MEMBER VS. ALIEN
Have you ever noticed how people react to foreign visitors;
whether an exchange student or a visiting professional? The
stranger may be welcomed, but may never be accepted unless that
person can adapt to the norms of their new environment. If they
do not, the members will shun the stranger and reject the alien
from their culture. The same is true in business. If the new
employee, consultant or visitor cannot adapt to the corporate
culture, their chances for success are slight. The members of
the culture will reject the person outright and will work against
The reason for this phenomenon is because people tend to prefer
conformity in their culture. Conformity represents a harmonious
environment where the behavior and actions are predictable. Most
people have a deeply rooted desire for a sense of order and
stability in their lives, which is what conformity provides. A
stable environment promotes self-confidence in the members of the
culture and allows them to concentrate on their work.
Corporate culture deals with how we see ourselves and
others. We act on our perceptions, not necessarily what occurs
in reality. The culture greatly influences our perceptions and
behavior. For example, our values and beliefs may distort what
happens in fact. Gossip, propaganda, and a sensational press,
deals with what people want to hear, not necessarily what happens
Before we can alter the culture, we must first understand
it. Culture is defined as the characteristics of the members of
a civilization. Ultimately, culture defines the quality of life
for a group of people.
Culture doesn’t appear suddenly, it evolves over time as
people grow and learn. The older the heritage, the more
ingrained the culture is in its members.
There are essentially three parts to any culture: Customs,
Religion and Society. Each influences the others.
Webster defines custom as a “long-established practice
considered as unwritten law.” Custom dictates the expected
manner of conduct for the culture. It prescribes the etiquette
to be observed in dress, speech, courtesy and politics
(gamesmanship). Several companies, most notably IBM, have long
understood the power of customs. These norms are established to
project a particular image the company wishes to convey.
Religion is the philosophy of life and the basis for our
values. It influences our judgement in terms of what is ethical
and what is not. Although uniform morality sounds attractive to
executives, it can be quite dangerous if unethical practices are
allowed to creep into the moral fiber of the company.
Society defines our interpersonal relationships. This
includes how we elect to govern and live our lives. Society
defines the class structure in an organization, from Chairman of
the Board to the hourly worker. It defines government, laws and
institutions which must be observed by its members. More often
than not, the society is “dictated” by management as opposed to
“democratically” selected by the workers.
Obviously, it is people, first and foremost, that influence
any culture. In terms of corporate culture, the only external
factor influencing the enterprise is the “resident culture,”
which is the culture at any particular geographical location. The
resident culture refers to the local customs, religion and
society observed in our personal lives, outside of the workplace. The
resident culture and corporate culture may differ considerably
in some areas but are normally compatible.