When people set up an organisation they will typically borrow from models or ideals that are familiar to them. The organisation is a subjective construct and its employees will give meaning to their environment based on their own particular programming. The organisation is like something else they have experienced.
Organisational culture is shaped not only by technologies and markets but by the cultural preferences of leaders and employees. Some international companies have European, Asian, American or Middle Eastern subsidiaries which would be unrecognisable as the same company save for their logo and reporting procedures. Often these are fundamentally different in the logic of their structure and the meanings they bring to shared activity.
Three aspects of organisational structure are especially important in determining corporate culture.
1. The general relationship between employees and their organisation.
2. The vertical or hierarchical system of authority defining superiors and subordinates.
3. The general views of employees about the organisation’s destiny, purpose and goals and their places in this.
The famous Dutch researcher Fons Trompenaars uses two dimensions to distinguish different corporate cultures: equality-hierarchy and orientation to the person-orientation to the task.
This enables him to define four types of corporate culture that can be described as follows:
1. The family
2. The Eiffel Tower
3. The guided missile
4. The incubator
These are “ideal types”. In practice the types are mixed or overlaid with one culture dominating.
5. Answer the questions.
1. When people set up an organisation they typically borrow from what is familiar to them. Why?
2. How organisational culture is shaped?
3. What aspects are important in determining corporate culture?
4. What two dimensions does the Dutch researcher use?
5. What types of corporate culture does he define?
6. Why do you think he calls them like these?
6. Study the following.
The family culture. This culture is at the same time personal, with close face-to-face relationships, but also hierarchical. The result is a power-oriented corporate culture in which the leader is regarded as a caring father who knows better than his subordinates what should be done and what is good for them. Rather than being threatening, this type of power is essentially intimate and (hopefully) benign.
The Japanese recreate within the corporation aspects of the traditional family. The major business virtue is a kind of love between persons of different rank, with indulgence shown to the younger and respect reciprocated to the elder. The idea is always to do more than a contract or agreement obliges you to. Promotion by age means that the older person will typically be in charge. The relationship to the corporation is long-term and devoted. A large part of the reason for working, performing well and resolving conflict in this corporate culture is the pleasure derived from such relationships. To pleasure your superior (or elder brother) is a reward in itself.
The “father” or “elder brother” is influential in all situations, whether they have knowledge of the problem or not, when an event occurs at work, in canteen or on the way home, and even if someone else present is better qualified. The general happiness and welfare of all employees is regarded as the concern of the family-type corporation, which worries about their housing, the size of their families and whether their wages are sufficient for them to live well. The corporation may assist in these areas.
Many corporations with family-style cultures are from nations which industrialised late: Greece, Italy, Japan, Turkey, Venezuela, Singapore, South Korea, Spain. Where the transition from feudalism to industrialism was rapid, many feudal traditions remain.
Family cultures have difficulty with project group organisation or matrix-type authority structures, since here authority is divided. Your function has one boss and your project another, so how can you give undivided loyalty to either? Another problem is that the claim of genuine families may intrude. If someone is your brother or cousin they are already related to your family back home and should therefore find it easier to relate closely to you at work. It follows that, where a role or project culture might see nepotism as corruption and a conflict of interests, a family culture could see it as reinforcing its current norms. A person connected to your family at home and at work has one more reason not to cheat you.
7. Answer the questions.
1. What’s the major business virtue?
2. How do you understand “power-oriented”?
3. Who is influential in all situations?
4. Describe the role of the “father”.
5. What does the family-type corporation concern?
6. What kind of relationship can be between the corporation and employees?
7. Why do family cultures have difficulty with working in project group or matrix type structures?
8. Study the following.
The Eiffel Tower culture. In the Western world a bureaucratic division of labour with various roles and functions is prescribed in advance. These allocations are coordinated at the top by a hierarchy. If each role is played as envisioned by the system then tasks will be completed as planned. One supervisor can oversee the completion of several tasks; one manager can oversee the job of several supervisors; and so on up the hierarchy.
The Eiffel Tower in Paris is chosen to symbolise this cultural type because it is steep, symmetrical, narrow at the top and broad at the base, stable, rigid and robust.
Its hierarchy is very different from that of the family. Each higher level has a clear and demonstrable function of holding together the levels beneath it. You obey the boss because it is his or her role to instruct you. He has legal authority to tell you what to do and your contract of service, overtly or implicitly, obliges you to work according to his instructions. If you and other subordinates did not do so, the system could not function.
The boss in the Eiffel Tower is only incidentally a person. Essentially he or she is a role. Were the boss to drop dead tomorrow, someone else would replace him or her and it would make no difference to your duties or to the organisation’s reason for being. If you meet the boss on the golf course, you have no obligation to let him or her play through and your boss probably would not expect it.
Careers in Eiffel Tower companies are much assisted by professional qualifications. At the top of German and Austrian companies, which are typically Eiffel Tower models, the titles of professor or doctor are common on office doors. This is extremely rare in the USA.
Almost everything the family culture accepts the Eiffel Tower rejects. For employees in the role-oriented Eiffel Tower, the family culture is arbitrary, irrational, conspiratorial and corrupt. Employees of the Eiffel Tower are ideally precise and meticulous. They are nervous when order and predictability is lacking. Duty is an important concept for the role-oriented employee. It is an obligation people feel within themselves, rather than an obligation they feel towards a specific individual.
Each role at each level of the hierarchy is described, rated for its difficulty, complexity and responsibility, and has a salary attached to it. There then follows a search for a person to fill it. The personnel department will treat every applicant equally and neutrally and will award the job to the best fit between role and person.
But these cultures are not necessarily exclusive. Families can “take on” the exacting rules of Eiffel Tower and become formidable competitors like many Japanese companies. The finest combinations lie beyond stereotypes and simple contrasts.
9. Answer the questions.
1. Describe the division of labour in the Western world.
2. Why did the author choose the Eiffel Tower to characterise this culture?
3. Describe the role of the boss.
4. Compare the role of the boss in family and Eiffel Tower cultures.
5. In the Eiffel Tower, how do they search for personnel?
6. Compare this with the family-type culture.
7. Compare these two cultures.
10. Study the following.
The guided missile culture. The guided missile culture differs from both the family and the Eiffel Tower by being egalitarian, but differs also from the family and resembles the Eiffel Tower in being impersonal and task oriented. Indeed the guided missile culture is rather like the Eiffel Tower in flight. But while the rationale of the Eiffel Tower culture is means, the guided missile has a rationale of ends. Everything must be done to persevere in your strategic intent and reach your target.
The guided missile culture is oriented to tasks, typically undertaken by teams and project groups. It differs from the role culture in that the jobs members do are not fixed in advance. They must do “whatever it takes” to complete a task, and what is needed is often unclear and may have to be discovered.
NASA pioneered the use of project groups working on space probes which resembled guided missiles. It takes roughly 140 different kinds of engineers to build a lunar landing module. Each knows most about his or her part. All are equals, or at least potentially equal, since their relative contributions are not yet known.
Such groups will have leaders or coordinators, who are responsible for sub- and final assemblies, but these generalists may know less than specialists in each discipline and must treat all experts with great respect. The group is egalitarian because it might need the help of any one expert in changing direction towards its target. Missile cultures frequently draw on professionals and are cross-disciplinary. They are expensive because professionals are expensive. Groups tend to be temporary. Employees will join other groups, for other purposes, within days and weeks and may have multiple memberships.
The ultimate criteria of human value in the guided missile culture are how you perform and to what extent you contribute to the jointly desired outcome. In effect, each member shares in problem-solving. The relative contribution of any one person may not be as clear as in the Eiffel Tower culture where each role is described and outputs can be quantified.
In practice, the guided missile culture is superimposed upon the Eiffel Tower organisation to give it permanence and stability. (This is known as the matrix organisation.)
11. Answer the questions.
1. How does this type of culture differ from the two mentioned above?
2. What do they have in common?
3. What tasks is the guided missile culture oriented on?
4. What comparison does the author use speaking about this culture?
5. Why did the author use a guided missile to characterise this culture?
6. What are the leaders responsible for?
7. Why should the leaders respect experts?
12. Study the following.
The incubator culture. The incubator culture is based on the existential idea that organisations are secondary to the fulfilment of individuals. “Existence precedes organisation” is the notion of incubator cultures. If organisations are to be tolerated at all, they should be there to serve as incubators for self-expression and self-fulfilment. The metaphor here should not be confused with “business incubators”. (These are organisations which provide routine maintenance and services, plant equipment, insurance, office space and so on for embryo businesses, so that they can lower their overhead costs during the crucial start-up phase.)
However, the logic of business and cultural incubators is quite similar. In both cases the purpose is to free individuals from routine to more creative activities and to minimise time spent on self-maintenance. The incubator is both personal and egalitarian. Indeed it has almost no structure at all and what structure it does provide is merely for personal convenience: heat, light, word processing, coffee and so on.
The roles of other people in the incubator, however, are crucial. They are there to confirm, develop, find resources for and help to complete the innovative product or service. The culture acts as a sounding board for innovative ideas and tries to respond intelligently to new initiatives. The companies are usually entrepreneurial or founded by a creative team that quit a large employer just before the pay-off. Typical examples are start-up firms in Silicon Valley, California or in Silicon Glen in Scotland.
Cultural incubators are not only small innovative companies. They can be doctors in group practice, legal partners, some consultants, or any group of professionals who work mostly alone but like to share resources while comparing experiences. Some writers see the incubator as the organisational wave of the future. Others point out to the rarity of incubator cultures outside the “enclaves of individualism” in the USA, the UK and the English-speaking world.
Incubator cultures enjoy the process of creating and innovating. But American start-up companies with incubator cultures rarely survive the maturing of their products and their markets. This culture learns to create but no to survive altered patterns of demand. The “great designers” of the novel products continue to be the heroes of the company long after the focus has shifted to customer service and to marketing.
13. Answer the questions.
1. What is the incubator culture based on?
2. Why does the author use this metaphor to characterise this type of culture?
3. Compare the incubator culture with “business incubator”. Why they shouldn’t be confused?
4. What is the role of people in the incubator culture?
5. Where can this type of culture be spread?
6. Can this type of culture help the company to survive?
7. Compare the incubator culture with the three mentioned above.
14. Study the following.
Which countries prefer which corporate cultures? We have defined four broad types of corporate culture, which are closely related to the national differences. In these four models employees relate differently, have different views of authority, think, learn and change in different ways, and are motivated by different rewards, while criticism and conflict resolution are variously handled. Just as national cultures conflict leading to mutual incomprehension and mistrust so corporate cultures collide. Attempts to “dice” the family with a matrix can cause rage and consternation. Getting cosy with subordinates in the Eiffel Tower could be seen as a potentially improper advance. Asking to be put in a group with a special friend is a subversive act in the guided missile culture. Calling your boss “buddy” and slapping him or her on the back will get you thrown from the Eiffel Tower, while suggesting in an incubator that everyone fill out time-sheets will be greeted with cat-calls. (If you really want to discover norms, break them; reading this is intended as a less painful alternative.)
As we have already said, these “pure types” seldom exist. In practice the types are mixed or overlaid with one culture dominating. Nevertheless in different national cultures one or more of these types clearly dominate the corporate scene.
The Trompenaars-Hampden-Turner Group decided to compile a database of corporate culture which currently totals 13,000 and they have significant samples for 42 countries. These show very marked distinctions: the highest scores are put for the guided missile companies in the USA and the UK, and the highest for family companies in France and Spain. Sweden scores highest for incubators and Germany for Eiffel Tower.
But you, however, should interpret this cautiously. Smaller companies wherever located are more likely to take the family and incubator forms. Large companies needing structure to cohere are likely to choose Eiffel Tower or guided missile forms. In France, for example, smaller companies tend to be family and larger companies Eiffel Tower. In the USA guided missile companies may dominate among large corporations, but the archetypal incubators are to be found in Silicon Valley, as they are in the UK in Silicon Glen.
(You can also see Appendix E to get more information)
15. Answer the questions.
1. What types of corporate culture do you know?
2. How different are the employees in these four cultures?
3. Summarise different attitudes to the same things in these cultures.
4. Do you think there can be just one dominating culture? Why?
5. What corporate cultures do the small companies prefer?
6. What corporate cultures do the large companies prefer? Why?
7. What types do different nations prefer?
16. Study the following.
The previous cases have given you insight into several corporate cultures. Subcultures exist within every organisation and reflect the functional activities of the groups, such as marketing, engineering, management and so on.
Here are summarised the cultural values of some several leading American organisations versus those of Japanese and Malaysian companies. By examining this list of values, it is clear that, in general, they reflect each country’s culture. This table gives the first clue to the causes of cultural clashes and challenges that American, Japanese or any other nationality may face in global joint ventures.