In this lesson, you will learn the difference between a strong organizational culture and a weak organizational culture. You will also learn how these different types of culture affect the members of an organization.
Strong vs. Weak Organizational Cultures
Kurt counts cartons of ketchup.
Kurt is in charge of quality control at Kelly’s Ketchup Factory, and his job is to make sure every ketchup bottle is full, every label is straight, every cap is on tight and every carton is full before he ships them to his customers. Myrnie mixes mustard. She works for Murray’s Mustard Company, and her job is to combine the exact amounts of vinegar, water, spices and mustard seed to make every batch of Murray’s Mustard the best it can be.
These two companies are similar in many ways. Both have been making an American condiment for a long time. Both companies have cultures with similar core values.
They both want to make the best product possible, and make it affordable for the average consumer. There is a big difference in the strength of cultures of these two companies, however. Let’s find out the differences between the strong organizational culture of Kelly’s Ketchup and the weak organizational culture of Murray’s Mustard, and how these differences affect the day-to-day operations of the employees of these two companies.
What Is Organizational Culture?
First, let’s define organizational culture.
Every organization has a unique culture – the same way every person has a unique personality. Organizational culture is a system of shared assumptions, values and beliefs that governs how people behave in organizations. The culture of an organization is determined by the values placed on a set of characteristics, such as risk orientation and attention to detail.
If there is a high level of agreement and commitment among the members of an organization on the importance of these values, their organization has a strong culture. An organization in which members do not agree with the core values or are not committed to the core values has a weak culture.
Strong Organizational Culture
The president of Kelly’s Ketchup believes that it is very important that every bottle of ketchup that leaves his plant is made exactly the same way. He believes that producing a consistently high-quality product is very important to the consumers who buy his ketchup.
He acts as a role model for a high level of consistency by performing his job with great precision.The president shares this belief with everyone who works at Kelly’s Ketchup and provides ways for employees to measure their success at meeting this high standard. The workers on the production line are paid bonuses for every batch of ketchup they produce without a defect. Attention to detail is one of the core values of the culture at Kelly’s Ketchup, and by aligning the employees’ values to his, the president has created a very strong culture of production accuracy at Kelly’s Ketchup.This strong culture exists because almost everyone who works for Kelly’s Ketchup agrees with the importance of producing a consistently high-quality product. Every employee knows that it is part of their job to make sure that every bottle of ketchup they produce will look and taste exactly the same.
Any worker can stop the production line for any reason, anytime they notice something is wrong with the product.Shared values that are widely held by the employees provide a strong culture at Kelly’s Ketchup. This strong culture acts like a strong wind that guides all the members of this organization along a similar path to reach the common goals of the organization. Like the wind that pushes a sail, the strong culture is invisible, but very powerful.
Weak Organizational Culture
Murray’s Mustard also has a core value of attention to detail. Like Kelly’s Ketchup, the president of Murray’s Mustard also believes in the importance of making a consistently high-quality product. Unlike Kelly’s Ketchup, the president of Murray’s Mustard has only explained the importance of this attention to detail with a few of his vice presidents.The rest of the members of the organization have no idea that it is important for them to strive towards creating a consistent product. Since the weak culture of Murray’s Mustard provides very little guidance, employees on the mustard production line are not always sure what they should do if they notice a mustard jar that is half full or missing a label.Myrnie once noticed that the vinegar she was using was past its expiration date and had an unusually strong odor.
Myrnie reported this to her supervisor, who filled out a report and sent it to the purchasing department to notify them that they had purchased outdated vinegar. Myrnie used the old vinegar in her batch of mustard and stopped paying attention to expiration dates on the ingredients she used.Companies with weak cultures provide vague and inconsistent guidelines for the behavior of their employees. Instead of knowing what to do by following the boundaries set by the culture, members of organizations with weak cultures use a set of formal written rules that are sometimes inconsistent with the company’s goals.
Instead of instinctually knowing the right thing to do when faced with a decision, members of organizations must stop and check the rules of the organization to see if they are doing the right thing.
Strong Cultures vs. Weak Cultures
A strong organizational culture works like a strong social glue, which bonds members of an organization together through shared goals. This builds loyalty and commitment among the group and makes them less likely to leave their tight-knit organization.Although organizations with strong cultures experience less turnover, it doesn’t mean that a strong culture is better than a weak culture in every instance. A strong culture is difficult to change in an organization and can stifle innovation, because members of the organization are used to doing their jobs exactly the same way.Weak cultures can be advantageous for organizations that benefit from independent thought and innovation by their members.
In an unstable environment, organizations with weak cultures often function better than organizations with strong cultures, because they are much more adaptable to change. In order for an organization to succeed, the culture of that organization must fit the environment in which it operates.
Let’s review. The culture of an organization can be weak or strong. In organizations with strong cultures, the majority of the members are committed to the core values of the organization.
This shared sense of commitment acts like a social glue, which bonds members of the organization together, provides guidelines for their behavior and makes them less likely to leave the group.In organizations with weak cultures, the majority of the members are not aware of the core values of the organization and do not have the guidelines that a strong culture provides to guide their decisions. Instead of instinctually knowing what to do when faced with decisions, members of organizations with weak cultures must follow a set of sometimes vague and inconsistent written rules.
Although a strong culture can be an asset to an organization, it is not always the type of culture that functions best. Weak cultures can be advantageous to organizations that operate in unstable environments, because they are more adaptable to changing conditions.
At the conclusion of this lesson, you’ll be able to:
- Differentiate between strong organizational cultures and weak organizational cultures
- Describe some advantages and disadvantages of each type of organizational culture
- Explain scenarios under which each type of culture would be the most beneficial