Ron Westrum (born 1945) is an American sociologist. In 2004, he introduced a framework to understand organizational cultures within medical units. He categorized them into three distinct types:
1. Pathological Culture: Focused on personal needs.
2. Bureaucratic Culture: Focused on departmental turf.
3. Generative Culture: Focused on the mission.
These cultures are profoundly influenced by leadership priorities, which, in turn, shape workforce behavior. Culture plays an important role in how organizations respond to challenges, Westrum wrote. Generative cultures, with robust information flow, tend to foster creativity, harmony, and safety. Evidence suggests that generative cultures are more effective, promoting creativity and innovation. Safety is linked to culture, with generative environments being better at addressing hidden problems. Leadership is a critical driver of organizational culture, capable of initiating culture shifts.
The transformation of Westrum's culture typology into an audit instrument called "Safety Culture Ladder" with 5 instead of 3 types has to do with the global rise of accountability driven by economic efficiency and the pursuit of "good practice". Through audit-like verification rituals, individuals and organizations showcase their adherence to these practices, often as mandated self-checks imposed by governments or governance codes. While accountability is widely celebrated for its positive aspects, anxieties, resistance, and intricate procedures accompany it. Audits can inadvertently fuel bureaucratic indifference and serve as tools for the state to evade its own accountability. Social agency is an important aspect in understanding audit systems, because it sheds light on the ethical dilemmas they generate and the potential for betrayal or resistance.
Strathern, M. (ed., 2000), Audit cultures - Anthropological studies in accountability, ethics and the academy, Routledge.
Westrum, R. (2004), A typology of organisational cultures, in: BMJ Quality & Safety 13, no. 2, doi:10.1136/qshc.2003.009522.