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5.2 Organizational Culture

Organizations that scored high on the Excellence Study indicators had a culture that was participative rather than authoritarian. An organization’s formal structure can often predict how much participation occurs in making decisions. Organizations that have very centralized and formal structures keep the decision-making function in the hands of a few top managers. Such hierarchical structures often have difficulty dealing with dynamic external environments, because their insulated structures are slower to respond and depend on few voices for making decisions. Robbins argued that centralization is the most detrimental factor impeding organizational effectiveness.Robbins (1990). As L. Grunig summarized, decentralization “has the advantages of reducing the probability of information overload, providing more voices in the decision-making process, responding rapidly to new information, instilling motivation, and helping train managers to make good decisions.”Grunig (1992b), p. 469. Mintzberg identified two decentralization strategies to help organizations deal with dynamic environments: vertical and horizontal.Mintzberg (1980), pp. 322–341. Vertical decentralizationThe delegation of formal decision-making power downward through the chain of command so that the person closest to the situation can make the appropriate decision. is delegating formal decision-making power downward through the chain of command, so that the person closest to the situation can make the appropriate decision. Horizontal decentralizationThe flow of decision-making power informally to people in the operating core and the technostructure, and to support staff. occurs when decision-making power flows informally to people in operating core (people who directly produce the goods and services), technostructure (staff who design, maintain, and adjust work flow processes and structure), and support staff (people who provide indirect support to the rest of the organization: human resources, public relations, legal counsel).

To allow for participative cultures, organizations need to be relatively decentralized because organizational culture can actively shape an organization’s management style and employees’ day-to-day behaviors.Waters and Bird (1987), pp. 15–22. Culture has been defined in the organizational behavior literature as the set of values, ideologies, and cognitions that are shared and understood through social interaction and that determine appropriate behavior. Some organizations have strong (cohesive) cultures, whereas others can be relatively weak (ambiguous). Weak cultures have been tied to increases in political behavior because the values establishing expected behavior are not clearly understood.

For excellent public relations, the values that encourage participative decision making need to be present. The IABC study found the following variables described participative cultures: people feeling part of the team, working together, management caring about employees, everyone treated as equals, participation in decisions, management sharing power and responsibility, and the promotion of teamwork.Sriramesh, Grunig, and Buffington (1992), pp. 577–596). Organizations with authoritative cultures often correlated with centralized decision making and include such variables as rigid control by management, competition between departments, influence (who you know being more important than what you know), decisions based on authority, and fear of senior management. Not surprisingly, the Excellence Study found greater job satisfaction within participative cultures. More importantly, the organizations with participative cultures were also more likely to practice public relations that used two-way communication and research and that was more effective in helping the organization meets its goals and objectives.

Another important predictor of quality cultures in an organization is the treatment of women and employees from culturally diverse backgrounds. As the Excellence Study summarized, employees from diverse backgrounds provide a better picture of the reality outside the organization. Senior managers tend to be isolated from outside factors when they surround themselves with people just like them. Weick recommended requisite variety for senior management, which refers to the concept of striving to have inclusiveness in the management team that reflects outside publics.Weick (1969). Without variety among employees and leaders, an organization can get out of touch with the diversity of its stakeholders. This isolation can lead to awkward interactions and misunderstandings with these publics. Communication can be a difficult endeavor and requires shared experiences to eliminate misinterpretation. Diversity begins within the organization that demonstrates respect for all individuals. This respect for all individuals then extends to all stakeholders and becomes an essential condition for establishing mutually satisfactory relationships.