Paradigm Lost: Reinvigorating the Study of Organizational Culture

Paradigm Lost: Reinvigorating the Study of Organizational Culture

By
Jennifer A. Chatman, Charles A. O’Reilly
Research in Organizational Behavior. November
2016, Vol. 36, Pages 199-224

In spite of the importance of organizational culture, scholarly advances in our understanding of the construct appear to have stagnated. We review the state of culture research and argue that the ongoing academic debates about what culture is and how to study it have resulted in a lack of unity and precision in defining and measuring culture. This ambiguity has constrained progress in both developing a coherent theory of organizational culture and accreting replicable and valid findings. To make progress we argue that future research should focus on conceptualizing and assessing organizational culture as the norms that characterize a group or organization that if widely shared and strongly held, act as a social control system to shape members’ attitudes and behaviors. We further argue that to accomplish this, researchers need to recognize that norms can be parsed into three distinct dimensions: (1) the content or what is deemed important (e.g., teamwork, accountability, innovation), (2) the consensus or how widely shared norms are held across people, and (3) the intensity of feelings about the importance of the norm (e.g., are people willing to sanction others). From this perspective we suggest how future research might be able to clarify some of the current conflicts and confusion that characterize the current state of the field.