It is vital that organizational leaders understand the distinction between organizational identity and organizational culture.
Organizational Identity is the visible and public dimension of an organization. It is captured by what is included in its public documents, websites, and public forms of communication.
Organizational Culture is the deeper essence of the organization, often present at the unseen or unconscious levels of organizational life. In his book Organizational Culture and Leadership, Edgar Schein argues that organizational culture is essentially “…the accumulated shared learning of a given group” and “its pattern of shared, taken-for-granted basic assumptions.”
With this distinction of organizational identity as a public dimension and organizational culture as a sometimes unseen dimension, I use the iconic metaphor of an iceberg to capture this thought and distinction. Leaders who are only paying attention to the organizational identity that is above the waterline might inadvertently collide with the underlying organizational culture. Leaders must pay attention to both dimensions—both above and beneath the waterline.
Leaders must not only be aware of and communicate the public identity of their organization, they must also be aware of how this stated identity is either ALIGNED OR MISALIGNED with the actual organizational culture.
Organizations sometimes assert organizational identities that are more aspirational than actual. In one sense, this is helpful. We want to strive for improvement as individuals and as organizations. The leadership danger, however, is when the gap between aspirational identity and actual culture is unseen by the core leaders of the organization.
As leaders, we need to raise our awareness of where organizational identity and culture are aligned and where they are misaligned. Where there is alignment, let’s celebrate and tell the story. Where there is misalignment, let’s lead our communities toward our organizational aspirations with visionary determination.