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Saint Vincent College Faculty Blog

Why Organizational Culture is Important

Posted by Michael Urick on Fri, Sep 15, 2017 @ 15:09 PM

Creating an inclusive and welcoming workplace that values all employees is crucial for organizations (and society as a whole). Yet, we constantly hear news of racism, sexism, bigotry, discrimination and other forms of marginalization in our country and in our organizations.

There are so many reasons to value diversity and understand its importance. At Saint Vincent, we talk a lot about the Rule of Saint Benedict – so much so that its hallmarks have become part of our organization’s culture. An important hallmark is hospitality which I interpret to mean welcoming others including those of all races, genders, religions and ages. Unfortunately, not all organizations have values like hospitality embedded in their cultures. It is likely that you could easily think of examples of companies that marginalize particular employees or have practices that do not emphasize the dignity of all.

There are many reasons to embrace diversity including moral ones such as respecting all of humanity. For organizations, welcoming a diversity of perspectives means that there will be better decisions, higher quality products, improved services and overall increased organizational outcomes (Cox, 2001). More importantly, though, by having a welcoming and inclusive workplace, people start to perceive others whom they might have thought were completely “different” from them are, in fact, more similar than previously thought. This isn’t to say that all differences aren’t recognized. Instead, in cultures that welcome inclusion, differences are appreciated and respected while acknowledging that some goals and aspirations may be shared. In other words, by working with a diverse group toward common goals, a sense of shared belongingness could occur (Allport, 1979).

Perhaps it is naïve to think that everyone and every organization will embrace such a workplace (or society). Indeed, it is unfortunate that evidence has clearly shown that the values inherent in some cultures don’t support inclusion. According to Schein (2010), there are three levels of culture. Artifacts represent the level that is experienced with the senses and can include behaviors such as how people treat others. Artifacts (e.g. behaviors) are built upon the values (the second level of culture) which are, in essence, what the organization cares about. If inclusion is not a core value of a culture, workplace behaviors will occur that marginalize certain groups.

A culture is like an iceberg – we see the artifacts above the water and we understand that these are built upon some larger values. But sometimes we forget that there is an even bigger chunk of ice supporting the values. These are an organization’s underlying assumptions, the third level of culture. They are beliefs that are so ingrained in an organization that they are just assumed and rarely discussed.

In order to fully embrace inclusion, the assumptions that drive values and artifacts need to support respect for all humanity. Organizations that truly implement Operational Excellence well are an ideal example because they rely on varied perspectives of diverse people to continuously improve. Such cultures that strive for Operational Excellence encourage behaviors related to teamwork and taking initiative to solve problems. These behaviors are based on the values that quality, always striving to do better and treating both employees and customers well are of the utmost importance. All of these values are built upon the assumption of respecting humanity.

Therefore, creating a culture of inclusion starts at the assumptions level. The need to care for people – all people – needs to be the lifeblood of our organizations and societies and be the number one unquestioned belief from which all other values and artifacts are derived.

The challenging thing, though, is that deliberately changing a caustic culture does not happen overnight and only changes that impact the underlying assumptions will last in the long-term. In a previous blog post, I discussed the importance of leaders setting the tone for a culture in order to build positive assumptions. However, this is only part of what is needed to change a culture. Other people than those with formal leadership titles also need to reflect respect for humanity in their values and behaviors so that this assumption spreads throughout and creates true change within our organizations and beyond.

What is the culture like where you work? Is it positive or negative in nature? What impact do you feel it has on how you and others work? Please write below, email me at michael.urick@stvincent.edu, or connect with me on social media (www.facebook.com/urickmj and www.linkedin.com/pub/michael-urick/a3/775/5b/). I always love to hear your thoughts!

Michael J. Urick, M.B.A., M.S., Ph.D.

Allport, G. W. 1979. The Nature of Prejudice: 25th Anniversary Edition. Perseus Books Publishing, LLC: New York, NY

Cox, T. 2001. Creating the Multicultural Organization. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA.

Schein, E. H. 2010. Organizational culture and leadership. 4th edition. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA.


Topics: workplace culture, organizational culture, multicultural organization

About the Authors

Michelle Gil-Montero is an associate professor of English and director of creative writing at Saint Vincent College. She runs the visiting writers series on campus, oversees the student literary magazine, and serves as guru to aspiring poets on campus. She received her MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2007, and she has been on the Saint Vincent faculty since that year. She is an active poet and literary translator from Spanish. She is spending part of the 2016-17 school year travelling to Argentina on a Howard Foundation fellowship and Fulbright grant. 

Dr. John J. Smetanka has been a member of the full-time faculty since 1997 and currently serves as the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean of Saint Vincent College, a position he has held since January 2008. Dr. Smetanka has taught courses in Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry and Geology as well as interdisciplinary seminars. He has published scientific research articles in physics and astrophysics journals, numerous conference proceedings and also works in science education reform and the interaction between science, technology and theology.

Jim Kellam is an associate professor of biology at Saint Vincent College and our resident ornithologist. He received his Ph.D. from Purdue University in 2003, and is taking this semester as a sabbatical. What does that mean? He'll explain in his blog posts.

Dr. Michael J. Urick is Graduate Director of the Master of Science in Management: Operational Excellence program, and Associate Professor of Management and Operational Excellence at the Alex G. McKenna School of Business, Economics, and Government. Dr. Urick teaches courses related to organizational behavior, human resources, culture, leadership, diversity, conflict, supply chain, operations and research methods. Professionally, Urick serves on the board of the Institute for Supply Management (Pittsburgh) and belongs to the Society for Human Resource Management and APICS. For fun, Urick enjoys music and, since 1998, has led and performed with Neon Swing X-perience, a jazz band that has released multiple albums and toured portions of the US. He enjoys watching movies, is an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction, and also likes to fence.

David Safin, C'00, has been a lecturer in the communication department since the Fall of 2003, and has served in a variety of administrative roles since the summer of 2004. Currently, he teaches multimedia in the communication department as an assistant professor. 

Dr. Michael Krom received his Doctorate in philosophy at Emory University in 2007 and is currently the chair of the philosophy department at Saint Vincent. He has authored a book on religion and politics and continues to publish works in Catholic moral and political thought. Dr. Krom also directs the Faith and Reason summer program every summer. 

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