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Is the Organizational Culture of the U.S. Army Congruent with the Professional Development of Its Senior Level Officer Corps?

Authored by Dr. James G. Pierce. | September 2010

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Why is organizational culture is important? The theory of organizational culture maintains that individual behavior within an organization is not solely controlled by the formal regulations and structures of authority as supported by structural theorists. Instead, the theory postulates that cultural norms, values, beliefs, and assumptions provide unconscious guidance and direction, and consequently, the subsequent behavior of organizational members. Accordingly, Martin et al. (1997), emphasize that studies of organizational culture share a common objective, which is “to uncover and interpret aspects of organizational life so that we can better understand the perceptions, beliefs, and actions of organizational members” (p. 3). If you want to be able to comprehend the current behavior of an organization as well as to reasonably anticipate its future actions, then you must be able to understand the deep basic underlying assumptions that comprise the abstract concept of organizational culture (Schein, 1999). A strong appreciation of an organization's culture can help explain why organizational members sometimes exhibit “mysterious, silly, or irrational” behavior (Schein, 1985, p. 21).

Organizational culture can be found at every level of an organization, and since organizational members are multicultural entities understanding an organization's culture is significant “because the beliefs, values, and behavior of individuals are often understood only in the context of people's cultural identities” (Schein, 1999, p. 14). Consequently, the long-term strategic decisions made by the senior leaders of an organization are influenced by their multicultural background, but especially by the organization in which they have spent the bulk of their lives, such as members of professional organizations like doctors, lawyers, and military officers.

Professional organizations exist in a competitive environment where their social jurisdiction and legitimacy can only be supported or perpetuated as long as they maintain their expertise over an area of abstract knowledge that society perceives as important (Freidson, 1970, 1986; Abbott, 1988; Burk, 2002; Snider et al.,2009; Moten, 2010). Since organizational culture is hypothesized to have a considerable impact on organizational behavior and because of the relative scarcity of literature discussing the impact that organizational culture may have on the development of professional leaders, this study attempts to examine the congruence1 between organizational culture and the professional leadership and managerial skills of professional leaders. Specifically, this study examines the U.S. Army culture and its senior leaders.

This research strongly suggests that there is a lack of congruence between the U.S. Army professional culture and the professional development programs of the Army's senior level leaders. This conclusion is based on empirical data that indicate that the future leaders of the Army profession believe that they operate on a day-to-day basis in a profession whose culture is characterized by an overarching desire for stability and control, formal rules and policies, coordination and efficiency, goal and results oriented, and hard-driving competitiveness. Emphasizing this lack of cultural congruence, the respondents of this study also indicated that the Army's professional culture should be one that that is characterized by flexibility, discretion, participation, human resource development, innovation, creativity, risk-taking, and a long-term commitment to professional growth, and the acquisition of new professional knowledge and skills,2 which is a culture that is more aligned with the Army's strategic external environment.

One of the principal reasons for the popular interest in the study of organizational culture is to determine the linkage between it and organizational performance (Berrio, 2003). This study has reviewed a previously assumed but unverified connection between organizational culture and professional development. It has uncovered a lack of congruence between the dominant type of organizational culture of the U.S. Army and the professional managerial/leadership skills of its senior level leaders. This observed lack of congruence may be inhibiting performance and unconsciously perpetuating a cycle of caution and an over-reliance on stability and control. The data outlined in this study is illustrative of an organization that emphasizes stability, control, formalized structures, and a results oriented—get the job done—culture that attempts to comprehend the ambiguity of the future through an unconscious reliance upon the successful solutions employed in the past, a process also known as the “irony of success” (Paparone and Reed, 2008).


  1. Cameron and Quinn (1999) state that “cultural congru¬ence means that various aspects of an organization’s culture are aligned. That is, the same culture types are emphasized in various parts of the organization. For example, in a congruent culture the strategy, leadership style, reward system, approach to managing employees, and dominant characteristics, all tend to emphasize the same set of cultural values (1999, p. 64).” This study employs the Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument (OCAI) to diagnose the U.S. Army’s culture as identified by selected U.S. Army senior leaders. Then, the study evaluates the level of con-gruence between the identified U.S. Army cultural types to the managerial/leadership competencies of these selected senior leaders as identified through the use of the Managerial Skills As-sessment Instrument (MSAI). The ostensible objective is to deter-mine if professional development programs support or inhibit the promotion of senior leadership skills which will sustain future professional growth, and survival. This is important because as Cameron and Quinn emphasize, cultural incongruence leads to differences in perspectives, goals, and strategies which drain or¬ganizational energy and prevent the organization from operating at the highest level of effectiveness (1999, pp. 64-65).
  2. Senior leader skills which are characteristic of professional organizations include the following types of behavior: innova¬tive, risk-taking, boundary spanning, adaptive, and reflective-in¬action. What these concepts mean is that individual professionals must be trained to challenge the status quo. They must question previous success and the procedures that fostered that success. Professionals must be willing to constantly strive to find new an¬swers to old questions and new questions that have yet to be asked. They must seek constant improvement and the expansion of their professional knowledge base. They must be willing to stick their necks out and take risks for the betterment of society and their profession. They must be willing to experiment and they must be willing to accept failure and to learn from failure. Finally, profes-sionals must be willing to span boundaries, that is, they must be willing to go beyond their own organizational and professional boundaries in the search of new knowledge, techniques and pro¬cedures, that can be imported into their professional knowledge base, and used in their own practical professional skills, as well as to potentially identify new areas for professional growth (Argyris and Schon, 1974; Aldrich and Herker, 1977; Weick, 1979; Mosher, 1982; Schon, 1983; Freidman, 1986; Senge, 1994; Cameron and Quinn, 1999; Wong, 2002; Snider, 2003a; Gordon and Sollinger, 2004).