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Variations on a Theme: Organizational Culture vs. Employee Subculture

My good friend, Julian Stodd, is in the throes of research and reflection on organizational trust. This is a topic that fascinates me so I have been following his studies (admittedly a bit erratically of late due to work constraints). Today I read his blog and felt the need to respond. The link to his blog is here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/erosion-rebuilding-culture-julian-stodd?trk=v-feed&lipi=urn%3Ali%3Apage%3Ad_flagship3_feed%3BSRyqejjbKsilo4WArCchVw%3D%3D

 

My comment at the bottom of his blog page is copied here for convenience. I would welcome discussion on this because I'm still in the formative stages of my stance on this topic.

 

I have some thoughts you may or may not agree with. I wonder about the dichotomy you're describing in this piece. You talk about the aspirations of the organization and how it frames, but doesn't create, culture. You also talk about how each individual within the organization co-creates the "real" culture (my choice of words, not yours). The definition of culture as you use it seems to be "the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization (Merriam-Webster Online: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/culture).

 

I would argue that organizational culture is, by definition, truly culture and not just a framework. This culture incorporates the stated values, aspirations and goals of the organization.  What I think you are describing is the (potentially negative) effect of organizational culture on employee subcultures. Where organizational culture is meant to be a reflection of the organization as a whole, employee subculture is the day-to-day experience of individuals and groups with that larger organization.

 

The breakdown of trust between the two begins if the organization as a whole doesn't follow through on its stated values, or if it undermines the subcultures that exist as a part of the day-to-day workings of individuals and groups. This creates tension and places the employee subcultures in a difficult place—do they follow the organizational values or do they follow their own co-created values that allow them to function effectively? Do they ignore directives that run counter to their subculture that they perceive as also running counter to the stated organizational values? Do they ignore or follow directives that clearly align with the organization’s culture but run counter to their own? Where does the influence of formal organizational culture end and the collegiality of informal employee subculture begin?

 

I do agree that social leaders must step in to help both employees and the larger organization navigate these rough and potentially treacherous waters by becoming models of change management. Large and very established organizations will not easily relinquish overarching influence over the culture, so social leaders need to show the value of employee subcultures to the internal workings of the organization. They also need to encourage the organization to reevaluate its aspirations and either realign itself with its original culture or work toward implementation of a new set of values.

 

Social leaders must also work with their fellow employees to reinforce the subcultures as functional groups, and to affirm their intrinsic worth. It is not unreasonable to expect subcultures to periodically reevaluate their stance on corporate values and goals, and social leaders need to encourage a certain amount of realignment with the organization’s culture where possible. It should be assumed that most employees accepted their jobs because they felt a certain amount of sympathy with the organization’s stated values and revisiting this from time-to-time should be seen as a normal activity.

 

I believe that organizational culture, like employee subcultures, can be co-created if the parties involved remain open to dialogue and what works and what doesn't.

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