Climate and Culture for Innovation

05/06/2020 0 By indiafreenotes

The challenge of improving organizational effectiveness through innovation has played a central role in organizational research and practice for well over a century. The early improvement efforts, firmly rooted in the industrial revolution and best represented by Frederick Taylor’s (1911) “scientific management,” were based on the top down assumption that organizational effectiveness is a function of individual work behaviors being carefully specified, explicitly linked, and tightly controlled by organizational leaders to improve productivity and efficiency. Although subsequent empirical studies and increasingly complex views of work behavior and performance challenged many of these early assumptions, Lisbeth Schorr (1997) noted almost a century later that the underlying philosophy of these mechanistic models was still evident in the managerial approaches taken in many human service organizations: “We are so eager, as a body politic, to eliminate the possibility that public servants will do anything wrong that we make it virtually impossible for them to do anything right”.

Current empirically based models of organizational innovation and effectiveness transcend the mechanistic models of a century ago and many emphasize that innovation and effectiveness are as much about creating the appropriate organizational social context as about implementing the latest technology. The idea that an organization’s social context is associated with innovation and effectiveness is accepted by many organizational leaders and two distinct dimensions of social context—organizational culture and climate—are mentioned often as the key factors that determine an organization’s performance in a wide range of areas. Researchers, practitioners and the news media have used the terms to explain organizational performance in, for example, science (e.g. NASA), religion (e.g. Catholic Church), information technology (e.g. Google), athletics (e.g. NFL), healthcare (e.g. Veterans Administration), manufacturing (e.g. GM), media (e.g. BBC), finance (e.g. J P Morgan Chase), higher education (e.g. Penn State), and energy production (e.g. BP). Although the terms, culture and climate, are widely used to explain organizational performance in these and many other examples, the terms are often used vaguely and even inappropriately by administrators, researchers, and the media. There is confusion regarding the precise meanings of the terms and their explicit effects on what organizations do. These are important issues for those interested in the performance of human service organizations who believe improving effectiveness depends on a better understanding of organizational culture and climate.

First, the distinct histories of the two constructs underscore different approaches to understanding the nature and influence of an organization’s social context. Organizational climate appeared first by several decades in the 1930s and is associated with Kurt Lewin (1939), who studied how the social climate engendered by a work group’s leader affected the behavior of group members. He used the term, climate, to capture the psychological impact of the work environment on employees’ sense of well-being, motivation, behavior, and performance. Studies of organizational culture, defined as the shared behavioral norms, values, and expectations within an organization, emerged decades later in the 1970. The term, organizational culture, borrowed heavily from sociological and anthropological explanations of social culture in research focused on communities, indigenous groups and other socially defined collectives. Inexplicably, organizational culture and organizational climate began to be used interchangeably by some writers in the 1990’s but a comprehensive thematic analysis of the literature in the latter part of that decade confirmed a distinction between culture and climate that continues among many researchers.

The Differences between Organizational Culture and Climate

My own view after studying culture and climate in human services for three decades is that they differ in a number of ways. First, organizational culture is best represented by the behavioral norms and expectations that characterize a work environment. These norms and expectations direct the way employees in a particular work environment approach their work, specify priorities, and shape the way work is done. Proficient organizational cultures, for examples, expect service providers to be up to date on state-of-the-art practices and to place positive client outcomes as a top priority. New members of an organizational unit are acculturated in these expectations and norms through social processes such as modeling, reinforcement, and sanctions. Many writers emphasize that organizational culture is a layered construct consisting of deeply held assumptions and values which translate into normative expectations and behavior. However, several studies suggest organizational culture is transmitted more through behavioral norms and expectations than through internalized values or assumptions which may or may not be expressed or even known to the organization’s members.

Organizational climate, on the other hand, is created by employees’ shared perceptions of the psychological impact of their work environment on their own personal well-being and functioning. The perceptions that are shared by employees in a given work environment represent an agreement in their personal appraisals of the meaning and significance of their work. The perceived impact of a work environment on each individual worker’s personal well-being has been labeled psychological climate to distinguish it from organizational climate. When individuals in the same work environment agree on their perceptions of the psychological impact of their work environment, their shared perceptions define the organizational climate of that particular work environment. For example, when the individual service providers in a given human service organizational unit agree that they experience their work environment as highly stressful, the organizational climate is described as stressful.

Guided by these definitions, the Organizational Social Context (OSC) measure was developed to assess the organizational cultures and climates of mental health and social service organizations using information provided by frontline direct service providers (Glisson, Green & Williams, 2012; Glisson, Landsverk et al, 2008). The OSC has been used in scores of studies, including both randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and nationwide surveys, and United States national norms are available for child welfare and mental health settings, respectively. The national norms are important because they permit organizational culture and climate profiles for a specific organization to be compared to a representative nationwide sample of organizations that provide similar services.

Dimensions of Organizational Culture

The three dimensions of culture assessed by the OSC are proficiency, rigidity and resistance. Service providers in proficient organizational cultures report that they are expected to be responsive to the unique needs of the clients they serve and have up-to-date knowledge and practice skills. Service providers in rigid organizational cultures report that they are expected to closely follow a host of bureaucratic rules and regulations in completing their work and have minimal discretion in work related decision-making. Service providers in resistant cultures are expected to suppress change or innovation in their work environment through either active or passive strategies that maintain the status quo. Our studies confirm that organizations with the best outcomes for clients, that are most likely to use evidence based practices (EBPs), that have the highest service quality, and that sustain innovative programs are those with high levels of proficiency and low levels of resistance and rigidity.

Dimensions of Organizational Climate

The three dimensions of climate assessed by the OSC are engagement, functionality and stress. In engaged organizational climates, service providers perceive their work related accomplishments as personally meaningful and report that they are personally involved in their work with clients. In functional climates, service providers perceive that they receive the levels of support and cooperation from coworkers and administrators that they need to do their job and have a clear understanding of their roles within the organization and how they contribute to its success. In stressful climates, service providers report high levels of role overload, role conflict, and emotional exhaustion. Our studies confirm that organizations with the best service outcomes, lowest employee turnover, best clinician attitudes toward EBPs, and highest service quality are those with higher levels of engagement and functionality and lower levels of stress.