Discover more from Work Futures
The Back Story on 'Culture as Shared Values'
An idea misused as a tool of social coercion.
Management is the delusion that you can change people. Leadership is deluding other people instead of deluding yourself.
| Scott Adams, in Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel
A pointer by Lee Bryant led me to this flaming condemnation of the idea of ‘culture as shared values’ by Geoff Marlow:
You’d think that amongst the dozens of organisations I've had the privilege to poke about in throughout Europe, Asia and the US over the past 35 years, the best performers would be living proof of the power of shared values.
Quite the contrary.
In fact, the organisations that trumpeted their shared values most loudly were the ones whose cultures were most toxic to innovation, agility, and adaptiveness.
This ought to be no surprise, given how many high profile organisations singularly fail to live up to their supposed values.
But the myth of culture as shared values persists.
And where did that myth come from? Marlow tracks it back to Tom Peters at McKinsey, who led an initiative (the 7S’s) to come up with something better to sell to its corporate clients, because “McKinsey's arsenal mostly consisted of “strategy” and, secondarily, “structure”. All that was not to be cured with a scintillating strategic plan was to be dealt with by re-arranging the boxes on the formal organization chart.”
Peters’ boss, Bob Waterman, “wanted our work to be constructed in a way that would help the average McKinsey-ite take a shine to issues of organization effectiveness. (Which was, after all, the point of the exercise.)”
The first six S’s were these:
Strategy, Structure, and Systems - McKinsey’s traditional bread & butter.
To include something more humanising they added the ‘Soft Ss’ of Staff, Skills & Style.
Apparently, the 7th S was supposed to be Superordinate Goals, a term from social psychology: ‘worthwhile goals that require two or more social groups to cooperatively achieve’.
But that was too sophisticated, and it was changed to ‘shared values’, a dangerous oversimplification. It lacks the notion of cross-organizational cooperation, having been supplanted with the implicit premise of the individual or independent group subordinating themselves to corporate values. And those values are those picked by leaders, placed on posters in the cafeteria and in HR handbooks.
And in the intervening period, ‘shared values’ has been used as a means of social coertion:
As a result, instead of encouraging cooperation and collaboration for co-creating new value across boundaries, this focus on shared values turned ‘culture’ into a normative behaviour control methodology.
And thus, ‘culture fit’ was born, and here we are.
In Welsh government urged to trial four-day week for public sector, Steven Morris reports that future generations commissioner, Sophie Howe, asked the Welsh government to launch a shorter working week trial:
Howe, whose role – enshrined in law – is to protect the interests of future generations, said the public sector should lead the way and inspire other businesses to follow suit. She acknowledged there would be a heavy cost to the public sector in the short term, but argued that it could eventually mean increased productivity and savings for society if it led to a healthier workforce and more cohesive population.
Howe said: “It’s clear that following the pandemic, people across Wales are re-evaluating their priorities in life and looking for a healthier work-life balance.”
Shouldn’t the U.S. and other countries have a Minister for the Future or future generations commissioner?
In Amazon Opens a Whole Foods With the Next Step in Automation, Cecilia Kang spent some time in a Whole Foods store that had been outfitted with Amazon’s Just Walk Out system of cameras and AI. Lo and behold it worked as advertised, aside from the congestion when entering, as people had to provide a handprint or register via phone to get started.
I was interested in the deeper trend, which is to dramatically decrease labor costs, in the long run:
Several workers milled about the entrance to guide customers through check-in, while others stood behind the seafood counter, cheese station and produce areas. Mr. Kumar said the stores would always employ humans, but I wondered for how much longer. Amazon, under scrutiny for its labor practices, said employees’ roles might shift over time and become more focused on interacting with customers to answer questions.
There were early signs of a more self-service future. At the bakery, I looked for someone to slice my $4.99 Harvest loaf and was directed to an industry-grade bread slicer for customers. A small label warned: Sharp blades. Keep hands clear of all moving parts.
Those automating always say that the workers will be transferred to other customer-facing jobs, but think: if the automation doesn’t drive down costs, why invest in it in the first place? Saying it won’t is workwashing.
What if companies positioned the return to the office as an opportunity to get rid of the open office, which is designed to pack the most people in the smallest space, each with an individual work area. What if the office experience was more like a city, with cafes, libraries, parks, gyms, and apartments? In Derek Thompson's recent Five-Day Workweek is Dead article, he called this #yachtification. But I think of it as #citification.
Dror Poleg has a fascinating analysis in Here Are The Winners of Remote Work, postulating that the economics of entertainers and sports figures are not at play for all remote workers.
The Surprising Impact of Meeting-Free Days is no surprise, but the numbers show it’s a no-brainer:
When one no-meeting day per week was introduced, autonomy, communication, engagement, and satisfaction all improved, resulting in decreased micromanagement and stress, which caused productivity to rise.
When meetings were reduced by 40% (the equivalent of two days per week), we found productivity to be 71% higher because employees felt more empowered and autonomous. Rather than being pinned down by a schedule, they owned their to-do lists and held themselves accountable, which consequently increased satisfaction by 52%.