49: Engineered Culture and Normative Control – Gideon Kunda

Gideon Kunda

Originally published in 1992, Gideon Kunda’s ethnographic study of a high-tech corporation altered the discourse on organizational culture. “Tech,” the firm being studied, was a firm on the rise and saw itself as a leader and ground breaker in the rapidly growing high-tech industries of the 1980s. But as the firm grew from a modest couple hundred to tens of thousands of employees and multiple sites, Tech undertook an effort to indoctrinate its members with its tried-and-true formula for success — hard work, sacrifice, and belief in the company. The degree to which this indoctrination occurred was extensive, from the choreographed leader messages, trained cultural experts and internal publications to the highly competitive and cut-throat nature of project work. Kunda captured it all in gripping detail.

The centerpiece of Kunda’s thesis was Tech’s exercise of normative control. This was ironic in a way given how Tech’s professed culture valued self-determination and autonomy. But, the rewards and sanctions were constructed to enforce a particular form of autonomy, one in which Tech extracted the most out of its people while breaking their lives in the process.
Does this mean ‘normative control’ as a mechanism for mission accomplishment is bad? As we dove into the text and applied its lessons to present-day matters, the question is actually difficult to answer as there are many factors to consider. Listen as we wrestle with this extraordinary and provocative text!

You may also download the audio files here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Read with us:

Kunda, G. (2006). Engineering culture: Control and commitment in a high-tech corporation, Revised Edition. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

To know more:

Rivera, L. A. (2012). Hiring as cultural matching: The case of elite professional service firms. American sociological review, 77(6), 999-1022.

Rivera, L. A. (2016). Pedigree: How elite students get elite jobs. Princeton University Press.

Turco, C. J. (2016). The conversational firm: Rethinking bureaucracy in the age of social media. Columbia University Press.

38: Socialization and Occupational Communities – Van Maanen

John Van Maanen

In this episode, we examine John Van Maanen’s classic ethnographic study of police recruits from an urban police department in the U.S. “Police socialization: A longitudinal examination of job attitudes in an urban police department,” published in Administrative Science Quarterly in 1975, presents Van Maanen’s study on the socialization process of new police officers from their training and indoctrination at the police academy to their early months on the beat. What he found was intriguing. Some recruits joined the force “highly motivated and committed,” but over time their attitudes changed and commitment dropped sharply and swiftly. On the job, supervisors preferred the lesser motivated patrol officers over their more committed counterparts. Officers showing initiative were seen as creating more work and inducing higher risk to others. Over a short period of time, police officers learned to “lay low, don’t make waves” through the department’s systems of rewards and punishments and a climate that encourages teamwork over individuality. The result was a major step forward in understanding socialization processes in organizations.

The study is notable for Van Maanen’s role as participant-observer. He underwent police training at the academy while interviewing other recruits and spent time on patrol with new officers. This helped him understand the recruit’s perspective, however it required him to function in a covert role. While his activities were well-understood and permitted by leaders and supervisors in the police department, they weren’t necessary understood by all officers whom he observed. Nor were they necessarily understood by the civilians whom he encountered. While Van Maanen did not find himself facing difficult or ethically challenging situations during the study, questions have since arisen about the value of using covert techniques in research. Hence, part of this episode is devoted to discussing the ethical questions and controversy on using covert methods to access populations for study that might ordinarily not provide informed consent.

Join us as we explore this terrific ethnography and understand the process of socialization from an insider’s perspective!

You may also download the audio files here:  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 

Read with us:

Van Maanen, J. (1975). Police Socialization: A Longitudinal Examination of Job Attitudes in an Urban Police DepartmentAdministrative Science Quarterly Vol. 20, No. 3 (1975): 207-228.

Referenced in the Episode:

Roulet, T., Gill, M., Stenger, S., & Gill, D. Reconsidering the value of covert research: The role of ambiguous consent in participant observation. Organizational Research Methods Vol. 20, no. 3 (2017): 487-517.

21: Small Research, Big Issues with Brian Pentland and Katharina Dittrich LIVE

From the ‘Connections in Action’ workshop held by the IKON Research Unit at the University of Warwick, 5-6 December 2016

(Left-to-Right) Brian, Katharina, Dmitrijs, and Pedro

What a treat! Joining us for this Special Episode from the fascinating ‘Connections in Action’ workshop at the University of Warwick are Katharina Dittrich and Brian Pentland (aka Doctor Decade)! To our great delight, Doctor Decade provided the live intro music for this episode and even performed one of his songs (Ruts in the Road)! 

This episode has been recorded in two parts – Part 1 before the event, where Dmitrijs, Pedro, Katharina and Brian discussed what may be the issues of interest with regards to drawing connections between the macro and the micro, and Part 2, recorded after the workshop, where they reflected on all the new things that they have learned.

One of the challenges that process, practice and organizational routine studies share with other micro-sociological approaches is how to deal with some of the ‘big issues’ or ‘grand challenges’ of our times. Examples of such issues include the nature and functioning of financial markets, the rise and fall of large institutional arrangements, the global travel of idea and ideologies, inequality, the bureaucracy and its failures, climate change and the future of the planet.

The aim of the workshop was to bring together scholars who explore how we can account for and keep track of large phenomena utilising existing and new ‘micro-sociological’ and relational approaches in organization studies. The purpose of this was to (1) advance theorizing about large social phenomena, (2) re-imagine our methods of inquiry in a way that they are more productive in dealing with the complexity of contemporary organizing, (3) exchange about the challenges in doing this kind of research and (4) develop exemplary studies that pave the way for a new stream of research. The workshop was be speculative in character with the intent to learn from each other and generate new ideas through dialogue and listening. So, needless to say, this was amazing and you should definitely keep an eye out for the second iteration of the event which will take place in Zurich, Switzerland.

Also, as a bonus, here is one of the methodological postcards recorded by the editorial team of the podcast exclusively for this event. This one is provided by Dr. Christian Bueger. Enjoy!  

You may also download the audio files here: Part 1 | Part 2

Also read a similar reflection on another academic event — our own Ella Hafermalz’s “Reflections on the ‘Process and Practice Perspectives on Organisation Studies’ Workshop at the University of Queensland Business School

15: Doing Interesting Research with Jorgen Sandberg LIVE

With Special Guest Dr. Jorgen Sandberg

This episode suitable for everyone, but should be especially useful for PhD and early-career researchers!

Jorgen Sandberg

What is it about research that makes it interesting? Or, rather, at which point does a study become interesting (or not)? The more common answer to these questions would most certainly place emphasis on the results and outcomes of a study – i.e. the research is interesting if the findings are interesting. In their 2013 book – Constructing Research Questions: Doing interesting research – Mats Alvesson (Lund University, Sweden) and Jorgen Sandberg (University of Queensland, Australia) propose that the focal point of what contributes to something being interesting is found way before any results or implications. The focal point of what makes a research interesting has to do with the assumptions that go into the design of that research. 

This book is just as relevant for new researchers and research students as it is for more seasoned academics (albeit for different reasons). First and foremost it highlights the need to be creative and self-aware when formulating research questions. Alvesson and Sandberg, however, go beyond mere critique and also specific ways of how to overcome some of the issues that make research less interesting.

In the book, Alvesson and Sandberg develop a problematization methodology for identifying and challenging the assumptions underlying existing theories and for generating research questions that can lead to more interesting and influential theories, using examples from across the social sciences. They highlight that established methods of generating research questions tend to focus on ‘gap-spotting’. While they emphasize that there is nothing inherently wrong with this method, the overuse of it does mean that existing literature remains largely unchallenged. Alvesson and Sandberg show the dangers of conventional approaches, providing detailed ideas for how one can work through such problems and formulate novel research questions that challenge existing theories and produce more imaginative empirical studies. Joining us for this disc is Professor Jorgen Sandberg, one of the authors of the book! We sat down with Jorgen to talk about his work and get some clarifications about what is it that makes research interesting (and for whom), how is this relevant to new and experienced academics and what is the purpose of writing a book such as this. 

All researchers want to produce interesting and influential theories. A key step in all theory development is formulating innovative research questions that will result in interesting and significant research!

You may also download the audio files here:  E15

Read with us:

Alvesson, M. and Sandberg, J. (2013). Constructing research questions : doing interesting research. London: Sage Publications, 2013.

Alvesson M. and Sandberg J. (2011). Generating Research Questions through ProblematizationAcademy of Management Review, 36(2), 247-271.

To Learn More:

Okimoto, T. (2014). Toward More Interesting Research Questions: Problematizing Theory in Social JusticeSocial Justice Research, 27: 395-411.

Alvesson, M. and Sandberg, J. (2014). Has management studies lost its way? Ideas for more imaginative and innovative research. Journal of Management Studies, 50: 128-152.

Alvesson, M. and Sandberg, J. (2014). Habitat and habitus: Boxed-in versus box-breaking researchOrganization Studies, 21: 967-987.

Book Review: Constructing Research Questions: Doing Interesting Research by Mats Alvesson & Jorgen Sandberg by Joanna Lenihan

Book Review by Professor Jean M. Bartunek, Department of Management and Organization, Boston College.

12: On the Value of Conferences with Emma Bell and Paul Duguid LIVE

From the Organizational Learning, Knowledge, and Capabilities (OLKC) 2016 Conference, St. Andrews, Scotland

In late April 2016 Dmitrijs and Ralph happened to co-attend a conference on Organizational Learning, Knowledge and Capabilities together. Even though this was not a podcast-centred event, they decided to take the opportunity to try something different and record an episode in situ (as opposed to our regular, geographically distributed model) AND with two guests. On top of this they video-taped the whole thing! Below is a chronicle of those pioneering events…

A few words about the Conference first! The OLKC annual conference provides a meeting point for scholars and practitioners interested in the field of Organizational Learning, Knowledge and Capabilities (hence the name!). It is a comparatively small, supporting yet growing and dynamic community that brings leading scholars, young researchers, and scholar-practitioners together to present and discuss their research and practice. In many ways, OLKC is a fantastic compromise between smaller events aimed at only a very specific sub-group of scholars, and huge events where people see each other at the reception and then never again. For Talking About Organizations, OLKC holds special significance as this is where Dmitrijs and Pedro met Ralph back in 2014, thus cementing the future cast of this pod (pod + cast, right?).

OLKC 2016, which was held in St. Andrews, Scotland, by the lovely people out of the University of Saint Andrews, bore witness as Dmitrijs and Ralph were joined by Professors Paul Duguid and Emma Bell to talk about the value and form of conferences in promoting, disseminating and facilitating knowledge. The four of us shared some personal conference-attending experiences, considered the current format and emergent alternatives, and pondered on the nature of knowledge as such. In addition, we learned that Paul, just like Ralph, came into academia as a practitioner (unlike Dmitrijs and Emma who are ‘pure’ academics), and what that experience was like!

Also, a great, big Thank you goes to the Board of OLKC, who kindly allowed us to make this episode happen and provided an unexpected degree of support! Also, we are grateful to Dr. Gail Greig, Dr. Kevin Orr and Christopher Mueller for their direct assistance!

You may also download the audio files here: Part 1 | Part 2