For a coherent discussion of culture to take place, it is important to define the term in its intended context. Social psychologist Goodwin Watson referred to ‘culture’ as “the total way of life characteristic of a somewhat homogeneous society of human beings,” differentiating its use in social science from the vernacular “refinement of taste in intellectual and aesthetic realms.”
Watson also quotes anthropologist Ralph Linton’s definition of ‘culture’ as “the configuration of learned behavior whose component elements are shared and transmitted by the members of a particular society.”
Key components of each definition will help us translate the concept of culture from a discussion of at-large society to one of a corporate environment.
Corporate culture is tremendously important; it heavily influences all interactions with the business and its representatives. Therefore, before detailing how to assess a company’s culture, we should explore why you may want to undertake a detailed analysis. The reasons to do so will depend on your perspective – “on the inside” (internal) or “outside, looking in” (external).
A party internal to the company (manager, director, etc.) may want to investigate:
A composite of the Watson and Linton definitions of culture, quoted in the opening, will be used to derive a functional definition of ‘corporate culture’ for purposes of this analysis. Key components of each definition and “translations” that aid their application to a company’s assessment are given below.
From Watson’s definition:
To formulate the analysis, we will use the framework created by Clark Wissler, another anthropologist quoted by Watson. Wissler outlined “nine headings under which the facts of culture may be compiled.” Presented below, under Wissler’s headings and subheadings, is a series of questions to ask about the company of interest in order to translate the terminology into terms more relevant to the context of corporate culture.
As you answer these questions, an image of the company will begin to form. The purpose of this presentation is not to suggest how you should feel about the answers to these questions; it is up to you to decide what is good or bad, right or wrong about what you discover during this process.
Corporate Culture in Wissler’s Framework
a) Food habits
a) Real and personal
a) Political forms
The framework, and the questions within it, can be expanded beyond its current presentation or modified to best suit your purposes. A framework is useful only if it is easily understood by the user and applicable to the situation at hand. Identifying a problem is the first step toward a solution; aiding problem identification and providing decision support are the goals of the framework presentation.
Watson also discusses subcultures of society that may serve to further elucidate the cultural dynamics of businesses. Though the discussions of subcultures are, again, couched in the terminology of society at large, some are directly applicable to corporate culture, while others have relevant analogs. These subcultures will, however, have to wait for a future installment of “The Third Degree” to be revealed.
As always, feel free to reach out to JayWink for further discussion or guidance.
[Link] Watson, Goodwin. Social Psychology: Issues and Insights; J.B. Lippincott Company, 1966.
[Link] Linton, Ralph. The Cultural Background of Personality; Appleton-Century, 1945.
[Link] Wissler, Clark. Man and Culture; Crowell, 1923.
Jody W. Phelps, MSc, PMP®, MBA
JayWink Solutions, LLC
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