Contextual Interpretations of Global Cultural Recommendations

The performance perspective recognizes interpretation to some degree. Leaders create cultural symbolic objects to produce a common identity and engender pride. Reducing status differences between hierarchical levels could foster a greater sense of team, unity and shared purpose. One may accordingly have everyone wear the same uniforms (Ouchi, 1981:127). Higher-status managerial parking, lunchrooms and restrooms could be phased out (Ouchi, 1981:188). Executives might also drop reference to their formal titles and use first names rather than last names (Peters & Waterman, 1982:122). This has been associated with treating everyone with equal respect, much like in family relationships (Ouchi, 1981:101). Using a first name also suggests an executive is humble, approachable and willing to listen (Peters & Waterman, 1982:287). Informal communication should be fostered when such bosses walk around.

Our fieldwork did uncover some evidence of managers using their first names. In the Balbec Housing Department, many employees historically were trusted to work with little ongoing supervision. During staff meetings, Mike and other managers used their first names and refrained from using their formal titles. Everyone could talk before a decision was made on an issue. This was taken as a genuine effort to foster a team atmosphere. As a result, subordinates thought they were a big part of doing important things in Balbec.

At Amalgam Bank, we encountered a regional VP of sales who told branch employees to call him “Sam.” The operation was said to be “a family.” Sam launched the sales program by asking each employee individually to commit to the effort.

Periodic tours were conducted where Sam observed the tellers and customer service representatives working. In the next staff meeting, the branch manager asked why each observed person was or was not doing a certain thing. This put the person on the spot. This took place in the overall context of unrealistic referral and sales goals being set, service being slowed and constant pressure being exerted to sell more. Sam and the other sales-oriented managers were viewed as only being concerned about making their objectives and benefiting themselves.

Anyone who equated these situations based on Mike and Sam both using their first names would be conducting a very shallow analysis. The employees drew conclusions based on their overall work experiences. Our participants did not view Sam as a friend or respected family member. Setting unrealistic goals made many employees feel like failures. This went against the performance perspective recommendation to raise subordinates’ confidence by producing lots of winners and celebrating the winning soon after (Peters & Waterman, 1982:58).

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