Managing Your Corporate Culture

By Plant, Roger; Ryan, Mark | Training & Development Journal, September 1988 | Go to article overview

Managing Your Corporate Culture


Plant, Roger, Ryan, Mark, Training & Development Journal


Managing Your Corporate Culture

When HRD literature discusses the importance of corporate culture and the effect it has on performance, firms such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard usually appear as examples of companies that put a lot of energy into managing employee behavior through creating a strong culture. While these examples, and the literature in which they are mentioned, are interesting and important, few companies seem to find--or take advantage of--the opportunity to apply the same concepts in their own organizations.

One company we know of, however, decided that it was time to manage its own corporate culture. Because it had grown rapidly and acquired a great deal of diverse new managerial talent, a company we'll call XYZ Trust Company had lost its original culture of youthful, entrepreneurial drive and had entered a period of uncertainty. The company still had well-defined, quantitative business objectives but had become less clear about how it could achieve those objectives. XYZ top management had become concerned about what was happening within the company and asked us to carry out an action project within the organization.

Getting started

The first step we took was to conduct in-depth, diagnostic interviews with top managers; we wanted to identify concerns they had about organization and clarify the training needs of their middle managers. It was decided that the training programs should help develop middle management capability and should also serve as a vehicle for feedback to top managers on areas of potential improvement. As the program developed, this feedback confirmed the need for top management action. In response to this need we developed a two-day workshop for the managing director and the top 15 managers.

The purpose of the workshop was threefold: ] to identify clearly the consequences of the problems that were surfacing within the organization, such as lack of clear policy direction in some areas and lack of cross-functional communication; ] to define the present corporate culture; ] to formulate specific actions for change.

We wanted to be able to use the workshop to show senior management that something as nebulous as corporate culture can be defined and that they could take positive steps to develop an appropriate culture.

Defining company culture

The two parallel themes running through the workshop were how top management would handle the issues fed back by middle managers via the training programs, and how management would apply research frameworks on corporate culture to XYZ's specific situation. We dealt with these issues alternately as each provided data and ideas for handling the other.

Because we knew that the idea of company culture was difficult for senior managers to grasp, we developed a logical framework for working, which first examined managerial values and assumptions. This framework appears in Figure 1. We examined managers' values and assumptions by giving them three sets of assumptions relating to people at work. The assumptions are as follows: ] Rational, economic man--Man is primarily motivated by economic interests, is essentially passive and rational, and has no self-control and self-discipline. ] Social man--Man is basically motivated by social needs, finds his sense of identity through relationships, and is more responsive to the social pressures of his peer groups than to the incentive and control of management. ] Self-actualizing man--Man seeks autonomy and independence, needs to use his capabilities and skills, and is primarily self-motivated and has self-control.

We divided the meeting into three subgroups according to each set of assumptions, and we asked the groups to design an organization that reflected the particular set of assumptions used. This exercise specifically focused on such areas as corporate objectives, communication systems, organization structure, leadership style, and rewards and penalties. …

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