Organizational culture

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Organizational culture encompasses an organization’s traditions, values, norms, attitudes and behaviour, in particular as influences on its internal and external interactions


Organizational culture encompassing an organization’s basic assumptions,values, norms, attitudes and behaviour, in particular as influences on its internal and external interactions. The organizational culture is directly influenced by leadership. A knowledge sharing culture is essential for successfully implementing knowledge management. The IAEA has developed tools and methodologies to assess the level of a knowledge sharing culture.


Fig 1. Primary KM elements and organizational context

Organizational culture is similar to the personality and character of an individual. It reflects the visions, values and beliefs of organizations and has a significant impact on the success of knowledge management programmes — if it is not based on qualities such as trust and openness, then knowledge management initiatives are unlikely to succeed.

When thinking about organizational culture, it is necessary to understand that this goes beyond individual and is shaped by the social culture in which the organization resides. Thus, a multinational organization’s culture may vary somewhat from country to country. Similarly, while it shapes them, organizational culture does not completely define the cultures of different business units or functional units. Furthermore, culture is dynamic. It changes during the life of an organization as it moves from start-up to maturity and it changes over time (although not always in ways leaders understand or can affect), much as our societal culture does. Before a cultural aspect such as knowledge sharing can be affected, an organization’s current culture must be understood. An organization’s culture, or ‘the way it conducts its business’ is strongly influenced by its executive management, and the standards the executive demonstrate and demand will shape business culture. Culture varies considerably between organizations. Culture is neither good nor bad, but may foster values and behavior that support or impede certain organizational objectives.

Knowledge sharing

Many people see knowledge as power, fearing that if they share their knowledge they will lose their importance and marketability. Organizations can try to overcome this deep seated concern by providing incentives to workers to share their knowledge. However, incentives are not enough to overcome cultures that reward and promote workers who hoard knowledge or that foster competition among employees or groups that should be complementary. Trust plays an important role in the sharing and use of knowledge. If people believe they will benefit from sharing their knowledge — either directly or indirectly — they are more likely to share. The use to which people put the knowledge of others often depends on whether they know and trust the source of the knowledge. Knowledge sharing is an essential prerequisite for a comprehensive safety culture In knowledge management, an organization’s culture is extremely important – if it is not based on qualities such as trust and openness, then knowledge management initiatives are unlikely to succeed. There are increasing interdependencies between jobs and the information overload resulting from interconnectivity and rapid change, mean that many people have pieces of solutions and no one knows it all. Therefore, cultures which inhibit knowledge-sharing are widely considered to be significant barriers to creating and leveraging knowledge assets. Foster a knowledge-sharing culture is thus a necessary prerequisite for organizations that believe that it is a significant way to differentiate themselves In the nuclear industry, organisational culture is immediately associated with safety culture. The term was adopted by the IAEA in recognition of the fact that nuclear safety is heavily dependent on the actions and therefore, the thoughts of people within the organisation.

Importance of leadership

The organization's culture develops in a large part from its leadership while the culture of an organization can also affect the leadership development.

Tools for assessing organizational culture

In knowledge management, an organization’s culture is important - if knowledge management is not based on qualities such as trust and openness, then knowledge management initiatives will fail. In the nuclear industry some organizations use organizational culture surveys, which help managers to know the extent to which the organizational climate supports the sharing of knowledge.

The IAEA has developed a KM self-assessment methodology and tool which includes a section on organizational culture.

Changing a culture

Changing an entrenched culture is an extremely difficult task. It requires time and a lot of efforts. Normally people are resistant to cultural change and in order convince them managers must win their hearts and minds.

There are four main obstacles that face a manager trying to institute broad change in an organization. The first is cognitive – people must have some understanding of why the change in strategy or in culture is needed The second is limited resources – inevitably, changing an organization will require shifting resources away from some areas and towards others The third obstacle is motivation – ultimately, workers have to want to make the change The final fourth hurdle is institutional politics To overcome those obstacles, several steps are suggested: Recognizing that is impossible to convince everyone at once of the values of KM, one should start with people who have disproportionate influence in the organization. They should get committed to the change; once they are committed, their accomplishments should be duly acclaimed, conveying a clear message to others Instead of just lecturing on the need for change, people who have experience with the shortcomings of present practices should be engaged to refer these experiences which make changes necessary Resources should be redirected toward “hot spots” (activities that require few resources but result in large change), away from “cold spots” (areas with large resource demands, but relatively low impact) Highly respected insiders familiar with the mechanics of the organizations should be engaged ("champions"). They will know who would be opposing or supporting the planned changes, how to build coalitions and how to devise strategies for change.


[1] Edgar H. Schein. Organizational Culture and Leadership, 1985, ISBN 1-55542-487-2.

[2] Kim, Chan. Blue Ocean Strategy. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2005, ISBN 1-59139-619-0

Related articles

Safety culture

Knowledge sharing culture