Organizational Celebrations Are Insights Into Organizational Culture

If you are working with an organization, especially on an employment dispute, understanding the organization’s culture will provide important insight into what generated a dispute. Short of doing an expensive and time-consuming study of organizational culture, and knowing that statements of mission and values are often more goals than reality, how can you gain insight into the values that are important to the organization? Take a look at what is celebrated in the events the organization sponsors.

As an example, look at Memorial Day and what it represents.

Memorial Day is an event that marks remembrance of those who have served the United States in the military and the strong values that service represents. Because it is a national holiday, the implication is that it is important to absolutely everyone. Flags fly, parades go by, and there are special services to remember those members of the military who have died, especially in war, as heroes to be honored.

The holiday encapsulates the whole idea of culture, a set of practices that demonstrate and reinforce core values of the group, in a single event.

  • First, the holiday is a ritual practiced by a group to demonstrate and reinforce its core values.
  • Second, it celebrates its heroes, those who are revered for demonstrating the culture’s core values.
  • Third, the event is a way of strengthening our connection to the group and demonstrating what makes our group special.
  • Fourth, the celebration is an opportunity to reinforce those values and educate children about the culture and what is important to it.
  • Fifth, symbols abound. Flags fly, the Blue Angels fly, and red, white and blue are the colors of the weekend.
  • Sixth, the private celebrations like backyard barbecues or family days out celebrate other cultural values such as the importance of family ties and remembrance of people who are dear to us. The same symbols are shown, even down to the strawberry, blueberry, and whipped cream cakes.
  • Last, the core values are clear in every aspect of the celebration: bravery, commitment, support of others during difficult times, freedom, and individual bravery and action under difficult circumstances.

In the workplace, look at the organization’s rituals or celebrations to determine the core values.

  • Who is honored as people who embody the values of the organization? Celebrations of longevity with the company reinforce the value of commitment. A celebration of a new patent or invention celebrates creativity.
  • What are the symbols, logos and colors? What do they represent? Are the symbols forceful and aggressive or more natural and peaceful? Many organizations have recently changed their logos to softer versions of previous logos, emphasizing flowers or natural colors and the environment.
  • Are these values consistent with stated organizational values or is the organization saying one thing and rewarding another? That discrepancy is not unusual, but it is often unrecognized and can be the source of internal conflict.

A strong organizational culture distinguishes an organization from others in its industry and provides clear guidelines for decision-making. When there is a lack of clarity or internal contradiction, employees may not know what is required or what direction to take, and employment disputes may occur.


Maria Simpson

Maria Simpson, Ph.D. is an executive coach, consultant, trainer and mediator who has worked extensively with the corporate, non-profit and conflict resolution communities to promote incorporating conflict resolution into organizational systems and training people in the skills and approaches of mediation. MORE >

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