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Impact of Language on Corporate Culture

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Corporations, like any organization, define and are defined by a shared culture. This culture is created through the use of language first in the creation and implementation of a shared vision articulated in a company mission statement. This vocabulary steers the organization toward what will become their shared culture. This culture is then reinforced through all manners of language, evidenced in corporate communications such as press releases and company policy, the semantics of job titles and descriptions, and in everyday jargon that is used around the legendary water cooler, in stockholder meetings, and in every employee office, desk, and cubicle throughout the organization. In order to prove this point we will first define what corporate culture is, we will then explain how language creates and reflects culture and then use examples of how that language is used specifically in an organization to create and reveal culture.

People learn culture. Many qualities of human life are transmitted genetically -- an infant's desire for food, for example, is triggered by physiological characteristics determined within the human genetic code. An adult's specific desire for milk and cereal in the morning, on the other hand, cannot be explained genetically; rather, it is a learned (cultural) response to morning hunger. Culture, as a body of learned behaviors common to a given human society, acts rather like a template, shaping behavior and consciousness within a human society from generation to generation. Culture resides in all learned behavior and in some shaping template or consciousness prior to behavior. In other words, a "cultural template" can be in place prior to the birth of an individual person.

This primary concept of a shaping template and body of learned behaviors might be further broken down into the following categories, each of which is an important element of cultural systems. These include systems of meaning, of which language is primary; ways of organizing society, from kinship groups to states and multi-national corporations; and the distinctive techniques of a group and their characteristic products.

Culture can be explained in many ways. Anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn and writer Aimй Cesair offer two interpretations. Kluckhohn in Mirror for Man has defined culture as:

1. The total way of life of a people

2. The social legacy the individual acquires from his group

3. A way of thinking, feeling, and believing

4. An abstraction from behavior

5. A theory on the part of the anthropologist about the way in which a group of people in fact behave

6. A storehouse of pooled learning

7. A set of standardized orientations to recurrent problems

8. Learned behavior

9. A mechanism for the normative regulation of behavior

10. A set of techniques for adjusting both to the external environment and to other men

11. A precipitate of history

12. A behavioral map, sieve, or matrix (Geertz 1973).

Cesair, speaking to the World Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Paris, summarized this concept stating, "Culture is everything. Culture is the way we dress, the way we carry our heads, the way we walk, the way we tie our ties -- it is not only the fact of writing books or building houses." In these illustrations it is evident that culture encompasses all aspects of a given society, whether that of a largest of countries or the smallest of corporations.

There are two dimensions to the impact of culture on corporate performance. In the first instance, since firms are a part of the larger socio-cultural system and they draw their inputs from it, they cannot be isolated from the cultural milieu. The various values of the society which all the stakeholders share, therefore, affect organizational performance for good or bad. When such values are retrogressive, anti-entrepreneurial and, ethically defective, the organization suffers. On the other hand, when the values are progressive, ethically vibrant, promote and reward handwork and encourage meritocracy as against 'quatacracy' they rub off positively on the organization (Muo 2002).

The second dimension deals with the culture of the organization itself. Like human societies, organizations have cultures which encapsulate their ways of viewing and handling task and relationship-oriented issues that arise in the work environment, how they view and manage stakeholder relations and how they relate to the external environment. The culture influences and is, in turn, influenced internally by the vision, mission, and objectives and externally by the logo, slogan color, and location. "It also has several dimensions including the degree of sociability, power distribution, the level of formalism, rewards and sanctions, opportunities for growth, tolerance for risk, change and conflict, level of initiative, flexibility and empowerment, emotional bond, language, staff quality and composition (intellectual, physical, gender and background) corporate language (yes; organizations have languages), and ethics" (Muo 2002).

Organizational culture varies and is a function of history, ownership and industry, external environment and management orientation. It influences the way an organization is run, the type of organizational climate, and even the level of staff commitment and morale. But even then for a corporate culture to be adjudged as 'strong' it has to have certain attributes. These attributes include a widely shared philosophy, belief in ritual and ceremony, such as 'dressing down' on Fridays, a well understood sense of informal rules and expectations, a shared commitment and ownership of corporate mission, and a spirit of citizenship amongst the staff.

An organization's culture is the set of norms that create powerful precedents for acceptable behavior within the firm. Culture is a powerful force and can provide an engine to achieve market success or an anchor pulling the firm toward failure. An organization's culture has a significant impact on one's performance. Defining the informal rules of the road, the culture determines the degree of creativity and risk that are acceptable, the patterns of communication, and even the types of relationships people have with each other. Organizational success depends on the creation of an identity that pulls together the multiple aspects of an organization. The effective management



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