The Horizontal Issues
We found evidence of varied operating cultures in each of our studies. Widespread employee informal organization was also evident. These findings indicate general cultural assertions need to give way to appreciating contextual cultural interpretations.
Evidence of Local Operating Cultures
All Finos units had some common characteristics. Below-market average wages were paid. To compensate for this, various acts of appreciation were carried out. For example, after serving for a year, associates could pick a symbolic cultural item from a catalog.
The managers in the other horizontal Finos units generally did not want to change to a team design. There were also horizontal variations across the groups we examined in the team unit. These included differences in norms, the number of disciplinarians and the control methods used. One could not understand the overall situation without appreciating these differences.
We found examples at Finos of varied rather than uniform employee reactions to cultural efforts. For instance, some employees kept their recognition letters and nameplates with cultural logo stickers long after they took jobs elsewhere. Others did the minimum or left. Those who exercised peer discipline tended to become stressed and many felt underappreciated. On occasion, this resulted in expressions of frustration to people both inside and outside of the work group. A portion of the turnover rate was associated with these mounting ill feelings. The leaders had anticipated turnover would drop due to their appreciation efforts, but it did not.
At Value Stores, the corporate leaders had taken many steps to create a uniform appearance and culture across their stores. The company paid somewhat below-market-average wage levels for jobs such as cashiers. The leaders tried to make up for this by showing appreciation in various ways. The “quick and warm” slogan, ongoing checks on the speed of service, the daily huddles and Great Team Cards, the monthly Great Team Hero award and providing periodic free food to show appreciation were all key aspects of the corporate culture.
Despite these efforts to foster a uniform official culture, we found distinctive local operating cultures in the stores we studied. The leaders had decided to give no formal notice of impending tours, so the visitor(s) could see how things naturally stood. Our fieldwork uncovered informalwarnings were sent our by either phone calls or e-mails. This typically provided 30-45 minutes notice. No dramatic actions normally took place. Yet, this warning prevented unwelcome surprises and provided some time to conclude tasks. This showed local operating cultures existed that provided some relief from anxiety and a bit greater control.
Julia Thompson experienced the following role conflicts. As an HR manager, she was expected to listen to the employees and advocate for them. She also reviewed proposed disciplinary actions to avoid managerial excesses. At the same time, Julia’s store manager regularly scheduled her to work the sales floor. Thus, she was left with less time for her HR duties. This also made her look less separate and neutral to team members. In contrast, HR manager Pat Wood embraced periodically serving as Leader on Duty, because this helped her understand the line manager experiences. These were quite varied reactions to different store operating cultures.
We also documented other store-based line-staff conflict situations. HR manager Yvonne Owens first store manager, Karen Ross, had difficulties with becoming the superior of people she regarded as friends. She continued to gossip about her personal life, criticize people to others and use profanity. Under Yvonne’s second store manager, Matt Krampus, she refused to support a disciplinary action against Amy Mum. He soon tried to discipline Yvonne, albeit he later failed to provide supporting documentation. Pat Wood subsequently struggled to get store manager Matt Krampus to drop his late-day tours that generated long to-do lists, and his obsessive phone questions on his days off. Pat later realized some of store manager Jack Adams’ behaviors “freaked out” team members, such as skipping over the area managers. Pat spoke to Jack about what he was doing. Yet, she was probably more influenced by him than the other way around.
Line-staff conflicts were recognized as regular occurrences during the Human Relations era (Gardner & Moore, 1964). The performance perspective literature rarely mentioned line-staff conflicts (Ouchi, 1981:110). Readers were given the impression if a Theory Z culture was created, with long-term outcomes measures, few line-staff frictions would exist. Value Stores had a slogan as well as mission, vision and value statements. Peters and Waterman (1982) believed these would provide adequate central control. This was not true in our fieldwork.
When unacceptable deviations in a Value Store arose, such as in those operated by John Smith and Matt Krampus, tiered corrective measures were taken. When relatively minor deviations were noted, more frequent tours were conducted to give advice and observe the situation. In more severe situations, a new HR manager was assigned to restore the culture. In the worst cases, more wholesale changes were made in the executive positions. Despite these efforts, different operating cultures in the various stores continued to exist. For many employees, it was the local operating culture that determined how they felt about working at Value.
Varied operating cultures were evident at Insuro. We found multiple areas within the IT department competing to see which one could provide the best solution to certain problems. The annual charity fundraising campaign undertaken by the corporate leaders resulted in a competition among managers to see who could raise more money. These managers believed their superiors would notice who was more successful. This would translate into greater visibility and status. Some employees ended up feeling pressured to contribute. Since many austerity measures had been taken, this pressure generated additional irritation. Certain silos were seen as providing more desirable working conditions and promotion opportunities. For instance, the medical professional unit was preferred over the patient unit. These sorts of operating culture differences have been ignored by those who have focused only on the official culture.
At Amalgam Bank, when the sales culture was first introduced, there were some branch managers who fully embraced the new orientation. Others remained attached to the historic service culture. Over time, these service-oriented managers were replaced. This created a more uniform sales orientation. Yet, different local operating cultures still existed. We documented how one branch manager would publicly berate customer service representatives for not generating enough sales activity. In another location, the branch manager would take a poor performer aside and coach the person privately. One branch manager implemented the sales practice of having a teller reassigned to “build relationships” with customers who were waiting in line. In this same branch, tellers were sometimes asked to make sales calls to customers’ homes. Both practices were generally disliked by the tellers. The former slowed customer service. The latter was intrusive. Some customers became confused or irritated. In sum, a corporate effort was made to increase selling. Nonetheless, there were local variations in operating cultures that made quite a difference to some of the employees involved.
At the Balbec Housing Department, we documented how a new supervisor took steps to establish a different operating culture in her work group. Martha Jane Hughes regularly marked up her subordinates’ draft documents in red ink, and subsequently made even more corrections. She chose to exclude her subordinates from certain meetings, which would give her more information than her group going forward. She implemented a sign-in and -out policy for her inspector. Mrs. Hughes also created a policy requiring all communications with other supervisors be placed through her, rather than making direct contact. This raised her profile with the other managers and placed her further in control of information.
The presence and nature of these operating cultures stemmed in part from the nature of the industry involved and the organization structure adopted by specific leaders. Value Stores and Amalgam Bank had many geographically distributed outlets. The local management team followed the official culture and formal organization. While this provided some degree of uniformity, the local managers still had enough discretion to powerfully shape the nature of their subordinates’ daily experiences. Finos and Insure had operating cultures that stemmed from specialized functional silos that were in one specific location. The Housing Department was one of many city services that could also be regarded as specialized silos. Within this department, there were also different operating cultures within the existing workgroups.