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Pay attention to corporate culture, or face an uncertain future – HRD Preview


The pressures of the modern economy are destroying a sense of community in many UK organisations according to Rob Goffee, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, speaking at the CIPD's annual training conference, HRD 2003.

Goffee claims that increased competition through globalisation has left a negative mark on organisations as they attempt to become leaner, more flexible and more creative. He argues that organisations need to pay more attention to their cultural make-up if they are to manage change effectively and succeed in the 21st Century.

Goffee highlights the development of IT technologies, the disbanding of workplace rules and the development of autonomous teams working independently as the fey factors behind the trend towards a 'mercenary culture'. This culture is dominated by a high level of 'solidarity' which requires workers to be focused and act quickly on the organisation's goals at the expense of social interaction. It is increasingly commonplace in today's fast-paced global economy.

Goffee says: "The drive to become more flexible and competitive has both advantages and risks in the new economy. On the one hand, organisations can be better equipped to deal with competition with enthusiastic, high performing workers pulling in the same direction in a meritocratic system. On the other, organisations run the risk of destroying high morale, the sharing of information and effective teamwork which can be costly in today's knowledge-driven economy."

Goffee believes that there are four broad types of organisations; mercenary, communal, networked and fragmented, which can judged against an axis of high or low levels of 'solidarity' and 'sociability'. For instance, in contrast to a mercenary culture lies a networked culture which has high levels of 'sociability' and low levels of 'solidarity.

He argues that organisations have elements of each and that there are many potential advantages and disadvantages to each type of culture.

These include:

1. Networked organisations

* informal and flexible
* less defensive
* able to exchange information rapidly
* high morale and trust

* negative politics and gossip
* all talk and no action
* risk averse
* can therefore be ill-suited to global, competitive marketplace

2. Mercenary organisations

* focused with a keen sense of the competition
* high energy and task oriented
* high levels of competition awareness
* high performance required

* Too little time for co-operation
* Low levels of trust
* Can be restless and ruthless

3. Communal

* Passionate and committed to the organisation
* High levels of energy, creativity and stimulation
* Able to sustain teams over longer periods

* Complacency
* Change resistant
* Willingness to accept lower performance among colleagues
* Tendency to neglect family life

4. Fragmented

* Autonomous
* Performance-related
* Emphasis on ideas, quality and productivity

* Selfish, with no knowledge sharing
* Low identification with organisation
* Substantial barriers to learning

Goffee concludes, "There is no one right to way to shape an organisation's culture. These principles are merely designed to help organisations understand their culture and help them avoid going into negative territory. Smart organisations will adjust elements of sociability and solidarity according to key situation they find themselves in. This is particularly relevant to organisations undergoing change, many of whom sadly go from the one extreme of 'positively communal' to 'negatively fragmented'."

Rob Goffee, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, will be speaking at 9:30 on Thursday, 10 April.

Find out more about HRD 2003


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