Organisational Culture in Aviation


Organisational culture is an important concept in today's turbulent aviation industry. Despite this, there is some confusion over the exact definition and meaning of organisational culture. Put simply, culture is ‘the way we do things around here’.

Onion diagram

Geert Hofstede's onion diagram (19971) is an excellent visual tool for understanding the many components of an organisational culture. The four parts identified in the onion diagram onion are symbols, heroes, rituals, and values.


These are the most basic components of organisational culture: words, objects, pictures, and gestures that represent something. An examples would be SIA's 'Singapore girl', which is recognised globally as a symbol of quality.


These are people, alive or dead, who are very influential within the organisation and act as role models for employees. Southwest's co-founder, Herb Kelleher, is an example of a hero, who was very influential in the airline's early years.


These are more complex symbols, usually acts performed between people. An example would be Southwest's flight attendants bursting into song, amusing many but irritating others.


These are broad tendencies to prefer certain conditions over others. SIA promotes a high quality of service, while Southwest focuses on efficient and inexpensive flights.

Strong vs. Weak organisational culture

Organisational culture can be either weak or strong (Judge & Robbins, 20082) . A strong culture is one where the culture is accepted by employees, this can have many benefits from increased safety to improved financial performance. A weak culture will still have symbols, heroes, rituals, and values, but employees do not strongly embrace them, and as a result there is little or no effect or the organisation. Of course, in practice, most cultures fit somewhere between these two extremes.

Culture in airline mergers

Organisational culture can also significantly affect the success of airline mergers

Want to know more?

Wikipedia article on organisational culture
Wikipedia article on Geert Hofstede

1. HOFSTEDE, G. (1997). Levels of culture and national cultures in four dimensions. In Hickson (Ed.), Exploring management across the world: Selected readings. (pp. 3-17). New York: Penguin.
2. JUDGE, T. A., & ROBBINS, S. P (2008). Essentials of organizational behaviour. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

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