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U.S. Army War College >> Strategic Studies Institute >> Publications >> Is the Organizational Culture of the U.S. Army Congruent with the Professional Development of Its Senior Level Officer Corps? >> Summary
Authored by Dr. James G. Pierce. | September 2010
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).