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Understanding Culture: Values, World Views and Socio-Cultural Systems

Culture is the characteristic of a particular group of people, defined by language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music, arts, etc. Organizational culture is the behavior of humans, who are part of an organization, and the meanings that the people attach to their actions. Culture includes the organization’s values, visions, norms, working language, systems, symbols, beliefs, and habits. It is also the pattern of such collective behaviors that are taught to new organizational members as a way of perceiving, even thinking and feeling. Organizational culture affects the way people interact with one another and with clients and stakeholders. Each new environment has its own unique characteristics and, if understood, could accelerate the new entrant’s time and effectiveness in integrating into the new culture.

Companies such as IBM, GE, Microsoft, Dell, and Amgen embody their own unique cultures and characteristics. Individuals who quickly adjust to the new culture have a better chance of success than those who choose to push against it. Though cultures define companies and enhance their ability to recruit top candidates, those same cultures will become obsolete if they don’t bend and flex with the changing tide of the workplace. As workplaces are becoming more global, culture becomes shifting sand and requires employees who are flexible and adapt quickly to ambiguity and significant change.

In order to understand what culture is within any organization, its definition has had to be interpreted in many ways. Some scholars define culture as the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving. That’s a mouthful, but it is what it is. What a company respects in its employees becomes its culture. Most companies have a set of values and attributes that drive expected behavior.

So this word, “culture,” is all encompassing and sometimes can be difficult to unravel. Many companies create cultural norms such as specialized dress codes, flex work schedules, core hours, job pooling, formalized social networks, etc. These cultural norms will become icons and will establish norms for others to be measured against. Cultural norms also can be effective recruiting tools because the environment is a key consideration for individuals seeking the right culture for new or continued employment.

Cultural norms often are so strongly ingrained in a company’s culture that new employees may be unaware of certain expected behaviors. Until these behaviors are seen in the context of having some form of flexibility, they will prevent certain resources from becoming integrated. Often, the company may have difficulty recognizing the need for change and eventually creates tension and paralysis to a point of disengagement and job dissatisfaction. Leaders who don’t value learning the cultural norms of an organization can make it more difficult for individuals to assimilate themselves into the new environment. What motivates and energize someone from an Asian background may be totally different from someone of African or European descent. Learning and understanding these differences can be the catalyst for a more productive and innovative work environment. Cultural diversity will permeate the world’s workplaces, and those who harness its capabilities also will value the dynamics of an increasingly diverse human resources pool.

Many companies send expatriates into new cultures based on a specific technical competence they may have but fail to prepare entrants for the new culture and office/company rules of engagement. According to Wikipedia, an expatriate (sometimes shortened to expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of the person’s upbringing. The word comes from the Latin terms ex (“out of”) and patria (“country, fatherland”).

Cultural Values

A culture’s values are its ideas about what is good, right, fair, and just. Sociologists disagree, however, on how to conceptualize values. Conflict theory focuses on how values differ between groups within a culture, while functionalism focuses on the shared values within a culture. For example, American sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested that the most important values in American society are wealth, success, power, and prestige, but that everyone does not have an equal opportunity to attain these values. Functional sociologist Talcott Parsons noted that Americans share the common value of the “American work ethic,” which encourages hard work. Other sociologists have proposed a common core of American values, including accomplishment, material success, problem‐solving, reliance on science and technology, democracy, patriotism, charity, freedom, equality and justice, individualism, responsibility, and accountability.

A culture, though, may harbor conflicting values. For instance, the value of material success may conflict with the value of charity. Or the value of equality may conflict with the value of individualism. Such contradictions may exist due to an inconsistency between people’s actions and their professed values, which explains why sociologists must carefully distinguish between what people do and what they say. Real culture refers to the values and norms that a society actually follows, while ideal culture refers to the values and norms that a society professes to believe.

World View

A world view or worldview is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the whole of the individual’s or society’s knowledge and point of view. A world view can include natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and ethics.

It is a concept fundamental to German philosophy and epistemology and refers to a wide world perception. Additionally, it refers to the framework of ideas and beliefs forming a global description through which an individual, group or culture watches and interprets the world and interacts with it.

Worldviews are often taken to operate at a conscious level, directly accessible to articulation and discussion, as opposed to existing at a deeper, pre-conscious level, such as the idea of “ground” in Gestalt psychology and media analysis. However, core worldview beliefs are often deeply rooted, and so are only rarely reflected on by individuals, and are brought to the surface only in moments of crises of faith.

SOCIO-CULTURAL SYSTEMS

A sociocultural system is a “human population viewed in its ecological context and as one of the many subsystems of a larger ecological system”

The term “sociocultural system” embraces three concepts: society, culture, and system. A society is a number of interdependent organisms of the same species. A culture is the learned behaviors that are shared by the members of a society, together with the material products of such behaviors. The words “society” and “culture” are fused together to form the word “sociocultural”. A system is “a collection of parts which interact with each other to function as a whole”.

Main components of a sociocultural system:

  1. Economic system
  2. Political organization
  3. Social structure
  4. Belief system
  5. Arts and leisure
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