Culture and Power

This week we were looking at culture and power in organisations. In the Managing and Organisations textbook there was a pretty good overview of both subjects and I enjoyed how they used well known examples to help make their points. As the book is very recent there are examples such as Barings and the IMF which are both interesting and relevant.

Starting with culture within organisations, the textbook states, “It takes longer for organisational members to change their organisations than it takes the organisation to change its members.” Holt says that we need to find a balance between a director that is too involved and one that is too far removed from staff and the daily workings of the organisations. “If the director does not drive change into the details of daily work, the supposed change is little more than a well-contrived argument.” There seems to be a shift in most organisations towards engagement and communication with staff. For the most part this is a huge cultural change in most large companies that consisted of top-down management structures. As one of the employees in one of the case-studies stated, management style was “tell and do.” The management or directors told and the staff did. We can see now that this type of structure may create problems in that perhaps the management don’t quite understand how the staff operate, having never worked in similar roles to lower level staff or as we saw in Barings, staff not asking questions led to a complete breakdown. However, that is not to say that there is no need for bureaucratic regulation, there are of course different levels within companies and different levels of responsibility and accountability. Perhaps what we are looking at is more of a soft dominion where employees feel more valued and equal.

In the case studies we saw three different aspects of cultural influence. Jaguar had to deal with cultural change due to different working practices associated with the Jaguar brand that weren’t present in manufacture of Ford cars. The organisation became more dynamic and responsibility and innovation was handed over to the lower level employees. Employees were asked to take ownership and were consulted about changes in manufacturing processes to help speed them up and cut down on waste. Obviously this change was well handling by the management as we could see in the textbook that sometimes employees can resist change even if it is for their benefit if they feel separate or subordinate to new management and new procedures. As the case study points out, you cannot force a new culture on an unreceptive workforce. Motivations and workshops enabled the smooth transition for all employees.

In contrast to this study, the STAR study showed how a forced cultural change might be unsuccessful. Although managers in this study responded that STARWOW was working, after deeper conversation and observation it was seen that many might have been extolling the virtues of the programme to toe the party line. This was a difficult study as the lower level workforce in a grocery store setting may be students, part-timers etc that have no interest in climbing the ladder in the organisation. There are issues surrounding accountability and motivation. Many of these workers may want to come to work, be told what to do and go home again without having to think about it. The managers were given a difficult task in that they had to train and communicate with these staff-members who may not really care about the process. Also, there was the issue that the managers at store level were asked to enforce STARWOW but there didn’t seem to be a similar plan for higher level staff to communicate with these managers; in fact, they felt more subordinate and lacking in identity and no longer secure in their jobs. They were not given relevant resources or time. Obviously in this case, practising what you preach from the point of view of higher level management may have led to better and further reaching results.

Google on the other hand was a very interesting study as it was dealing with managing change, in this case growth, with keeping the culture of the smaller organisation intact. In Google there is a huge surge towards innovation and empowerment with many incentives and bonuses. However, with growth comes the need for more employees in other countries; decision making and double-jobbing can be problems. Google has implemented programmes and processes to allow for these changes without damaging the culture.

There is clearly a very fine line that management are walking in all of these situations. From my own experience in retail I can relate to the False Promises/STAR case study. I think that employee empowerment and innovation works for companies like Google because of the nature of their workforce but realistically in lower level jobs where people might not see themselves as having a “career” as such, this may not work. Obviously this is a huge generalisation but I think these case studies kind of illustrate that this may be the case. In regard to Jaguar I think that the reason employees reacted positively is that the management allowed them to help in the decision-making processes that affected them.

Just on a side note, I found the chapter on Power in the textbook very interesting. I studied psychology as an undergrad and I am fascinated by the concept of obedience. This book gives very good examples of obedience acting in a very negative way. We all believe that resistance to authority is in some way wrong but absolute obedience can be even worse as in the case of Nazi Germany and the experiments with electric shocks. As we can see from this chapter the trend towards employee participation is a positive one as polyphony prevents a 1984 scenario but as in everything context is always a huge and ever present factor.    

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