"Tradition" -- the opening number for the Broadway musical, Fiddler on the Roof features Tevye, the Dairyman, explaining the roles of each social class (fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters) in the village and how the traditional roles of people like the matchmaker and the rabbi contribute to the village. The song also sets the major theme of the show: the villagers trying to continue their traditions and keep their society running as the world around them changes. These outside influences include an edict by the Tsar that evicts the Jews from their village.

Tevye, the father of five daughters, attempts to maintain his family and Jewish religious traditions. However, each of his strong-willed older daughters wants to choose her own husband which moves farther away from the customs of his faith – the matchmaker chooses husbands for them.

Many of us have recently celebrated the winter holidays which are rich in cultural traditions. What is culture? It’s

the acquired knowledge people use to interpret experiences and generate behavior. the attitudes, beliefs, and values that drive behavior. something shared by almost all members of some social group something older members of a group try to pass on to younger members something that shapes behavior or structures one’s perception of the world
We are all members of more than one social group. Examples include our families, professional societies, volunteer organizations, religious organizations, social organizations such as book clubs, political groups, sports groups, etc. The list can be endless. Behavior is shaped by each of these groups and can vary depending on the group we are with at any given time.

The workplace is a social environment and the organization is one group to which an individual can belong. Each organization is a social system with a specific culture – pattern of thinking and acting. Corporate culture originates with the values brought by founders and key leaders. However, the way these cultures affect the members – employees and other stakeholders – is through shared practices or behavior. Founders’ and leaders’ values become members’ practices.

Organizational culture is generally:

Holistic meaning that the whole is more than the sum of the parts Historically determined reflecting the organization’s history Grounded in anthropology and related to rituals and symbols Created and preserved by the group of people who collectively form the organization Often difficult to change (until it is exposed to outside forces)
Like any other culture, organizational culture will have (and you can look for)

Special terms and symbols that only insiders understand Special types of people most likely to succeed Special rituals, such as periodic meetings, specific events and behavior Special values, those things people like to see happening or the things to most avoid (biggest mistakes you can
These terms, symbols, ritual and values not only define the uniqueness of an organization, they differentiate it from others. For example:
· Is the organization process oriented (how you do things) versus goal oriented (what results you achieve?
· Is the organization employee oriented (concern for people) versus job oriented (concern for completing the job)?
· Is the organization parochial (identify with the organization) versus professional (identify with the type of work)?
· Are there open systems (welcoming and transparent) versus closed systems (secretive and messaged in communications)?
· Is there loose control versus tight control? Is there a great deal of focus on things like cost and punctuality or not?
· Is the organization normative (focused on procedures, dogmatic) versus pragmatic (focused on customers’ needs and results)?

I worked for a company that had a unique culture for many, many years. Over time it began to change to meet changing business needs. When I speak to former colleagues, some still there and some who left after I did, they always tell me that it’s not the same company we once worked for. It’s undergone a major transformation. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s just a change.

We’ve talked a great deal about hiring for cultural fit, both in our blog posts and in The Big Book of HR. During the next year we will be discussing different organizations and their own unique cultures. At the start of a new year, it’s a good time to reflect on your organization’s culture – what shaped it, what sustains it, and what are the external forces impacting it. Are you reacting like Tevye and holding onto tradition that no longer fits, or are you being agile, recognizes the changes around you and adapting?

No comments ()


Managing people is the most challenging part of any leader's day. And that job certainly is not getting any easier. The Big Book of HR will provide any HR professional, manager, or business owner of any size organization the information they need to get the most from their talent. It is filled with information on everything from the most strategic HR-related issues to the smallest tactical detail of how to manage people.