Organizational culture plays a central role in companies. It incorporates the mission of organizations and shapes the vision of organizations.

Many management researches, have confirmed the importance of a strong company culture, for leaders and employees. Moreover, the most successful companies are those with the best organizational culture, surveys says.

Yet, the reality is that, many leaders and managers still make confusion between organizational culture, identity and image. The purpose of this article is to clarify these concepts and their relations. As a consequence, leaders and members can build a strong and defined company culture, image and identity.

Organizational Culture

Organizational culture can be defined as a set of factors: the mission, core values and beliefs of a company. It involves all organizational members. The organizational culture builds the symbolic context in which the company operates and  forges managerial initiatives and everyday interactions with external audiences. In this way, it affects the identity and the external image of the company.

Organizational Identity

Organizational identity refers to what members perceive, feel and think about their organization. It is a commonly-shared understanding of the organization’s values and characteristics. Being grounded in the meanings and organizational symbols, it is embedded in organizational culture. Top managers communicate the identity to employees, but then its interpretation is mainly based on: cultural patterns of the organization,  work experiences and external influences. Also, organizational image highly influence the company’s identity.

Organizational Image

Bernstein, in his book Company Image and Reality: A critique of Corporate Communications (1992), gives a clear explanation of what an organization’s image is. In his opinion, it consists on the feelings and beliefs of the external audience, that may be different from the image that the company believes to have. Also, leaders’ decisions and everyday interactions between organizational members and external actors, influence the organizational image.

Interdependence of Culture, Identity, Image

As we can see from the definitions above, organizational culture, identity and image are strongly related and interdependent (more details about the relation between culture, identity and image see the article Mary Jo Hatch, Majken Schultz, “Relations between organizational culture, identity and image“, European Journal of Marketing).

More specifically, the relationships between culture, image and identity form a circular process. They are all distinct aspects of the organization, but at the same time, they are all connected,  influencing reciprocally one another.

In this process, the internal and the external context intersects. While the organizational culture is embedded in the company and encompasses the organizational identity, the image is subjected to the effects of the external environment.

Implications for management

In conclusion, what managers and leaders should learn from this process, is that they need to focus, not only on the company culture, identity and image separately, but on the relationships that exist among them. They must also have clear in mind the importance of external actors and their interpretations of the company. Of course, this may represent  challenge for managers, but it is essential to build a strong and successful company culture.