The following is an observation and analysis of the role an organization’s values play on the development and state of its culture. This analysis is based on five interviews of both male and female workers from a privately owned manufacturing company with annual revenues exceeding a billion dollars.
In forming my conclusions, I will analyze the synthesis of data and draw from the classification and examples set forth in the “Workplace Culture and Socialization section of Volti’s “An Introduction to the Sociology of Work and Occupations” Volti (2008) as well as the National Defense University’s publication “Organization Culture” (National Defense University, Undated).
The following analysis focuses on data collected from five individuals of varying tenure and gender employed by a privately owned manufacturing company with annual revenues exceeding a billion dollars. A family of German immigrants in Cleveland, Ohio founded the company seventy-five years ago. The company has since grown from an Ohio based tool and die provider to a global manufacturer of outdoor power equipment with offices in North America, Europe, Australia, and China. In the last twelve months, the executive leadership of this company has undergone a significant succession period.
The office of the CEO has been handed down from the family patriarch, who had held the position for more than twenty-five years and had reached the company’s mandatory retirement age, to his eldest son who was a division president and is currently in his mid-forties. In addition to the office of the CEO, seven out of the nine current executives are set to retire in the next twelve months. The company is undergoing a major leadership transition in a time of great economic uncertainty, particularly for an American based manufacturer.
The market for outdoor power equipment has decreased in the last five years as it is tied closely to housing starts and other real estate indices. The company is faced with a stagnant and highly competitive market in which the ability to make timely and accurate decisions is critical for retaining customers and profitable operating margins. It is also important to note that within the last twelve months, the company has cut their workforce by ten percent and made the decision to close one of its North American factories.
The culmination of these attributes provides the opportunity to assess a previously stable culture in a rare state of transition and discomfort. Organizational Culture Concepts “One of the primary responsibilities of strategic leaders is to create and maintain the organization characteristics that reward and encourage collective effort. ” (National Defense University, Undated) Exploring the contribution an organization’s leadership and their personal values plays in creating behaviors, values, and symbols adopted by the organization as a whole is critical in their ability to set goals that will compliment the culture of their workforce.
Leadership’s ability to identify the dominant culture as well as their responsibility to be aware of subcultures and the reasoning behind their development will determine their success in achieving the goals they set for the organization at large. The way leadership approaches these subcultures and their willingness to address whether the subculture’s attributes are complimentary to the culture advocated by leadership is fundamental to the analysis of this paper’s subject organization.
The organization evaluated in this paper is experiencing a leadership transition and the culture that served to help “cope with its environment” (National Defense University, Undated) previously faces uncertainty. “Leaders at the executive level are the principle source for the generation and re-infusion of an organization’s ideology, articulation of core values and specification of norms. ” (National Defense University, Undated) In this transition period, the lack of identifiable incoming leadership culture has strengthened the existing community of subcultures within the organization.
These subcultures provide a method of informal socialization “that no reasonable amount of formal training can provide. ” (Volti, 2008) In most cases, these subcultures “mesh quite well with the dominant organizational culture because their goals and values parallel those of management. ” (Volti, 2008)
However, as stated, this is an organization in transition and there is the potential for countercultures to arise due to the ambiguity of what the behaviors, values, and norms of the new leadership’s culture will be. Schein contends that many of the problems confronting leaders can be traced to their inability to analyze and evaluate organizational cultures. ” (National Defense University, Undated) As this new group of leaders begins to set strategic direction for the next generation of this organization, they must acknowledge, “Difficulties with organizational transformations arise from failures to analyze an organization’s existing culture. (National Defense University, Undated)
For this organization to be successful, leaders will need to “correctly analyze the organization’s existing culture, and evaluate it against the cultural attributes needed to achieve strategic objectives. ” (National Defense University, Undated) Focus and Hypothesis The following analysis will undertake the correlation between strategic goals and productive culture to examine the impact the recent changes in leadership is having on the culture and determine the particular behaviors and values that emerge because of this transition.
The same group of individuals has led this company for the past twenty-five years and because of their impending departure, I expect the subjects interviewed to feel uncertainty and an absence of communication around goals. Additionally I am expecting a strong reference to people and family values as core elements of culture due to the company’s status as a family-owned business and a history of lengthy employment by its workforce. I also expect that there will be evidence of high job satisfaction to establish a core component of employee motivation to remain with the company for long periods.
For my research, I interviewed five individuals from different departments within the organization. They were both male and female with tenures ranging from two to thirteen years. In addressing my hypothesis regarding cultural employee motivation for lengthy employment, I observed that four out of the five had held more than one position with the company. Each subject felt that the company fostered an atmosphere of growth of potential. They felt that they were not limited to the same position on an indefinite basis and one subject had held as many as seven different positions in thirteen years.
When asked what was valued about the organization and what kept them there, in all subjects relationships proved to be a strong theme. There was consistent emphasis on the subject’s liking what they did and the individuals they work with on a daily basis. Four out of the five subjects stated that a main driver in what kept them at the company was the opportunities and challenges of a changing organization. One subject went as far to state that the things that frustrate her most about the company are also the things that keep her engaged.
She felt the company fostered a belief that each individual could influence the organization greatly and that many were “addicted” to the challenge. In describing the organization’s traits, each subject made reference of the organization’s family owned status. Four of the five subjects went further to highlight the influence the owning family’s religious beliefs on the values held by the culture. Each subject identified quarterly management meetings that begin with an executive led prayer. This behavior seems to have reinforced the culture as extension of the owning family’s personal values and norms.
One subject described the organization as tight-knit and stated that you know people on a personal level. Another extension of family ownership to culture is the belief that participation in ceremonies and rituals is required. In some organizations of this size attendance at a holiday lunch or company picnic might be viewed as optional, however two of the subjects indicated that they attend company-sponsored events because there is a perception and requirement around involvement and participation.
Their descriptions are reminiscent of the way people refer to attending family weddings and holiday gatherings as a family duty before personal desire. In contrast, though, three subjects stated they attend out of a personal desire to meet new people and learn more about the company. In all five subjects interviewed, there was clear evidence demonstrated that the company’s status as a family owned business and the values held by the family have had a direct influence over the ceremonies and rituals of the company as well as extending to the values held important by the workforce as a whole.
When asked to identify an individual who symbolized the organization, three of the five subjects interviewed named the former CEO who retired last year. The reasoning was consistent across the subjects in highlighting the CEO’s status as the head of the family, conservative, but also his immense value for the company’s people and his treatment of them as extended family. The subject who currently holds the position of Director of Employee Relations referenced the former CEOs agony over recent decisions to reduce workforce and the closing of a facility.
He felt this symbolized the organizational culture belief that the company’s people are its most valued asset. He also said that at times he felt this could be a weakness for the company. He felt the implied family atmosphere made it difficult for leadership to make strategic decisions and that the company often retained individuals who performed poorly but were loyal. The other two subjects identified their manager’s as symbolic but for less flattering reasons. They both assessed their manager’s as “lifers”.
This was the first negative aspect I observed in regards to the long length of employment among employees. They described these individuals as complacent and that these individuals seem comfortable in their ways. One of the subjects referenced his manager’s lack of communication skills as demonstrative of the organization as a whole. Communication becomes a reoccurring theme for all subjects when we begin to analyze qualities in need of changes as well as how departments relate to each other. When asked about inter-department relations, each candidate smiled and laughed but it was more out of discomfort.
Subjects cautiously began with statements that communication and contact was improving across departments but feelings were neutral at best. I found this to be in sharp contrast to the previously mentioned descriptions of “tight-knit” and family based. When asked what one quality they would change, subjects referenced improved communication and clear definition of strategic goals by the executive leadership. One subject stated that the company has an inability to see its flaws and tends to be too detail focused to understand its overarching goals.
The absence of strategic direction at a higher level seems to reinforce the silo-based descriptions given when asked about cross department contact and relations. Although employees function as a big family, there is definitely a presence of subcultures within functional areas due to a lack of binding vision across them. These subcultures and their strength seem to allow for each of the subjects to work well within their own department but feel a lack of identification culturally with other departments. Conclusion Interview evidence supports a strong family based culture exists within the company, which supports my hypothesis.
Due to the stable leadership by the same group of individuals over a lengthy period, employees have developed a personal connection to the organization. I believe that the lengthy tenure of the majority of the workforce also helps because they come to know each other over long periods. The organization has continued growth over the years and its willingness to invest in its people has provided a wealth of opportunities for its employees to advance and grow into different areas, which has led to a high rate of employee retention.
Employees are aware of the organization’s transitional state and this is mostly evident in their desire to see the company set a clear strategic direction from a top-down level. The organization has many opportunities to bring its employees together for celebration and informational purposes yet the subjects interviewed all referenced communication between departments as an issue and something that needs to be improved upon.
This situation has allowed very strong subcultures within functional areas to thrive but they do not seem to be in contrast to the overall values present in the dominant culture. The subcultures are mainly serving as surrogate support systems in the absence of clear overall communication from executive leadership. There is an observable bond between the subjects interviewed for this research and the organization they work for which is clearly demonstrated by the high occurrence of opportunities and challenges being given as reasons for what eeps them there as well as an observable respect and care for their fellow employees present in all interviews.
Even though there is concern about the company direction and some ambiguity around goals, each of the subject interviewed seemed to demonstrate faith that the company will work past the current issues and challenges and a willingness to continue working there while it happens. Although this supports my hypothesis that the transition of leadership is having an impact on the culture, it is not as negative as I expected it to be. They are all confident that what makes the company a great place to work is in large part due to its people and that with a clear direction, the people can accomplish anything that set out to achieve.