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Home » What Is Organizational Tradition? And Why Ought to We Care?

What Is Organizational Tradition? And Why Ought to We Care?


If you wish to provoke a vigorous debate, begin a dialog on organizational tradition. Whereas there may be common settlement that (1) it exists, and (2) that it performs an important position in shaping habits in organizations, there may be little consensus on what organizational tradition really is, by no means thoughts the way it influences habits and whether or not it’s one thing leaders can change.

This can be a drawback, as a result of with out a cheap definition (or definitions) of tradition, we can’t hope to grasp its connections to different key components of the group, akin to construction and incentive programs. Nor can we develop good approaches to analyzing, preserving and reworking cultures. If we will outline what organizational tradition is, it provides us a deal with on methods to diagnose issues and even to design and develop higher cultures.

Starting Might 1, 2013, I facilitated a dialogue round this query on LinkedIn. The greater than 300 responses included wealthy and diverse views and opinions on organizational tradition, its that means and significance. I embrace a number of distinctive views beneath, illustrated by direct quotes from the LinkedIn dialogue thread — after which I supply my very own synthesis of those views. (There typically have been a number of postings with comparable themes, so these are merely early choices; sadly it was not doable to acknowledge everybody who made useful contributions.)

“Tradition is how organizations ‘do issues’.” — Robbie Katanga

Tradition is constant, observable patterns of habits in organizations. Aristotle stated, “We’re what we repeatedly do.” This view elevates repeated habits or habits because the core of tradition and deemphasizes what folks really feel, assume or imagine. It additionally focuses our consideration on the forces that form habits in organizations, and so highlights an vital query: are all these forces (together with construction, processes, and incentives) “tradition” or is tradition merely the behavioral outputs?

“Largely, tradition is a product of compensation.” — Alec Haverstick

Tradition is powerfully formed by incentives. The perfect predictor of what folks will do is what they’re incentivized to do. By incentives, we imply right here the complete set of incentives — financial rewards, non-monetary rewards akin to standing, recognition and development, and sanctions — to which members of the group are topic. However the place do incentives come from? As with the earlier definition, there are potential chicken-and-egg points. Are patterns of habits the product of incentives, or have incentives been formed in basic methods by beliefs and values that underpin the tradition?

“Organizational tradition defines a collectively shared description of a company from inside.” — Bruce Perron

Tradition is a strategy of “sense-making” in organizations. Sense-making has been outlined as “a collaborative course of of making shared consciousness and understanding out of various people’ views and diverse pursuits.” Word that this strikes the definition of tradition past patterns of habits into the realm of jointly-held beliefs and interpretations about “what’s.” It says {that a} essential goal of tradition is to assist orient its members to “actuality” in ways in which present a foundation for alignment of goal and shared motion.

“Organizational tradition is the sum of values and rituals which function ‘glue’ to combine the members of the group.” — Richard Perrin

Tradition is a service of that means. Cultures present not solely a shared view of “what’s” but in addition of “why is.” On this view, tradition is about “the story” through which folks within the group are embedded, and the values and rituals that reinforce that narrative. It additionally focuses consideration on the significance of symbols and the necessity to perceive them — together with the idiosyncratic languages utilized in organizations — with a view to perceive tradition.

“Organizational tradition is civilization within the office.” — Alan Adler

Tradition is a social management system. Right here the main focus is the position of tradition in selling and reinforcing “proper” pondering and behaving, and sanctioning “mistaken” pondering and behaving. Key on this definition of tradition is the thought of behavioral “norms” that should be upheld, and related social sanctions which might be imposed on those that don’t “keep inside the strains.” This view additionally focuses consideration on how the evolution of the group formed the tradition. That’s, how have the prevailing norms promoted the survival of the group previously? Word: implicit on this evolutionary view is the concept that established cultures can grow to be impediments to survival when there are substantial environmental adjustments.

“Tradition is the group’s immune system.” — Michael Watkins

Tradition is a type of safety that has developed from situational pressures. It prevents “mistaken pondering” and “mistaken folks” from coming into the group within the first place. It says that organizational tradition features very similar to the human immune system in stopping viruses and micro organism from taking maintain and damaging the physique. The issue, after all, is that organizational immune programs can also assault brokers of wanted change, and this has vital implications for on-boarding and integrating folks into organizations.

Within the dialogue, there have been additionally some vital observations pushing in opposition to the view of tradition as one thing that it’s unitary and static, and towards a view that cultures are a number of, overlapping, and dynamic.

“Organizational tradition [is shaped by] the principle tradition of the society we stay in, albeit with higher emphasis on explicit components of it.” — Elizabeth Skringar

Organizational tradition is formed by and overlaps with different cultures — particularly the broader tradition of the societies through which it operates. This commentary highlights the challenges that world organizations face in establishing and sustaining a unified tradition when working within the context of a number of nationwide, regional and native cultures. How ought to leaders strike the correct stability between selling “one tradition” within the group, whereas nonetheless permitting for influences of native cultures?

“It over simplifies the state of affairs in massive organizations to imagine there is just one tradition… and it’s dangerous for brand spanking new leaders to disregard the sub-cultures.” — Rolf Winkler

The cultures of organizations are by no means monolithic. There are numerous components that drive inner variations within the tradition of enterprise features (e.g. finance vs. advertising) and models (e.g. a fast-moving shopper merchandise division vs. a prescription drugs division of a diversified agency). An organization’s historical past of acquisition additionally figures importantly in defining its tradition and sub-cultures. Relying on how acquisition and integration are managed, the legacy cultures of acquired models can persist for surprisingly lengthy intervals of time.

“A company [is] a residing tradition… that may adapt to the fact as quick as doable.” — Abdi Osman Jama

Lastly, cultures are dynamic. They shift, incrementally and always, in response to exterior and inner adjustments. So, making an attempt to evaluate organizational tradition is difficult by the fact that you’re making an attempt to hit a transferring goal. Nevertheless it additionally opens the likelihood that tradition change may be managed as a steady course of reasonably than by way of large shifts (typically in response to crises). Likewise, it highlights the concept that a secure “vacation spot” might by no means — certainly ought to by no means — be reached. The tradition of the group ought to at all times be studying and creating.

These views present the sort of holistic, nuanced view of organizational tradition that’s wanted by leaders with a view to really perceive their organizations — and to have any hope of fixing them for the higher.


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