Organizational Culture

Do you have any ideas about how airlines might assess this ‘cultural fit’ factor better?

The following are excerpts from Human Factors studies at ERAU, DB:

“In an environment where the culture is strong, people may tend to go along to get along creating a phenomenon known as [group think]. Group think was described by Irving Janis as a quick and easy way to refer to a mode of thinking that people engage when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in group, when members’ striving for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternatives of action.”

What this means is that people will often go along even if they disagree with the issue. This environment can lead to a reduction in innovative thinking. Edgar Schein defines culture as

‘the residue of success’

within an organization. Schein believes culture is the most difficult organizational attribute to change. It can outlast the company’s products or services, people, and all other physical attributes of the organization. Schein’s model describes three cognitive levels of organizational culture.

The first level is the outward appearances of the organization, buildings, offices, furniture, dress codes, and in visible personal interactions. This level is what an outside observer might notice.

The second level gets into the professed culture as depicted by slogans, mission statements, values statements and other attitudes expressed within the organization. To get information on this level, employees are generally interviewed or surveyed to gather their attitudes and opinions.

The third and deepest level in Schein’s model is where the tacit assumptions are found. Cultural elements at this level are often unseen and not cognitively identified in everyday interactions among members of the organization. Some of these elements of culture are often not discussed and may consist of many ‘unspoken rules’ existing without the conscious knowledge of the membership. People who have been around the organization long enough become acclimated to them and therefore reinforce them by their actions and other behavior. Because of its silent or invisible nature, these underlying and driving elements culture at this level are often missed by those trying to study the organization.

The value of understanding Schein’s model is gaining an understanding of conflicting organizational behaviors. A company can profess at the second level that it values openness about safety and yet can have an unspoken rule about not being the bearer of bad news because someone will usually get in trouble. This conflict may not be apparent to a casual observer of the organization or even to a new employee. You may find yourself moving into a management position in a new organization. During your indoctrination you were told about how the company values openness for safety. So, you gain a certain expectation that your subordinates will be willing to mention anything that is safely related to you. However, you soon noticed that this was not the case. You would notice things and yet no one brought them to your attention. You have run up against the unspoken rule of not being the bearer of bad news. You are a victim of the conflict between the stated values and culture at the second level and the existing culture at the third level.

Successful corporations strive to maintain their culture by design. They continually reinforce their values and culture by training and reinforcing communication. Recognition and reward systems are designed to continually reinforce the company’s values and culture. Human resource policies and procedures are consistent with the stated values. Hiring processes are focused on finding people who will make a good “fit” into the culture and will embrace and support the stated values. What may be an ideal employee for one organization may not be successful in another. Corporate cultures that are not carefully developed and maintained can erode into one that is negative and ultimately detrimental to the overall success of the organization. When an employee sees a contradiction between the stated values and the company’s actions, confusion and frustration on the part of the employee are often the result. It is crucial that the actions of the organization be consistent with its stated values. A strong culture exists when employees act in accordance with the company values on their own because of their beliefs and alignment with those values. Little external motivation is needed to govern employee actions. A weak culture exists when there is little alignment between employees and the company’s values. In this case, control is exercised through bureaucratic means, extensive rules and procedures, and constant oversight by management.”

Self: The primary focus is the organization which bears responsibility for performance lapses in the standards. I think greater emphasis should be laid on organizational culture rather than crew members.  Motivation should be toward a more introspective, self-critical, and reflective outlook on lapses. If we are discussing cabin crew, then the argument is more valid.

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