Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cultural Theory (Geertz and Pacanowsky)


In your own words, describe what is the main contribution suggested by the cultural theory of organizational communication.

Through his extensive research, Clifford Geertz, a Princeton anthropologist, pictured culture as a spider web of shared meaning, shared understanding and shared beliefs. Michael Pacanowsky found good use for Geertz’s work and found that Geertz’s symbolic approach towards culture could be used to understand and explain behaviors within organizations. The cultural theory of organizational communication helps us to understand and explain behavior within organizations, by describing how members of a group live and make sense of their world. It provides a lens through which members of an organization can come together and interact and identify themselves as members of an organization.

Through Geertz’s extensive research on culture, Pacanowsky was able to apply Geertz’s cultural insights to organizational life. In his initial research, Pacanowsky came to a shocking realization that the analysis of corporate culture required both interpretation as well as observation. This meant that he had to take into consideration not only the material visual of culture in an organization (e.g., copies of office memos, transcripts of meetings.), but also every intricate detail of the behaviors of the members of the organization as well. In his research, Pacanowsky focused his attention on three aspects of communication that aided him in understanding the shared meanings within the organization. The three aspects were the use of metaphors, the use of narratives and the use of rituals.

Pacanowsky used metaphors to describe the corporate culture at W.L. Gore & Associates, where he first started his research on cultural theory. He described the company as “a cluster of peasant villages” or as “a large improvisational jazz group” and described its workers as “factions in Colonial America.” Usage of such metaphors can easily illustrate the culture in an organization rather than trying to explain it empirically. Narratives also throw light into how employees in a company know how they are supposed to be working to become a cohesive member of the organization. Pacanowsky identified three types of narratives that guide employees of an organization. The first is the “Corporate story” where the story carries the corporate vision and policies. The second is “Personal story” which is a story that an employee tells of himself to form some kind of identity within the organization. Lastly is the “Collegial story” which is a story told about other employees in the company and can be positive or negative.

The final aspect of shared communication within organizations is the use of rituals. The purpose of rituals in organizations is to articulate the multiple aspects of its corporate culture. Examples of corporate rituals can include the “Best Employee of the Month” award and the company’s “Dinner and Dance” function. Hence, together, the corporate metaphors, narratives and rituals, encompass the corporate culture of an organization that helps bind its members into a cohesive organization.

To what extent do you think a cultural approach to organizational communication is useful?

A cultural approach to organizational communication has its pros and cons. One advantage of the cultural approach would be that it can provide an organization with a competitive advantage. For example, Google was voted in the “Fortune” magazine as the best employer to work for. The reason for its success was majorly due to the level of employee satisfaction that it created by providing its employees with a motivating environment to work in. For example, it provided its employees with a huge cafĂ© where everybody, regardless of their position in the company sits with each other and converse freely. The company also provides its employees with other perks such as access to recreational facilities, snack rooms, and also wonderful decors in the office areas. This really helped in heightening the loyalty level of its employees, who in turn increase productivity due to job satisfaction.

A disadvantage of such an approach would be that a culture can also be a form of suppression in terms of letting an organization progress. While all businesses are currently thriving and competing in a dynamic environment, it is important that culture does not become an obstacle to an organization’s progress. An organizational culture that is too stringent and does not have any flexibility will start to lose its competitive advantage over its competitors. Especially with the advent of computer mediated communication (CMC), it is now important to incorporate CMC into the cultural approach as well.

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