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    Organizational Culture and Ethics

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    Organizational culture refers a collective phenomenon emanating from members beliefs and social interactions, and contains mutual understanding, shared values beliefs patterns, and behaviors that keep individuals in an organization together over time (GRAHAM, 2012). What the existing members believe in and what they presume to be acceptable within the organization is taught to new members who join the organization, and they (new members) are expected to feel, act or perceive happenings in the organization based on what they are taught. Simply put, organization culture dictates what should be done in an organization and what employees should value or not (Jing & Graham, 2007). The culture inherent in an organization keeps members together, which make them commit toward achievement of the organization goals. The fact that organizational culture is so important to an organization is what makes it a great determinant of ethical values in an organization. Nel, Nel and Du Plesi (2011) opines that a direct relationship exist between ethical behavior in an organization and the corporate culture. Ethics on its part refers the perception of what is right or wrong (Jing & Graham, 2007). They determine how a person will act in a given situation. The culture in an organization will determine what a person values or not and as such, it will have great impact on the ethics of such a person (Jing & Graham, 2007). Although culture may not the only determinant of ethics in an organization for other variables such personality and morality affect ethics, organizational culture remains a crucial determinant of ethics in a given firm.

    Every organization’s culture has its typical elements. These elements are core values that denote what is believed as right in the organization, the stories, which denote events always narrated in the organization, heroes of the firm, and the symbols such language used in the organization (GRAHAM, 2012). These elements always remind employees what is expected of them in the organization. New employees will be required to emulate the heroes and when they enter the organization, they will be told of how the present heroes achieved their tremendous success. While giving these stories, less attention is given to how the success was achieved. If it was attained through ulterior means, employees will go to any length to try the success using similar means (GRAHAM, 2012). If it was realized through legitimate methods, all new and existing employees will strive to use the same method when working toward becoming heroes. All these elements of culture will go a long way in determining the moral stance of an organization (Jing & Graham, 2007).

    Besides the elements of culture within an organization, the type of culture present affects its ethics. Types of cultures found within organizations include culture of defiance, neglect, compliance, and character (Dobson, 2009). Culture of defiance is associated with outright disregard of authority and deliberate failure to follow authority within the organization. Cutting corners characterize organizations with this type of culture for benefits of doing so outweigh the imminent consequences, and misrepresentation of the law is a norm. Leaders of organizations riddled with this type of culture support it to meet certain financial goals. With this type of a culture, an organization tends to have a weak ethical standing (Jing & Graham, 2007).

    Next in the line of organizational culture is culture of neglect. In this culture, senior management within an organization may be motivated to instil high moral standing (Jing & Graham, 2007). However, due to lack adequate knowledge of the industrial ethics, inability to detect and punish ethics violators and lack of attention or care about the ethics, they contribute to the moral decay within their organizations (Dobson, 2009). Due to lack of due diligence in identifying and punishing ethical violators, this category of leaders promote moral failure within organizations although upholding morals may be their primary goal (Jing & Graham, 2007).

    Culture of compliance on its part refers to a situation whereby organizational members comply with ethics unwillingly (Dobson, 2009). Compliance is not spontaneous but it is riddled with reluctance. Everyone in the organization, including top management does what ethical codes of the company require though they do not believe in them (Jing & Graham, 2007). To dodge these ethics, top managers use strategic ambiguity while giving direction to avoid giving consent to breaking rules. Manager may for example direct sales people to make sure they sell more in a given moth than in the preceding month (GRAHAM, 2012). The imperative in this scenario is that the manager did not specify what means should be followed to achieve the goal and as such, the filed is left open to the sales people. They can fulfil the directive by using either legitimate means or bending the ethics. Such an organization may seem to have ethics but in real sense, its commitment towards ethics will always leave a question (Jing & Graham, 2007).

    The final type of culture, and the most positive one for that matter, is the culture of character. In this type of culture, subscribers not only what is right but also values what is right and does what is right (Jing & Graham, 2007). In organizations with this type of culture, the level of morality, integrity, fairness and trust is quite high and commitment at all levels of the organization is towards ethical behavior, which is a component of very action (Dobson, 1990). Simply put, there is an ingrained tendency to be ethical within the firm. The leadership state explicitly what is required of organization members in maintenance of ethics within the company, and the leadership itself abides with such rules. Code of ethics and policy statements within the organization do not remain only on paper but are internalized in its everyday operations (Jing & Graham, 2007).

    Application of top-down approach in managing organizational culture is crucial since how top management behaves greatly affect the behavior of the behavior of the subordinates (Dobson, 1990). Leadership in the organization set the pace and the juniors always follow. Therefore, for any organization to have a desirable type of culture such as the culture of character, such a culture must move from the high level in the organization downward. Most of the time is when employees emulate what their mangers do as such, culture in organizations should be managed from the to the bottom (GRAHAM, 2012). The elements that should be included in managing organization culture is coming up with unitary corporate culture and managing subculture (Jing & Graham, 2007). Unitary corporate culture entails coming up with a culture centered on the company’s core code of ethics. The culture applies to the whole organization and every members should abide by it. The other element is subculture management (Dobson, 1990). The overall culture exhibited in an organization depends on the behavior of smaller groups within. Successful management of culture in organization occurs when an organization streamlines the cultures of the smaller groups within it to ensure their behaviors are in line with the unitary corporate culture (Dobson, 2009).

    From the above discussion, it is evident that culture present an organization is a great determinant of the ethics present in such an organization. When culture in organization is characterized by non-compliance to authority, negligence or defiance, ethics will be poor in such an organization. When culture present is positive, ethics are likely to of high standards. When managing culture in organizations, the best approach to use is top-down approach, as this will ensure that subordinate employees follow the right culture as set by top management.


    1. Dobson, J. (1990). The role of ethics in global corporate culture. J Bus Ethics, 9(6), 481-488.
    2. GRAHAM, J. (2012). The Role of Corporate Culture in Business Ethics. Long Range Planning, 23(5), 128.
    3. Jing, R., & Graham, J. (2007). Values Versus Regulations: How Culture Plays Its Role. J Bus Ethics, 80(4), 791-806.
    4. Ruiz-Palomino, P., Martínez-Cañas, R., & Fontrodona, J. (2012). Ethical Culture and Employee Outcomes: The Mediating Role of Person-Organization Fit. J Bus Ethics, 116(1), 173-188.
    5. NEL, P, NEL, L., du PLESSIS, A. 2011. Implications for human resources and employment relations practice with regard to the integration of corporate ethics programmes into the culture of organisations. In International Employment Relations Review. 2011, vol. 17, no. 2, s. 55-74. ISSN 1324-1125.

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