Just What Are We Talking About, Anyway?

Lesson 1: Topic 2 of 4

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Organizations are products of human interaction and mind rather than some blind expression of an underlying natural order. Deceptively simple yet so entirely radical in implication, this insight is still shattering many beliefs, one of which is the long-standing conviction that bureaucracy, oligarchy, and other forms of hierarchical domination are inevitable. Today we know that this simply is not true.

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For three decades United Airlines’ tagline was “Fly the Friendly Skies” (implying, of course, that their competitors were unfriendly). Zappos describes itself as “a customer service company that happens to sell shoes.” These statements, along with others such as “Just Do It” (Nike), “Quality Never Goes Out of Style” (Levi’s), and “Think” (IBM) are all pithy, memorable messages of what a business does or claims to be. They reflect what they want the public to believe is the essence of their respective business cultures. 

Cambridge’s A New History of Management says workplace culture is seen by many to be “one of the most important enablers of, or barriers to, management success.” Culture at job sites has been around ever since there have been people gathering together to work, but the concept of workplace culture wasn’t formulated until the 1980s, when it became a standard part of business discourse. Since those early years it has upended a long-held understanding that management’s fundamental concern is efficiency and profit, and instead has evolved into “seek[ing] ways of encouraging collective effort through sympathy, persuasion, and seeking mutual enrichment [while] controlling people less, not more.” A key figure in the development of this line of thinking was Peter Drucker (most famous for Management by Objectives, or MBO). Drucker was convinced that employees would work harder and seek to fulfill their duties if they were allowed to help determine performance standards. He was right. 

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In The Leadership Challenge, authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner describe research proving “Organizations with strong corporate cultures based on a foundation of shared values outperform other firms by a huge margin. Their revenue and rate of job creation grow faster, and their profit performance and stock price are significantly higher.” Isn’t that what you want for your establishment?