ms. Shruthi Sriram, is a MA Business & Organizational Psychology and MSc Psychology graduate, HRDM from Steinbeis-Hochschule, Berlin and Christ University, Bangalore. She strongly believes in creating healthier, employee-centric workplaces using effective psychology driven intervention. She has Created culture play books, psychometric tests, and better people systems to boost the work environment at a variety of tech-startups. Co-created employee engagement platform for remote and distributed teams for Peoplebox. Created and led training programs on organizational development, and mental health at the workplace.