Organizational Behavior

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.

47: Organizational Identity — Albert & Whetten

Stuart Albert

David Whetten

“Who are we?”

The pursuit of an answer to this tantalizingly simple question began with a book chapter written in 1985 by organization theorists Stuart Albert and David Whetten. “Organizational Identity” established the construct of identity at the organizational level and described it as the sum of three types of claims — claims of an organization’s central character, claims of its distinctiveness from other organizations, and claims of temporal continuity that tie the present organization to its history. The chapter also raised the idea that organizations can have multiple identities, which each being more salient at different times. With seven key research questions and thirty-three hypothesis, the chapter also laid out a far-reaching research agenda.

But as we discuss in this episode, the twenty years that followed saw much of the research yield lots of confusion and consternation. David Whetten would prepare a follow-up commentary in 2006 to clarify and update the construct while addressing the conflicts.

So how useful is it? Listen in as we grapple with answering questions like, “Who are we as the Talking About Organizations Podcast?” using Albert & Whetten’s construct as a starting point. We then follow with examples, case studies, and uses of organizational identity in both scholarship and practice. We hope you enjoy the discussion and find it useful for understanding the deep culture of organizations.

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

Read with us:

Albert, S., & Whetten, D. A. (1985). Organizational identity. Research in organizational behavior, 7, 263-285.

Whetten, D. A. (2006). Albert and Whetten revisited: Strengthening the concept of organizational identity. Journal of management inquiry, 15(3), 219-234.

To Learn More:

Whetten, D. A., Godfrey, P. C., & Godfrey, P. (Eds.). (1998). Identity in organizations: Building theory through conversations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Galvin, T. (forthcoming, about Dec 2018). Two case studies of successful strategic communication campaigns. Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute.

45: Fate of Whistleblowers – C. Fred Alford

With Special Guest Dr. Marianna Fotaki

C. Fred Alford

The ability to speak up and do what’s right is embedded in our claimed social norms. Like cheering on an underdog in sport, we might be inspired by stories of those who witness illegal or immoral acts and have the courage and persistence to speak up and stand for what is right. In workplace environments, we have a name for such heroic men and women – whistleblowers. Some were famous, like Mark Felt who blew the whistle on Watergate in 1974 that would quickly end an American Presidency, and the trio of women who exposed the lies and fraudulent financial dealings that brought down Enron, Inc. in 2001. Their stories became legendary and they would be hailed as heroes. But historically, these are the exceptions. The experiences of many other whistleblowers are discouraging – being ostracized, ignored, harassed, marginalized, physically attacked, socially isolated and ultimately defeated while the wrongdoers continue with their organizations.

Fred Alford wrote the book Whistleblowers: Broken Lives and Organizational Power in 2001 to understand and make sense of these experiences. Rather than a detailed telling of the whistleblowers’ stories, the book expands upon them to develop an alternative theory of organizations and their use of power. By alternating between the individuals’ and organizations’ perspective, Alford’s book challenged conventional wisdom about the nature and character of power and politics, ethics and morality, and the individual’s motivations for standing up.

Joining us for this episode is Dr. Marianna Fotaki, Professor of Business Ethics at the Warwick Business School. In 2018, Marianna co-authored a paper on the weaponization of the mental health system against whistleblowers, furthering dialogue on a troubling matter that Alford raises in his book.

Listen as the podcasters discuss the stories of whistleblowers presented in the book and the theories that Alford produces from them.

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

Read with us:

Alford, C. F. (2001). Whistleblowers: Broken Lives and Organizational Power. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

To know more:

Kenny, K., Fotaki, M. and Scriver, S. (2018). “Mental health as a weapon : whistleblower retaliation and normative violence“, Journal of Business Ethics

Fotaki, M. (2017). Turning Fear to Purpose, TEDx Talk.

Fotaki, M. and Harding, N. (2015). Gender and the Organization. Women at Work in the 21st Century. London: Routledge.

 

39: Carnegie Mellon Series #4 – Organizational Choice

The podcasters discuss a fascinating article, “A Garbage Can Model of Organizational Choice,” published in Administrative Science Quarterly back in 1972 by Michael Cohen, James March, and Johan Olsen. This is another episode from the Carnegie-Mellon University tradition, alongside Episode 4 on Organizational Routines and Episode 19 on Organizational Learning. This third installment addresses organizational decision making and choice and, like the others in this series, it changed the way people think about organizations and organizational behavior.

cohen_michael_5x7_1 bw

Michael Cohen

This episode is the fourth in our series on the Carnegie Mellon School. The first was way back in Episode 4, in which we discussed the works of James March, Herbert Simon, and Richard Cyert regarding organization routines. The second was Episode 19, with organizational learning as the topic as we explored James March’s work on exploration and exploitation, and the third was Episode 29, where we spoke to Denise Rousseau about Herb Simon’s problematization of business education. Now we move to another important work from this School regarding organizational choice, which contributes to our present understanding of decision making in organizations.

Scholars at the time viewed decision making from a very rational perspective—a problem arises, the organization mobilizes, a solution emerges, and everyone moves on. This flew in the face of the author’s experiences, showing that matching solutions to problems was considerably messier in practice. Instead, the decision making processes appeared to be anarchic. At the time this idea of organized anarchy was quite radical. Although present organizational scholarship has grown to accept anarchy as part of the workplace… addressing organized anarchy as a serious research theme was potentially radical back in the early 1970s, especially in light of the previous work of these very authors!

The purpose of the article is to lay the foundational for a behavioral theory of organized anarchy. Using what they refer to as the garbage can model, organizations are described as “a collection of choices looking for problems, issues and feelings looking for decision situations in which they might be aired, solutions looking for issues to which they might be the answer, and decision makers looking for work” (p. 2). ‘Garbage can’ represented a useful, if unsettling, metaphor as it described organizational behavior where problems, choices, and decisions were merely tossed about into and recycled. At the center of the article is a model, presented as an iterative mathematical program, that demonstrates these behaviors in practice. Although clearly not an empirical study, the exploratory model did an excellent job of displaying some surprising behaviors as the podcasters discuss. They also showed a practical use of the model to demonstrate how various types of colleges and universities might exercise different paradigms, resulting in radically different organizational behaviors.

Join us as we discuss the garbage can model and its implications for our contemporary understanding of organizations and their management! Also available is a sidecast by Tom inspired by this episode.

 

You may also download the audio files here:  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Appendix (Text version here)

Read with us:

Cohen, M.D., March, J.G. and Olsen, J.P. (1972). A garbage can model of organizational choice. Administrative science quarterly 17(1), 1-25.

To know more:

Lomi, A. and Harrison, J.R. (2012). The Garbage Can Model of Organizational Choice: Looking Forward at Forty. Research in the Sociology of Organizations 36, 3-17.

 

 

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.

35: The Managed Heart – Arlie Hochschild

Arlie Russell Hochschild

In this episode, the podcasters tackle a seminal work on the uses of emotion as part and parcel of one’s job, and the social and psychological implications this has on one’s role as a producer of products or provider of services. The Managed Heart,originally published in 1983 by Dr. Arlie Hochschild, introduced the concept of emotional labour as a counterpart to the physical and mental labour performed in the scope of one’s duties. The importance of emotional labour is made clear in Dr. Hochschild’s descrption of flight attendants, who regardless of the dispositions of airline passengers, turbulence in the flight, or personal stress is required to act and behave in ways that minimize passenger anxiety and encourage them to fly with that airline again.

This phenomenon extends to a wide range of professions and vocations. In the preface to the 2012 edition, Dr. Hochschild writes, “forms of emotional labor require that a person manage a wide range of feeling. The poor salesclerk working in an elite clothing boutique manages envy. The Wall Street stocktrader manages panic. The judge, as legal researcher Terry Maroney shows, is exposed to highly disturbing evidence of atrocities such as maiming, murder, dismemberment, and child rape.” Later in the preface, she shows how changing the expectations of emotional management in an organization or industry leads to changes in the relationships between providers and clients, such as how the field of medicine moved from community-based, non-profit clinics and hospitals to an emerging system where care became more akin to business transactions and the emotional support once provided by professionals were shifted to lower-paid workers.

The book ran a gamut of implications of alignment and misalignment between persons and the emotional labour they perform in their work lives. Dr. Hochschild explores the challenges of stress, protecting one’s personal identity and private life, differentiated (and often unfair) gender roles, miscommunication between supervisors and workers or workers and clients, and others. The final chapter describes the result, the increasing desire for authenticity in themselves and others.

Join us as we explore this fascinating book and discuss its meaning in today’s work environments and personal lives! You will never look at the phrase “service with a smile” the same way again!

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

Read with us:

Hochschild, A. R. (2012). The managed heart: Commercialization of human feeling. Univ of California Press.

To know more:

Raghuram, Sumita. (2013). “Identities on call: Impact of impression management on Indian call center agents.” Human Relations 66(11): 1471-1496.

Ella referred to this paper during the episode in response to dialogue concerning call center agents having to adopt different accents and mannerisms to connect better with remote customers of different nationalities.

 

 

33: Foreman – Master and Victim of Doubletalk

To open Season 4, this episode covered Fritz J. Roethlisberger’s classic 1945 article from Harvard Business Review (HBR), “The FOREMAN: Master and Victim of Double Talk.” The article resulted from a study concerning the dissatisfaction of foremen in mass production industries at the time. Foremen suffered under low pay and poor wartime working conditions. Meanwhile, management addressed the foremen’s concerns through short-sighted “symptom-by-symptom” corrective actions to little effect. As a result, foremen were leaning toward unionization, while management found itself unable to keep pace with the social implications of rapidly advancing technologies on the supervisory structure.

Fritz Roethlisberger

Roethlisberger’s essential question was this: “Can management afford not to take responsibility for its own social creations – one of which is the situation foremen find themselves?” The foreman had to lead workers toward fulfilling production requirements under increasingly complex conditions, requiring greater knowledge and skill than foremen past and yet under intensifying restrictions to their autonomy and decision making, along with a wider network of supervisors and administrative staff that the foreman must report to.

The result were conditions where the foremen became insecure due to micromanagement and being held liable for problems or issues beyond their control. The foreman could not avoid these interactions, and thus was forced to “become a master of double talk,” advising superiors of the situation at the front in ways that avoided or mitigated criticism from them. Thus, the foreman also became a victim of double talk, of a ballooning culture that saw employees as little more than cogs in the machine and foremen as barely more, yet the foremen still had to “deliver the goods.” Roethlisberger’s account of the foremen’s conditions and the roles they play in the firm are compelling and troublesome indeed, and led him to recommend an entirely new form of administrative structure with administrators being far more connected to the workers and serving as enablers to the foremen.

 “The FOREMAN: Master and Victim of Double Talk” continues to be popular in reprints and HBR considers it a classic of the journal. It also represents a recurring challenge for firms facing disruptive technologies or their rapid evolution – how do administrators keep pace with the social changes that result, so that direct supervisors remain enabled and empowered?

Join us as we talk about the article and its implications for present-day managers and firms!
Note: Scroll down further to see a Figure from the text that we referenced often.

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

Read with us:

Roethlisberger, Fritz J. “The foreman: Master and victim of double talk.” Harvard Business Review 23.3 (1945): 283-298.

To know more:

Storberg-Walker, J., & Bierema, L. (2006). “Another look at a historical foundation of HRD: F.R. Roethlisberger’s foreman.” Paper presented at the AERC, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Figure 1. Forces Impinging Upon the Foreman (from the original text)

 

 

32: Organizational Stupidity with Mats Alvesson and Bjorn Erik Mork LIVE

With Special Guests Mats Alvesson and Bjørn Erik Mørk

Mats Alvesson

Bjørn Erik Mørk

Ralph attended the 2017 Organizational Learning, Knowledge and Capabilities conference in Valladolid, Spain and had the opportunity to discuss The Stupidity Paradox: The Power and Pitfalls of Functional Stupidity at Work (Profile Books), co-authored by Mats Alvesson and André Spicer, with Mats Alvesson (keynote speaker) and Bjørn Erik Mørk (OLKC board member). This was another special recording to bring listeners engaging conversations about current work in organizational science and learning. Thanks to the OLKC 2017 organizing committee for making this possible.

OLKC is an annual conference that gathers scholars and practitioners in the field of Organizational Learning, Knowledge and Capabilities to present and discuss their latest research and practice.

“Functional stupidity” is the term used by Alvesson and Spicer to describe a strange phenomenon they observed in practice: smart people in organizations that do seemingly not smart things because people are discouraged to think and reflect. Examples of functional stupidity include being encouraged not to ask difficult questions, not “rocking the boat,” adoption of management fads and excessive focus on brand and image. In rare cases, functional stupidity can be adaptive because it supports order and stability, but there is great potential for catastrophe in the form of financial insolvency, organizational chaos, and technical error that leads to loss of life. Mats, Bjørn, and Ralph talked about functional stupidity and real world implications for nearly an hour after Mats’ keynote speech at the conference.

We hope you find their conversation engaging and stimulating!

You may also download the audio file here:  E32
 

30: Corporate Culturalism

Corporate culturalism … preys upon the vulnerability of modern individuals who … are burdened with the responsibility of choosing between ‘a puzzling diversity of options and possibilities’ … but lack access to the resources needed to respond to this predicament.

Hugh Willmott


Strength is Ignorance; Slavery is Freedom: Managing Culture in Modern Organizations was Hugh Willmott’s critique of corporate culturalism, a dominant theme in management studies in the 1980s. In 1993, when the paper appeared in the Journal of Management Studies, strengthening corporate culture was seen as a way to improve organizational performance. Exemplified by Total Quality Management and Balanced Scorecard,  the view was that values could be systematized. The more that individual members aligned themselves with the corporate culture, the more effective they would be and the more committed they would become with the organization.

Not so fast, says Willmott.

But rather than using arguments grounded solely in organizational scholarship, which he certainly included, Willmott used a metaphor to present his arguments – George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. On page 523, Willmott accuses corporate culturalism with “systematizing and legitimizing of a control that purposefully seeks to shape and regulate the practical consciousness of employees.” A couple sentences later, “corporate culturalism become a medium of nascent totalitarianism.” But rather than old-fashioned oppressive totalitarianism, Willmott brings in Orwell’s concepts such as ‘doublethink,’ where paradox is a tool (or perhaps weapon). The corporation grants the appearance of autonomy to its members while also enforcing uniformity. Because of the affirmation, the employee merrily goes along, possibly unaware that there is no real autonomy granted.

And so on. Orwell concepts are evoked similarly throughout the paper.

By contrast, the commentaries that are also available on our site, evoke Orwell much more directly and often – evidenced by the titles that both included phrases from the book. The May 2013 edition of JMS included an article by Peter Fleming called “’Down with Big Brother!’ the End of Corporate Culturalism?’ followed by Willmott’s response, “The Substitution of One Piece of Nonsense for Another’: Reflections on Resistance, Gaming, and Subjugation. Both papers devote a lot of space to member resistance, which Willmott’s original work was criticized for not adequately addressing.

What to make of corporate culturalism? In 2017, it is hard to say it is dead — what do you think?

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

Read with us:

Willmott, H. (1993), Strength is Ignorance; Slavery is Freedom: Managing Culture in Modern Organizations. Journal of Management Studies, 30: 515–552

Fleming, P. (2013), ‘Down with Big Brother!’ The End of ‘Corporate Culturalism’?. Journal of Management Studies, 50: 474–495

Willmott, H. (2013), ‘The Substitution of One Piece of Nonsense for Another’: Reflections on Resistance, Gaming, and Subjugation. Journal of Management Studies, 50: 443–473

28: Organizations as Rhetoric

Mats Alvesson

For our sixth Journal of Management Studies Classic article we discussed a set of articles by Professor Mats Alvesson on Organizations as Rhetoric. Focusing on the original work published in 1993, we were very pleased to welcome Mats himself as a guest on this episode!

In this paper, Mats made a series of critical claims to highlight ‘the politics and rhetoric of professions’, as opposed to an ‘essentialist’ view of organizations (Alvesson, 1993: 999).  Central to his observations is a notion that although organizational knowledge is seen as key to to organizational performance, there is little grounding or relationship to external reality of such knowledge. Building on Aristotelian category of contingent knowledge, Mats underlined how knowledge in organizations is open to rhetorical construction and interpretation. Rhetoric is seen as a primary mechanism through which this construction is done and, sson_Maccordingly, knowledge is more a case of institutionalized myth and rationality surrogate than a technical solution to organizational problems. In order to produce these myths or claims to knowledge, organizations and their employees engage in rhetoric as a way of ‘providing convincing accounts, regulating impressions and images’ (Alvesson, 1993: 1007).

For Alvesson, organizations are best understood as ‘systems of persuasion’, where actors use their agency to engage in strategic discourse on behalf of the organization. They actively construct perceptions of reputation, prestige, and expertise within a field in order to construct and share institutionalized myths within and across organizational boundaries.

A key contribution of Alvesson’s (1993) paper is the introduction of a conception of agency as embodied in rhetoric, or the strategic use of language in institutional life. Alvesson points to the central role of rhetoric in institutional myths and organizations as well as to the importance of rhetoric to the operation and maintenance of institutions (Green Jr and Li, 2011). Mats suggests that rhetoric is not just external to the core of organizations but that it is its core. By centring rhetoric in organizational and institutional theorizing, Alvesson highlighted the importance of rhetoric for understanding agency in institutional and organizational sociology. At the same time, by introducing and integrating rhetoric in institutional theory, Alvesson’s ideas also helped further the linguistic turn in organizational and institutional research.

Please join us for this discussion as we talk with Mats about why he wrote this paper, what are his views on knowledge, and how rhetoric fits within the process of identity construction, among other themes!

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

Read with us:

Alvesson, M. (1993), Organizations as Rhetoric: Knowledge-Intensive Firms and the Struggle with Ambiguity. Journal of Management Studies, 30: 997–1015.

Alvesson, M. (2011), De-Essentializing the Knowledge Intensive Firm: Reflections on Sceptical Research Going against the Mainstream. Journal of Management Studies, 48: 1640–1661.

Green Jr, S. E. and Li, Y. (2011), Rhetorical Institutionalism: Language, Agency, and Structure in Institutional Theory since Alvesson 1993. Journal of Management Studies, 48: 1662–1697.