Perspectives on culture: integration, fragmentation, differentiation

Does integration integrate?

An example of a basic assumption subconsciously informing behaviour is the notion that a strong, unified and integrated culture leads to superior performance. On the basis of the assumptions that this integration perspective provides (one of three perspectives that will be considered in this section along with fragmentation and differentiation perspectives),67 leaders may enact various policies of control and attempt to ensure a homogeneous and harmonious organizational culture. The leader’s attempts to create such unity may, however, backfire, creating instead a culture of distrust and resentment amongst employees. It is therefore worth questioning if an integrated culture is in fact desirable, possible or even ethical.

Groupthink is one issue that makes a strong integrated culture undesirable (see Chapter 7). When all members think and act in the same way, as is the case with groupthink, the lack of counterfactual thinking and devil’s advocacy may lead to poor decision making. A case in point is the influence of groupthink in ignoring safety concerns leading to the disaster of NASA’s Space Shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986.66 Just 73 seconds after launching the shuttle exploded and broke apart, killing the seven astronauts on board. Groupthink also stifles innovation, creativity and adaptability. Pressures to conform have also played their part in the corporate scandals involving companies such as VW and Wells Fargo.

Another consideration is the ethic implicit in creating an integrated culture. If the core of an organization’s culture is the deeply held subconscious attitudes, values and beliefs of its members, changing the culture of the organization requires attempting to change these. When an employment contract is signed between an employer and employee, the contract is for the employee’s labour, performed as a particular type of work, over a certain time period each day. The employee is not providing authorization for the employer to attempt to change or influence their deeply held subconscious attitudes, values and beliefs. Historically, when strong leaders have attempted to create social integration and cohesion according to an idealized norm, it has been artificially propped up and maintained through high levels of secret monitoring and control. Individuals viewed as incompatible with the mandated values may well be branded as enemies of the state or firm, and duly ostracized, bullied and even murdered.6

Corporate examples pale in comparison but, as we have remarked earlier, the Ford Motor Company under Henry Ford, famous for its revolutionary policies of providing employees with above average wages and decent working conditions, also maintained a Sociological Department that paternalistically investigated the private lives of employees, visiting their homes to ensure they met the company’s strict standards of the ideal employee.70 The ideal Ford employee had to demonstrate character by cultivating qualities of self-regulation, personal hygiene and thrift. Immigrant employees also had to demonstrate their learning of the ‘American Way’, for example, by taking English classes. The Ford case demonstrates in clear relief the complex ethical implications of trying to create ‘designer employees’ that are ‘corporate clones’ of desired attitudes, values and beliefs. Aiming to create a ‘happy workplace’ does not change the ethical nature of the endeavour: think about an employee forced to be happy and positive even when they are in deep grief and stress about events in their personal life (see Box 9.6).

Box 9.6 ‘How do you know it is going to be okay?’ - let me be sad, please!

Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg - excerpt from a Facebook post where she shared her feelings with the public, 30 days after her husband’s death:'1

A friend of mine with late-stage cancer told me that the worst thing people could say to him was ‘It is going to be okay.’ That voice in his head would scream, How do you know it is going to be okay? Do you not understand that I might die? I learned this past month what he was trying to teach me. Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not. When people say to me, ‘You and your children will find happiness again,’ my heart tells me, Yes, I believe that, but I know I will never feel pure joy again. Those who have said, ‘You will find a new normal, but it will never be as good’ comfort me more because they know and speak the truth.

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