Communication plays as socialization process

North America and Europe in the 1980s. Japanese management is based on teamwork and unquestioned loyalty to the firm, whereas American and British management have historically stressed individual responsibility on the job and adversarial collective labor organizations to represent worker interests. Rather than resocialize individualist and union-oriented laborers, the Japanese have often selected "green-field" sites for setting up transplants (Abegglen and Stalk, 1985). Green-field sites are locations with no history of industrial organization, or sites where unemployment is high and unions are weak. In these settings the Japanese have been very successful in taking young workers and subjecting them to intense socialization experiences in order to instill in them loyalty to the firm and skill in teamwork practices such as quality circles (Oliver and Wilkinson, 1988).

Communication plays an important role in the socialization process. The communication that newcomers do or do not have with supervisors, coworkers, and others can affect their satisfaction with communication, role clarity, identification with the organization, organizational commitment, and the likelihood of staying or leaving (Jablin, 1987). Interview data on the types of socialization experiences that new graduates of business schools found most helpful in their initial jobs concluded that the most important aids to socialization were interactions with peers, supervisors, and coworkers (Louis et al., 1983).

Other research on the experiences of new business recruits found that both expectations and initial performance are important for later performance. In this research, company expectations were conveyed by the difficulty of the job to which a recruit was assigned (Berlew and Hall, 1966). Recruits who were put in more demanding jobs internalized more positive job attitudes and set higher standards for themselves. Both initially and subsequently, they also tended to perform better than recruits placed in less demanding jobs.

Other research has suggested that feelings about the self that are rooted in past experience are important moderators in the socialization process (Smith, 1968; Morrison, 1977; Weiss, 1978; Jones, 1983, 1986; Miller and Jablin, 1991). Differences in self-esteem, feelings of competence and confidence, and perceptions of self-efficacy are associated with different responses to socialization experiences. Negative feelings tend to produce avoidance strategies that constrain task immersion, information seeking, and social contacts, whereas positive strategies seem to facilitate learning how to act appropriately but do not necessarily ensure role acceptance (Jones, 1983; Miller and Jablin, 1991; Trice and Beyer, 1993).

Other researchers have also emphasized the active role that individuals play in their own socialization. Newcomers' information seeking has been theorized to influence a variety of cognitive and affective states that intervene between culture and performance, as discussed above. Chief among these are role clarity, role conflict, job satisfaction, and job tenure. Information-seeking tactics include testing limits, indirect questioning, surveillance, observing, disguised conversations, using third parties, and overt questioning (Miller and Jablin, 1991).

Both theory and the available empirical evidence indicate that socialization has many facets and that experiencing even some of these facets leads to better adjustment to organizational roles and cultures. Socialization must be viewed in terms of the adjustments that are required at various stages of membership in a group or organization. Socialization is an ongoing process that continues in some form throughout individuals' lives and careers.

Cultural Forms

Cultural forms are the concrete manifestations of culture. They consist of observable entities through which members of a culture affirm, express, and communicate cultural substance to one another. Dan Daniels used many cultural forms as levers to change the culture at the Lockheed L-1011 plant. He communicated his philosophy in colorful, easy-to-remember language and sayings (Snyder, 1988:197):

"Don't sell your integrityit's the only thing that can't be bought."

"You may bebetter atsomething than some one else, but you are notbetter thanthey are."

"You don't have to make people do things your way to get performance."

He reinforced these messages by his own personal conductcoming to work early, walking around, listening, and not criticizing others. He promoted people who could plan, treated their subordinates decently, and got results. He encouraged the managers working for him to emulate these behaviors. He developed a symbol of pride in the organizationblue flight jackets.

At the NUMMI plant, an abundance of cultural forms also served as levers for cultural change. Two were very basic: (1) the new union contract that embodied new levels of union-management trust and cooperation and (2) the production process itself, which embodied the highly successful Japanese way of producing cars. In addition, the very fact that Toyota sent 400 trainees from Japan to work with their U.S. counterparts was a symbol of Toyota's commitment to the joint venture. NUMMI's investing $3 million to send 600 employees to Toyota plants in Japan for training expressed a serious intent to change and the importance of learning new ways of doing things. Records posted in work team areas signified management's willingness to share information and the teams' responsibilities for finding ways to improve performance.

Many other examples of cultural forms could be given. They are all around us. Members of organizations and of occupational groups use specialized language, symbols, and signs. They wear uniforms and special clothes that signify their status. They tell stories to one another that express their work-related tensions and concerns (Martin et al., 1983). They practice rituals and taboos that help to reassure them in the face of uncertainty. They also engage in elaborate rites and ceremonies that have mixtures of practical and expressive consequences.Table 3-1lists and illustrates six types of cultural rites that have been identified in both tribal societies and modern work organizations. Of the many cultural rites that probably occur in organizations, three have been documented: rites of creation (Turner, 1990), rites of transition (Deal and Kennedy, 1982), and rites of parting (Harris and Sutton, 1986). All involve a series of actions, sets of performers, and the use of artifacts that convey cultural meaning.


Organizations are rarely characterized by single cultures (Wilkins and Ouchi, 1983); instead, subcultures are pervasive and have important effects in most organizations (Gregory, 1983; Barley and Louis, 1983). There is still considerable controversy over whether it is misleading or helpful to look at organizations as having organization-wide cultures as well as subcultures (Martin, 1992; Meyerson, 1991; Schein, 1991; Trice, 1991). The sensible resolution of this controversy is to look for both in analyzing any particular organization. However, organization-wide cultures may not develop in all organizations because the conditions for their growth are not present. Also, organization-wide cultures are unlikely to maintain themselves in the face of some circumstances, especially the loss of many long-term members or rapid turnover among members. Thus, subcultures are probably more prevalent in organizations than are organization-wide cultures. When popular writers and journalists refer totheorganizational culture, they are often describing only the managerial subcultures subscribed to by those at the top of an organization.

Since subcultures share all of the characteristics of the more encompassing concept of culture, many of the findings and theories related to cultures are equally applicable to subcultures. The important practical question for managers is to manage subcultures so that their values and goals are congruent with those of the overall culture. To enhance performance, subcultures must also accept organizational strategies for realizing those values and goals.

An example of how subcultures are employed to influence performance is provided by the United States Military Academy at West Point. West Point's stated purpose is "to provide the nation with leaders of character who serve the common defense" (United States Military Academy, 1993). West Point strives to achieve this purpose through a four-year experience designed around three distinct programsintellectual, physical, and military developmentas well as an overarching experience of ethical development that is integrated throughout each of the other programs.

The nature of followership that is learned by cadets at West Point is at least partly a function of the experiences they encounter during their plebe year, when they are subject in varying degrees to the authority of not only all commissioned officers but also all cadets of the upper three classes. The plebe system historically consisted of a socialization experience designed to strip new cadets of at least some of their previous characteristics and replace them with characteristics more acceptable to the military profession. In effect, they lose much of their old identities. The plebe system also made sure that all cadets, regardless of social status, started with the same opportunities. It served a useful purpose in leveling the playing field for all new cadets, in fostering cohesion and class bonding, in weeding out cadets who were unable to cope with an intellectually, emotionally, and physically demanding year, and in providing a powerful rite of passage into membership in what is called the Long Gray Line. However, the system required careful monitoring and was highly susceptible to unacceptable abuses.

More than once in its storied history, West Point officials have attempted to reform or do away with the plebe system (Lovell, 1979). Although the current cadet leader development system (USMA Cir 1-101, 1993) focuses on the overall four-year experience and deemphasizes the plebe experience, many vestiges of the plebe system remain. Constant vigilance on the part of leaders is necessary to prevent abuses similar to those all too familiar on civilian college campuses in the form of fraternity hazing. It is critical to the accomplishment of the Academy's purpose that developmental experiences encountered in this living laboratory be compatible with the espoused ideology relating to leadership and leader development.

Cadet companies are indeed fertile ground for subculture formation, because members interact more with each other than with anyone else, share powerful common experiences, and have many similar personal characteristics. The resultant subcultures have a powerful influence on their performance. Some companies have the reputation for being particularly demanding and strict in their enforcement of regulations pertaining to fourth-class duties; other companies are viewed as mellow or laid back with little concern for enforcing regulations. So long as the company subculture is enhancing (that is, concerned with issues that do not interfere with the desired culture), the company's tactical officer in charge is not likely to be concerned and may even encourage the subculture.

Serious, wide-scale abuses of the fourth-class system have almost always been associated with subcultural forms that are clearly counter to those espoused by the Academy. Academy officials are so mindful of the potential for disruptive subcultures that cadet companies are scrambled each year to forestall the development of strong subcultures that are extremely resistant to change. At the end of their sophomore year, cadets are assigned to different companies from those to which they were assigned during their first two years.

Some cadet companies develop subcultures that emphasize one of the developmental dimensions much more than the others. For example, a company may place priority of effort on physical excellence to the detriment of intellectual development. In such a company, very powerful norms may emerge causing cadets to focus discretionary time on physical fitness or training for an intramural sport instead of a more balanced use of time to accomplish all developmental tasks to some satisfactory level. When the attention paid to one of the developmental experiences is so far skewed toward a single dimension that other developmental dimensions are not adequately addressed, the subculture is damaging overall performance.

This example illustrates how subcultures can have positive and negative impacts on intended organizational cultures and performance. Some subcultures are supportive or even enhancing of the overall culture; some pursue values that are orthogonal to the culture (the physical fitness enthusiasts), whereas other groups seem to be countercultural in the sense that they enact values (by hazing) that are contrary to those prescribed by current policy. Academy administrators are sensitive to these differences and try to manage them as best they can. But the impulses of subcultures cannot be totally controlled from the top of the hierarchy. For the shaping and maintenance of subcultural values that are congruent with those of the overall organizational culture, cultural leadership that communicates and reinforces congruent ideas and values is needed throughout the organization.

Cultural Leadership

InChapter 4we deal with how leaders influence the performance of the practical tasks of the organization. Here we focus on how the expressive side of leadership affects thoughts, feelings, and programmed behaviors that in turn affect performance.

Elements of cultural leadership that have been addressed in the literature include: the personal qualities of the leader, the situation as perceived by the leader and followers, the vision or mission of the leader, follower attributions about the leader and the situation, the performance of the leader, characteristic leader behaviors or style, administrative actions, the use of cultural forms, the use of tradition, and the persistence of consequences over time.

There are several views on the nature of the leader/culture interaction. Based on his observations as a researcher and consultant, Schein conceives of cultural leadership as emanating especially from the founders of organizations, whom he sees as imposing their cultural assumptions on the initial group of employees. As he puts it (Schein, 1992:212): ''Leaders not only choose the basic mission and the environmental context in which the new group will operate, but they choose the group members and bias the original responses that the group makes in its efforts to succeed in its environment and to integrate itself." Founders use a variety of embedding mechanisms, he argues, to create what might be called the climate of the organization. At this stage the climate reflects only the assumptions of its leader. Through socialization, and over time, however, these assumptions begin to be internalized by the members.

Trice and Beyer (1993) see cultural leadership quite differently. They argue that cultural leadership is fairly common and can occur in many different groups and at many different places at the same time within a single organization. Thus, their approach addresses cultural leadership at the subcultural level as well as at the overall cultural level.

Ott (1989), building on Sathe's (1985) discussion of how organizational cultures tend to perpetuate themselves and using essentially the same mechanisms described by Schein, suggests that managers seeking to change organizational cultures must intervene appropriately in each of the important events or processes that influence the culture.

A useful typology describes four types of cultural leadership (Trice and Beyer, 1993):

  1. Leadership thatcreates culturesoccurs when leaders set social processes in motion to achieve their visions of what their organizations should be like and what they should try to accomplish. Founders often create cultures.
  2. Leadership thatchanges culturescauses either the ideas or behaviors embedded in culture to become different than they were before. Dan Daniels, the manager of the Lockheed L-1011 plant, is a good example of a cultural change leader.
  3. Leadership thatembodies culturesrepresents, preserves, and nourishes an existing a culture. George Washington was an embodiment leader who represented relatively conservative values and principles as the first president of the United States.
  4. Leadership thatintegrates culturesmanages to keep some harmony among various subcultures while preserving their cultural differences. The Japanese managers who headed up the NUMMI joint venture during its early days must have had a flair for integrative leadership, for they had to reconcile the diverse interests of U.S. labor unions, General Motors management, and the Japanese managers of Toyota. Although these managers could not change the culture of the unions, GM, or Toyota, they managed to forge enough consensus to make the joint venture succeed.

Another way to look at the combination of culture and leadership is to assess how culture may facilitate or hinder leadership and its effectiveness. Because almost all organizations have subcultures, the presence of a strong overarching set of ideas and values, such as are embedded in military doctrine, greatly facilitates the exercise of leadership throughout an organization. When different leaders convey similar ideas and values throughout an organization, they are contributing to internal integration. When they manage to instill somewhat different ideas and values in their own units, they may be contributing to external adaptation by helping the organization to satisfy multiple, competing demands. Both types of cultural leadership can thus contribute positively to overall organization performance.

Managing Organization Cultures

One implication of this discussion of cultural levers is that cultures develop inertia. The levers of selection, socialization, and cultural forms not only bring the culture to new members but also serve to reinforce culturally determined values and behaviors in those organizational members who are already acculturated. The stronger the culturethat is, the more pervasive it is in the organizationthe more inertia it generates. Strong cultures are more resistant to managerial intervention than weak ones. The levers creating strong cultures may therefore lead to both effectiveness and ineffectiveness in organizations. Strong cultures, on one hand, can lead an organization to the "success breeds failure" syndrome in which organizations refuse, or are unable, to adapt to changing environmental demands. IBM's lingering overreliance on mainframe computer business is a well-known example. On the other hand, strong cultures also can lead organizations to a "success breeds success" situation in which a unique market niche and "brand identity" become associated with the organization because of its strong culture.

Organizations change as their environment, personnel, circumstances, and missions change. Culture serves not merely to slow the rate of change but also to keep change focused and in accord with current organizational operation; in strong cultures, change must be accommodated in order to avoid disruption and discontinuity. Therein lies the problem: those cultures most resistant to change, the strong ones, are precisely those in organizations in which culture is most influential in the organization's functioning. How can managers actually produce change in organizations with strong cultures?

Particular events sometimes occur that provide a window of opportunity for managing cultural change. Consider, for example, a telecommunications company located in a downtown business district. For a variety of financial and logistical reasons, the firm moved its entire operation to an outlying suburban area. The physical structure of the workplace changed. The balance of influence of subsections of the organization changed, e.g., technical support became more crucial at the time of the move than in routine day-to-day activities. Most important, there was a dramatic shift in personnel. Many employees who had relied on public transportation to get to the old central-city workplace were faced with a difficult commute to the suburbs. Others chose not to make the move and to resign rather than add hours to travel time and disrupt daily patterns of household organization. These difficulties affected employees across the organization, from front-line workers to supervisors to middle management. The move itself was accompanied by a pervasive and unprecedented turnover in personnel.

The use of levers to change culture was clearly at work in this case. Selection entered into the recruitment of a new workforce and socialization after they were recruited. The new site provided a vehicle for altering cultural forms as well, such as a new dress code for the suburbs, a new arrangement for lunches and breaks, and so forth. Subcultures were deconstructed and reassembled by the new physical arrangement of the move. Topology may not be destiny, but it was a major force in who talked to whom and how friendships and cohesive subunits formed (Festinger et al., 1950): friendships form from repeated casual contacts by people with similar interests and circumstances.

For a management desirous of managing organizational culture, a major move of this sort presents a fortuitous opportunity. However, such opportunities do not always arise as needed. Thus, an enduring problem for managers is how to employ cultural levers when such drastic environmental changes do not aid in moving organizational cultures in desired directions.

Unlike redesigning organizational structure or forming an organizational alliance, managing culture is fraught with ambiguity and uncertainty. Because culture is collective, emotional, historical, symbolic, dynamic, fuzzyas well as largely unrecognizedit is difficult to pinpoint just what is to be managed or how. Well-known examples of culture management published both in the popular press and in the scholarly literature indicate that culture management takes at least three forms: creating culture purposely in a new organization, remodeling or reorienting an existing culture in an organization, and strengthening an organization's culture in the face of threats or pressures to change. Each of these three representations of culture management present its own challenges and issues as managers attempt to address them.

Creating Culture

When new organizations form, cultures are usually created within them. Cultures have a tendency to develop through predictable stages in the early part of an organization's life cycle, regardless of managerial intervention. Empirical research has been carried out in this area on government agencies, health care organizations, educational organizations, and the computer industry (see Cameron and Whetten, 1983; Cameron and Quinn, 1996, for reviews of the extensive research available).

In the earliest stages of development, organizations tend to be dominated by an "adhocratic" culturecharacterized by an absence of formal structure, creativity and entrepreneurship, fluid and nonbureaucratic methods, and an emphasis on individuality, freedom, and flexibility among employees.

Over time, organizations supplement that orientation with a clan culturea family feeling, a strong sense of belonging and dedication, personal identification with the organization, and a strong missionary-like zeal.

Organizational expansion eventually produces the need to emphasize structure, standard procedures, and controlthat is, a hierarchy-focused culture. Such a shift makes members feel that the organization has lost the friendly, personal feeling that once characterized the workplace, and the focus on reduction of deviation, standardization, and restraint may give rise to escalating resentment or rebellion.

The fourth cultural shift is to a market-focused culturea focus on competitiveness, achieving results, aggressiveness in customer relations, elaboration of structure, and an emphasis on external interactions. Market cultures are more typical of larger and more mature organizations than small or new organizations, and they are more typical of business organizations than service or educational organizations (Cameron and Freeman, 1991).

These life-cycle shifts in cultural orientation notwithstanding, forceful managers can have a powerful impact on the formation of a dominant culture that persists in their organizations. Almost four generations later, for example, IBM still reflects the culture created by founder Thomas Watson. Polaroid still reflects the culture created by Edwin Land, and Sony still reflects the culture created by Akio Morita. Among the mechanisms by which these powerful cultures were created are:

  1. A unique and clearly articulated ideology,
  2. The recruitment of like-minded employees,
  3. The use of symbols to reinforce cultural attributes,
  4. Repetitive socializing and training of employees in the key cultural values,
  5. The appraisal and rewarding of behavior consistent with the desired culture, and
  6. The design of an organizational structure that reinforces the key cultural values among all organization members.

These six levers are neither comprehensive nor unique to cultural formation, of course, but they are among the social mechanisms managers can initiate and largely control.

It is important note that there may be a liability associated with strong cultures. In the airline industry, for example, People Express Airlines effectively used cultural levers to develop a strong culture. It was patterned after the values of Don Burr, its founder and chief executive officer. Burr's explicit purpose was to form an airline that would be the model of customer concern, people sensitivity, and teamwork. People Express achieved almost unbelievably successful results during its first five years of existence, setting world records for income and profitability. However, a change in environmental demands brought about by the airline's purchase of Frontier Airlines, a unionized company, led to the rather swift demise of both companies. The strong culture of People Express was simply unable to adjust to the requirements of a radically different environment.

Changing Culture

Once an organization's culture is formed, tremendous pressure exists for it to persist. To change culture means that organization members become subject to ambiguity, disrupted patterns of interaction, a new reinforcement structure, different allocation procedures, and a different set of definitions of "how things are." Such a change is fearsome and disruptive, so organizational cultures tend to be very difficult to change. Often the more successful the organization, the more difficult the change.

That said, cultural change is sometimes necessary for organizational survival. A lack of fit may develop between the organization's culture and the demands of the competitive environment, or between the organization's culture and the demands of customers, or between the organization's culture and the style or personality of new leaders, or between the organization's culture and the cultures of other organizations with which alliances have been formed. In other words, mismatches may create conditions in which culture change is necessary for the organization to survive.

One well-known example of major culture change involved the U.S. Postal Service (Biggart, 1977:417, 420):

When Winton Blount was named postmaster general in 1972, he was charged with making the post office pay its own way. To do so he needed to discredit and destroy the old ideologies of dependency on Congress and of providing "service, service at all costs...." To symbolize the new order he replaced many established symbols and cultural forms with new ones. To signal the change of political status, the 200-year-old name of the post office was changed. A new logo, new typeface for all publications, and new postal colors were put in place. Nationwide birthday parties were held in every post office in the country, and a new stamp was printed with the new logo to commemorate the event.... The result of Blount's actions was the replacement of the old U.S. Post Office culture with a new U.S. Postal Service culture typified by more innovation and flexibility, service orientation, and efficiency.

Another example is the U.S. Army, whose culture changed not so much by the actions of a single leader but by a new policy instituted by Congress that replaced the former draft-based Army with an all-volunteer Army. The fact that volunteers now populated the Army led to several significant changes in the nature of the fighting force. Overall, the Army was able to attract more qualified recruits, with more formal education, higher skill levels, less drug and alcohol abuse, and less involvement in crime. Women joined the service in larger numbers than ever before. This new, more qualified workforce markedly changed the level of technological sophistication, improvements in quality, and efficiency of performance. The family responsibilities of military personnel and the relationships between the genders became critical issues for the Army, and ways of operating as well as some deeply embedded core values (e.g., men rule) changed as a result. Technical training became both a key motivator and a key incentive for Army service, and access to educational benefits became the single greatest motivator for Army enlistment. The formation of a joint chiefs structure led to more coordination and interchange among the services, resulting in less insularity and self-sufficiency.

The challenge faced by many managers of organizations is to actually lead a culture change effort themselves. The question is, how can culture change be purposively stimulated and managed in an organization? How can a profound and fundamental shift in the way the organization thinks of itself be induced?

Of the many approaches to systematically managing a culture change effort, one procedure, based on what is called the competing values framework, rests on the assumption that key dimensions of organizational culture can be assessed by way of a survey instrument (a controversial assumption, as pointed out earlier in the chapter). Highlighting the contradictory values and orientations that exist in all organizations, this framework identifies four types of organizational cultures (also see Yeung et al., 1991; Zammuto and Krakower, 1991; Quinn and Spreitzer, 1991; Hoijberg and Petrock, 1993, for empirical research on this framework).

Table 3-2identifies the two dimensions that separate these different value orientations. As illustrated in the table, these dimensions produce quadrants that have been found to represent much more than value orientations. They identify congruent leadership styles, bonding mechanisms, and dominant theories of effectiveness (Cameron and Quinn, 1996). The two dimensions shown in the table, as well as the resulting quadrants and their attributes, have been empirically tested in multiple studies and have been found to have strong associations with organizational effectiveness (e.g., see Quinn and Rohrbaugh, 1983; Cameron and Freeman, 1991; Cameron and Quinn, 1996).

One dimension in the table differentiates values emphasizing flexibility, discretion, and dynamism from values emphasizing stability, order and control. This continuum ranges, in other words, from versatility and pliability on one end to steadiness and durability on the other end. The second dimension differentiates values emphasizing an internal orientation, integration, and unity from values that emphasize an external orientation, differentiation, and competition. This continuum ranges, in other words, from cohesion and consonance on one end to separation and independence on the other. Each of these culture types is based on different theories of organizational performance, values of goodness, leadership approaches, reward systems, core competencies, styles of management, and definitions of success.

The Dutch-based Philips Electronics used this framework to manage an intended culture change in a five-step process (see Cameron and Quinn, 1996). In the first step, the top management team reached consensus on the current organizational culture. This was done by constructing a culture profile based on responses to a survey instrument that assessed dimensions of culture consistent with the competing values framework. The consensus-producing discussion was an important clarification exercise in this step. In the second step, the top management team reached consensus on a "preferred" or future culture that they believed the organization had to achieve in order to become more successful. These two profiles, the current and the preferred cultures, were compared to identify discrepancies and to highlight needed changes.

The third step consisted of answering two questions regarding the observed discrepancies: (1) What does it mean to change? (2) What doesn't it mean to change? For example, a change toward a more team-oriented, participative culture and away from a controlling, directive culture meant that more value was placed on team performance, more decision authority was passed down to lower levels, and more sharing of leadership roles occurred. It did not mean that measurements were abandoned, that individual accountability was shelved, or that policies and procedures were ignored. The fourth step involved identifying specifically what was to be done, operationalizing the change agenda developed in the previous three steps. The fifth step involved implementing the newly developed culture change agenda by executing a model for managing change (e.g., Cameron and Ulrich, 1989; Galbraith and Lawler, 1993).

Of course, culture change did not occur quickly. Time frames for successful change are usually measured in years (even decades) rather than in months. The intent of any such model of culture change is simply to make the change management process systematic and rational rather than merely a product of historical or environmental inertia.

Reinforcing Culture

Despite the current emphasis on change, innovation, and transformation of cultures, it is equally important for managers to understand how to maintain and reinforce cultures. Some well-known organizations have found that they unwisely abandoned a culture that had proven successful in the past. Such abandonment may be gradual and unintended and occur more through neglect than conscious intent. It has been referred to as losing the organization's roots, abandoning core competency, and dishonoring the past (Wilkins, 1990).

For example, in the face of large market share losses to Japanese competitors, Harley-Davidson discovered the costs of abandoning the culture that had made it the premier motorcycle producer in the United States in the 1960s. The erosion of a sense of family and teamwork, the loss of feelings of employee involvement and empowerment, and the explosion of hierarchy and staff led to dismal quality, low morale, and poor management-worker relations. The former Harley family culture had gradually eroded, and it was exposed only by the threat of company extinction in the late 1970s. In addition to a number of major changes in manufacturing processes, supplier relations, and quality tools, a return to the core Harley-Davidson family culture was a significant reason why the firm recaptured market share and returned to profitability.

A contrasting example to this unwitting change in organizational culture is Hewlett-Packard (H-P). Despite severe profit erosion and an environment that trumpeted the value of downsizing and head count reductions, H-P maintained the culture during the 1970s and 1980s that had been created by its founders, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. "Instead of laying off some workers, they adopted a policy whereby their staff took a 10 percent pay cut and worked 10 percent fewer hours. H-P's keeping its full complement of staff, while other companies were taking lay-offs, conveyed the message that everyone on the team was valued and mattered to the company" (Wilkins, 1984:46).

An important question, of course, is how an organization can avoid culture drift in the face of pressures to change. One powerful device under the control of managers is what Trice and Beyer (1984) called cultural rites, already discussed as cultural forms (seeTable 3-1). These organizational practices and ceremonies exemplify and thus reinforce the core values of the organization and create resistance to drift. Some rites and rituals are focused on individuals, whereas others are focused on the organization or group.

In addition to rites and ceremonies, selection and socialization are powerful levers to reinforce the culture. Aronson and Mills (1959) long ago illustrated that when people go through a great deal of trouble or pain to obtain something, they value it more highly and protect it more vehemently. Pascale (1990) pointed out that the process of entry into an organization can powerfully reinforce its culture. Providing barriers to entry into the organization, having people earn their place in the system, and extracting a price for membership help reinforce and maintain the existing culture by creating more attraction to it and protection of it.

A host of additional mechanisms exist, of course, to reinforce desired cultures. Cultural leaders can, for example, specify how the central vision of the organization is relevant to current goals (Cartright, 1968) and thus keep it relevant and vital. They can model the desired behaviors and preach desired values and beliefs. They can search out incongruent values and behaviors and work to eliminate them or bring them into alignment (Nadler and Tushman, 1980). They can identify subcultures whose values and behaviors exemplify the desired culture and broadcast their accomplishments. Finally, they can find and emphasize commonalties that override divisive conflicts. Imaginative managers can find almost unlimited opportunities to reinforce culture once they are sensitive to what culture is about.


The discussion of organizational culture in this chapter suggests the following observations:

  1. Because cultures develop in work organizations, just as they do in other groups in societies, cultural processes underlie much of what happens in organizations.
  2. Various levels of culture, including national cultures, occupational cultures, organization-wide cultures, and those of various work groups, influence performance in organizations.
  3. Cultures consist of powerful and pervasive sets of ideas and related sets of behaviors that help people manage collective uncertainties and create social order, continuity, collective identity, and commitment. In organizations, cultures help managers and other members to deal with problems of external adaptation and internal integration.
  4. Because cultures channel behaviors in some ways and not others, they are bound to affect individual and organizational performance.
  5. The precise linkages between culture and performance have not been documented, however, because of lack of adequately precise criteria either for culture or for successful performance.
  6. Past behavioral research and theory suggest that cultures can directly affect performance by leading to certain patterns of behavior, but they are more likely to influence performance indirectly through effects on those thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that contribute to members' performance at the individual and organizational levels.
  7. Because cultures consist of ideas and behaviors that are implicit rather than conscious, managers may not be aware of how their statements, actions, and policies may be incongruent with the desired culture and thus undermine or weaken it.
  8. Among the levers that managers can use to manage cultures in organizations are selection, socialization, and leadership. Managers can use each of these levers and other tools at their disposal to create, change, or reinforce cultures. Each of these forms of cultural management may be occurring at the same time in different parts of the organization.

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