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Home arrow Management arrow Strategic Management in the 21st Century. Corporate Strategy

WHAT'S MISSING?

The research on organizational culture started in earnest in the 1980s and blossomed during the 1990s and 2000s. Recent literature, at least from a scholarly perspective, has been less voluminous. Perhaps the notion of culture as an influence on organizational performance is now so widely accepted that there is little need for additional research. Earlier literature suggests that at least conceptually, scholars assume a positive relationship between organizational culture (especially if strong) and performance. Indeed, in a recent, albeit informal, survey of participants in an executive MBA program with more than 300 combined years of managerial experience, none questioned the assumption of culture being critical and useful as a way to create competitive advantage. Has it become so much a part of management thinking that we understand all we need to? In an effort to avoid complacency, should we not periodically ask if something is amiss or perhaps missing? On (too) many occasions, research based upon a long history of solid evidence has been questioned, and conclusions sometimes overturned. From Copernicus quietly questioning the orbit of the earth to Darwin's challenge of human development to discoveries of new planets and reclassification of known planets (e.g., Pluto), scientific research has a tradition of reviewing what may or may not still hold validity.

In management, similar paradigm shifts may be less dramatic, yet questions about assumptions have emerged. Books and ideas from the 1980s and 1990s caused shifts in thinking but some of their conclusions now seem outdated. Ouchi's Theory Z, which focused on building employee consensus and involvement in organizations, offered what seemed at the time to be views about motivation that took the business world by storm.60 Several consultant/researcher based books have also shaken long-held beliefs or helped scholars and managers look at questions in new ways. Peters and Waterman's In Search of Excellence raised the question of why some firms appear to perform well over time and others do not.61 Jim Collins's Good to Great took the question further, comparing firms in similar industries to identify characteristics that seemed to distinguish ones that had become "great" from those that remained just "good."62 Peter

Drucker also questioned the ways managers operate and suggested alternate approaches or, at a minimum, that leaders ask different questions.63 Each posed what seemed to be simple questions and found sometimes unexpected answers.

Although we would like to be able to follow in the footsteps of some of these works, we do not presume to be asking or answering fundamental questions of management in this chapter. Our goal is not to challenge the generally accepted assumption that culture and organizational performance are linked. Rather, our goal is to consider what might be missing in the literature or might be pursued in future research to strengthen our understanding. As is likely common with any new research, those at the forefront of early research on culture and performance seemed to be "certain" of the links they found between the two variables. With more research, however, scholars often become less definite,64 and as described earlier, shifts have occurred in characterizing the dimensions of culture or when it can be a source of advantage. In this section, we look at what else might be useful to understand about the links among culture, performance, and competitive advantage. We suggest three areas that might be examined more closely, and raise questions that could be pursued. First, how does knowledge about links between culture and performance relate to non-Western (North American and European) contexts? What, for example, does literature based on experience in Asia, Latin America, or Africa reveal about the role of organizational culture on competitive advantage and performance, and is this the same as in the Western context? Second, is it possible to have a strong, positive culture, yet poor performance? Conversely, can an organization have high performance yet poor or negative culture? Under what conditions might these situations occur? Finally, the literature focuses heavily on the importance of creating strong culture, but there is less evidence or discussion of how to sustain this over time. What mechanisms are needed and how might these vary across different types of organizations or sectors?

 
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