According to Keesing (1958), culture refers to the totality of man’s learned experience which is socially transmitted or more briefly, behaviours acquired through social learning- Thus, in its broadest sense, it includes cultivated behaviour, customs, actions, ideas and man-made objects like artifacts.
Culture is a symbolic integration of individual behaviour; in a large system. Taylor (1959) defines culture as the complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, art, law, custom and any other capability and habits acquired by man as a member of the society.
Culture changes slowly and while doing so; it ensures stability and security to society. It usually resists change and may interfere with rational production and efficiency.
The concept of culture is applicable to organizations since organizations are social systems operating within the larger cultural context. Besides, people/members working in organizations have their own beliefs, values, customs, knowledge, preferences and norms.
When these personal characteristics interact with the organization as a social system, a unique culture evolves in it which influences organizational members.
The literature in the field of organizational culture reveals that there is no single widely accepted definition of the concept. Some definitions are very broad while others are very specific.
Deal and Kennedy (1982) define organizational culture as the way we do things around here. This is an extremely broad definition. On the other hand, there are several specific definitions of organizational culture which are as follows:
According to Campbell, Dunnette, Lawler and Weick (1970), organizational culture is concerned with how employees perceive the six basic characteristics – individual, autonomy, structure, reward, consideration and conflict.
Ouchi (1981) defines it as a set of symbols, ceremonies and myths that communicate the underlying values and beliefs of that organization to its employees.
Schein (1985) defines it as the pattern of basic assumptions that a given group has invented, discovered or developed in learning to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration.
According to Peters and Waterman (1982), organizational culture is a dominant and coherent set of shared values conveyed by such symbolic means as stories, myths, legends, slogans, anecdotes and fairy tales
An analysis of these definitions reveals the following features of organizational culture:
i. It represents a common perception shared by the organizational members.
ii. Each organization has a unique and distinct culture.
iii. The cultural characteristics of an organization are relatively enduring over-time and relatively static in their propensity to change (Forehand and Glimer, 1964).
iv. The common aspect in all the preceding definitions is that of a set of values held by organizational members. These values define what is good, acceptable and desirable and what is bad, unacceptable and undesirable. Some of the examples of values in education are individual attention, treating teachers as the most important asset of an institution or penalizing students and/or teachers for making a mistake.
v. The values are very often taken for granted and are not found in written form.
Organizational culture conveys some important assumptions und norms governing values, attitudes and goals of the organizational members. It is a powerful influence on the organizational members mainly because it is not explicitly stated but is an implicit part of employees’ values and beliefs.
The word ‘culture’ has its etymological root in the idea of ‘cultivation’ i.e., the process of tilling and developing land and hence this ‘developmental process’ differs from institution to institution. Besides, each society has its own macro-level organizational culture.
For instance, the American work culture emphasizes competitive individualism whereas the Japanese work culture emphasizes team work and life-long commitment. In the Indian context, the traditional culture focused on ‘Nishkam Karma’ while in the urban, metropolitan areas; we see an increasing influence of materialism and individualism.
Organizational culture is influenced by the external environment as well as the interaction between an organization and the external environment. It is also a function of the nature of work and the mission and the goals of an organization.