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Corporate Culture as Rites and Ceremonials

management, business, corporate culture, rites, rituals, corporate climate

Two authors note that in their rediscovery of culture, organizational researchers have provided a very narrow focus by concentrating their attention on such single, discrete elements as symbols, myths, or stories. To provide a broader view of cultural phenomena, these authors advocate studying rites and ceremonials that consolidate multiple cultural forms:

The consolidation and interdependence of cultural forms is particularly evident in rites and ceremonials which combine various forms of cultural expression within coherent cultural events with well-demarcated beginnings and ends. In performing the activities of a rite or ceremonial, people make use of other cultural forms—certain customary language, gestures, ritualized behaviors, artifacts, other symbols, and settings—to heighten the expression of shared meanings appropriate to the occasion . . . a rite amalgamates a number of discrete cultural forms into an integrated, unified public performance; a ceremonial connects several rites into a single occasion or event.

Rites and ceremonials have a number of consequences for organizations. Both do and say things about organizations, helping to establish a company identity, and both serve to ease people and their social groups through changes in roles and status. Hamburger University serves McDonald's ceremonially, providing awards, unifying employees, and helping socialize new employees by easing them through the "culture shock" of entering a new company.

Six kinds of rites in organizations can be identified:
1. Rites of passage show the altering of one's status. A good example of an organizational rite of passage is the events and behaviors involved in induction into the U.S. Army.
2. Rites of degradation sometimes accompany the removal of high-status people (Garfinkle, 1967). Generally, attention is directed to the person to be removed from office, and his behavior is publicly associated with the problems and failures of the organization. Subsequently, he is removed from office. The impeachment of Richard Nixon was a truncated rite of degradation, cut short by his resignation.
3. Rites of enhancement enhance the status and social identities of people. Public acknowledgment of a promotion would be such a rite.
4. Rites of renewal strengthen existing social structures and thus improve their functioning. Examples of such rites are most organizational development programs, such as management by objectives (MBO) and employee performance evaluations.
5. Rites of conflict reduction resolve the conflicts that inevitably arise among people or groups. Collective bargaining and arbitration are examples.
6. Rites of integration increase the interaction of potentially divergent subsystems with one another during participation in the rite and thus create or revive shared feelings of union and commitment to a larger system. Company Christmas parties and annual picnics are examples of such rites. Graduation ceremonies at Hamburger University serve not only as rites of passage but also as rites of integration.

Sensitivity to rites and ceremonials may help managers be more effective in their organizations. Managers can identify the purposes and encourage the expression of rites that benefit the organization. Paying attention to rites may be one of the first steps in developing the skills needed to be a good manager.
Published: 2007-04-21
Author: Martin Hahn

About the author or the publisher
Martin Hahn PhD has received his education and degrees in Europe in organizational/industrial sociology. He grew up in South-East Asia and moved to Europe to get his tertiary education and gain experience in the fields of scientific research, radio journalism, and management consulting.

After living in Europe for 12 years, he moved to South-East again and has worked for the last 12 years as a management consultant, university lecturer, corporate trainer, and international school administrator

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