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The modern business of management is becoming increasingly interested in managing the "insides" - the hopes, fears, and aspirations - of workers, rather than their behaviors directly' (Deetz, 1995). Central to this approach to management are the notions of "culture" and "identity". In this essay, I would be discussing how cultural management is used to regulate the identity of employees in order to exert managerial control.
A great deal of attention is being paid to organizational culture, to the ways in which it can be managed and changed so as to bring about improved performance, greater concern with customer satisfaction and with quality (Anthony, 1994). Deal and Kennedy (1982) define organizational culture as 'It's the way we do things around here'. However, this does not mean that they are referring necessarily to the formal ways of doing things. A crucial feature which distinguishes the use of culture from other forms of management is that culture is conveyed to its participants through the expression of sentiments, beliefs, and attitudes (Pfeffer, 1981).
However, before proceeding further, it is important to make a distinction between the two contesting perspectives on organizational culture. The debate between: whether culture is something an organization 'is' or something an organisation 'has'. The former view is concerned with how organizations can be understood as cultures (Smircich, 1983) assuming that culture is an emergent process that has as its source a set of deep underlying values (Fiol, 1991). While the second perspective assumes that culture is a key to unlocking organizational commitment, productivity, and profitability (Fiol, 1991). In this essay, I would be more inclined towards the second approach (culture is something an organisation has).
Organizational identity, the core concept in how management uses culture to exert control, is defined as what members perceive, feel, and think about their organizations. It is assumed to be a collective, commonly-shared understanding of the organization's distinctive values and characteristics (Hatch & Schultz, 1997). Albert et al. (2000, p.14) suggest that "it is because identity is problematic - and yet so crucial to how and what one values, thinks, feels and does in all social domains, including organizations - that the dynamics of identity need to be better understood." Like culture, organizational identity also has two connotations, one which assumes identity to be belonging to the organization as a whole, as viewed from the outside, while the other view refers to the 'identity of the employees' constructed as a result of employees' identification with the organization's values, goals, beliefs, etc. At the individual level, organizational identity represents the distinctive attributes which individuals associate with their membership of a particular organization. At the organizational level, organizational identity is formed by the agglomeration of the distinctive attributes of individual members (Empson, 2004). For the current essay, I will be assuming organizational identity as belonging to the individual employees.
Culture and identity are frequently linked - culture often establishes our sense of identity (or identities). Organizational culture can be assumed as a symbolic context within which interpretations of organizational identity are formed (Hatch & Schultz, 1997). As Hatch (1993) explains, identity involves how we define and experience ourselves and this is influenced by our activities and beliefs which are rounded in and justified by cultural assumptions and values. Fiol, Hatch and Golden-Biddle (1998) took the relationship between culture and identity a step further in stating that: "An organization's identity is the aspect of culturally embedded sense-making that is [organizationally] self-focused" (Hatch and Schultz, 2002, p. 121). Therefore, a unified culture has the ability to enable employees to identify with their organization.
However, to understand why managers use cultural management to regulate the identity of employees, it is important to recognize that they view the process as a type of control. Burris (1989) states that less mechanistic and technocratic perspectives on organizational culture or ideology have often interpreted corporate values principally as means of legitimating objective social control. Culture Management is seen as type of socio-ideological control- control exercised through shared organizational meaning (Smircich, 1983). Culture is seen to contain a sort of common ideology that is socialised into the consciousness of the individual employees.
Van Maanen and Kunda (1989) emphasize that for many employees 'culture' replaces 'structure' as an organizing principle and is used both to explain and guide action. This has been noted in a part of Walt Disney Enterprises- the theme park- Disneyland. Van Maanen (1990) explains that in addition to its sociological charm, Disneyland has become something of an exemplar for those stressing the importance of culture in organizations. He also goes on to saying the ease with which employees at Disneyland glide into their kind and smiling roles is, in a large measure, a feat of social engineering (Van Maanen, 1991). Hence, it can be seen how promoting a unified culture is used to manage and direct the feelings and thoughts of employees.
However, the relationship between culture and control is not as direct as it seems. Identity formation is the missing link that leads culture management to control. Therefore this process has two parts: how cultural management is used to bring about identity formation in employees, and second, how this identification leads to employees being more committed, better controlled, etc. Along the same tangent, Mitroff & Kilmann (1984) explain how strong culture firms are said to generate an almost tangible social force field of energy that "empowers" employees and drives the organization toward superior performance. This empowerment can be assumed to be a by-product of the employee's identification with the organization's goals.
The relation between culture and identity- 'culture is the broad framework (Cummings & Schmidt, 1972) influencing the development and reinforcement of beliefs'- has been discussed above. In this section, I attempt to explain it more specifically as culture can be manifested in various ways, and each of these ways has a varying effect on identity. One such way is through symbols and artefacts; Jex (2002) defines these as objects or aspects of the organizational environment that convey some greater meaning. Further, Hatch and Schultz (1997) explain that managers are also symbols of their organization's culture and therefore their ability to manage identity is both enabled and constrained by their cultural context. For instance, the meanings they attempt to communicate about strategy and vision are presented in organizational symbols, which they themselves often embody. Culture can also be manifested through rites and rituals that briefly refer to planned sets of actions or behaviours carried out through social interaction (Trice & Beyer, 1984). The effect of rites and rituals on identity formation is reflected in Hatch and Schultz (1997) proposal: 'who we are' is reflected in 'what we do', or what we do is who we gradually become.
Another form of cultural manifestation is stories and myths, defined as "narratives based on true events - often a combination of truth and fiction" (Trice and Beyer, 1984). An example of this could be how older employees may narrate to the newer ones instances of promotions in the past due to extraordinary levels of customer satisfaction. Jex (2002) explains that employees in organizations tell many stories, but they become a vehicle of culture transmission when they intend to convey something important about the culture of the organization. Language is also an important part of cultural manifestation. An example of how terminology reflects organizational culture can be seen in the case of Disney's practice of referring to park visitors as "guests" rather than customers (Van Maanen, 1991). This signifies that people who pay to visit the Disney theme parks should be treated by employees as though they were visitors in their homes.
Culture is a variable that can be managed and changed in order to construct appropriate identities (Hatch and Schultz, 1997). Therefore, by managing culture, managers hope to enforce upon the employees an identity that would lead them to being more productive, committed etc. However, these attempts to control through culture may not always be successful. The workers, it is argued, may submit to management's cultural assaults but they also resist them, by developing their own sub-cultures and counter-cultures. These may challenge or ridicule the organization's shibboleths, expressing cynicism and detachment at managerial attempts to whip up commitment and enthusiasm (Gabriel, 1993). In contrast, when they do participate in management's attempts to create a unitary culture, they embrace the new culture as a result of their need for belongingness and their need for affiliation.
Nevertheless, it is clear that culture management, successfully or unsuccessfully, plays a role in regulating the identity of the employees. However, to establish wholly that cultural management is an 'intentional attempt by the managers' to do so, it is important to recognize and understand management's motive underlying their attempts, i.e. to comprehend how an employee's organizational identity leads him/her to being more committed, productive, and better controlled.
Many commentators (e.g. Barker, 1993; Casey, 1995; Deetz, 1992; Knights and Willmott, 1989; Kunda, 1992) argue that identity regulation is a significant, neglected and increasingly important modality of organizational control, especially perhaps in larger corporations. In one of the first few writings on the subject, Peters and Waterman (1982, p. 11)) attempted to persuade managers by saying 'all that stuff you have been dismissing for so long as intractable, irrational, intuitive is importantâ€¦ informal organization can be managed'. Infact, from a managerial viewpoint, 'member identification' presents a less obtrusive, and potentially more effective, means of organizational control than methods that rely upon 'external stimuli' (Alvesson & Willmott, 2002). This perspective of managing employees emphasizes how practices of control such as reward, leadership, division of labour, hierarchies, etc. do not work 'outside' the individual's understanding of himself, rather they are fused within what we term the 'identity work' of organizational members (Alvesson & Willmott, 2002). "Leadership" provides a coherent example:- Leadership has been conceptualized as the management of meaning (Smicich and Morgan, 1982) and since meaning is reliant upon identity, managing meaning (i.e. leadership) is fundamental to managing identity.
In addition to control, organizational commitment is also an integral result of member identification. Alvesson (2000) and Grey (1998) suggest that managers can enhance commitment by fostering a strong sense of organizational identity (Empson, 2004). Meyer and Herscovitch (2001) gave the 3 components of commitment and explained that affective commitment is based on the individual's identification with the organisation. Contradictory to this, Alvesson and Willmott (2002, p. 621) state "We regard identity regulation as a pervasive and increasingly intentional modality of organizational control, but we do not suggest that this is unprecedented or that it is necessarily effective in increasing employee commitment, involvement or loyalty."
Despite the hesitation from Alvesson and Willmott (2002), it can be said with reasonable conviction that control and commitment can be accomplished through the self-positioning of employees within managerial inspired discourses about work and organization with which they may become more or less identified. Therefore, combining this with the previously established claim that culture conveys a sense of identity for organization members, we can conclude that, with the ultimate aim of exerting control, managers make conscious attempts to regulate the identity of employees through the process of managing culture. In addition, several books argue that organizations with "strong" cultures are indeed apt to be more successful (Deal and Kennedy, 1982; Peters and Waterman, 1982). This provides managers an obvious reason (and motivation) to manage culture effectively.
This, however, brings us to an arguable issue - can culture actually be managed? Much of the literature in favour of this does not take into account, the great likelihood that there are multiple organization subcultures, or even countercultures, competing to define the nature of situations within organizational boundaries (Smircich, 1983). Therefore, the talk about managing culture could be regarded as overly optimistic as it runs the risk of being too abstract a concept to be moulded to meet strategic ends. Further, Hatch & Schultz (1997) explain that since strategies and visions are created and demonstrated to employees through culturally-mediated language such as stories, symbols, artefacts etc., organizational identity can therefore, never be wholly managed; in part, it too is a cultural product. Nevertheless, the vast amount of literature suggesting that cultural management is integral to an organization's success provides a good defence to the type of control.
Moving on with the assumption that culture and identity can actually be managed, we still cannot say with much conviction that the attempts of managers to regulate the identity of employees always have favourable results. Instead, its effect may be to amplify cynicism, spark dissent or catalyse resistance (Ezzamel et al., 2000). Yet, this cannot be stated as a generalizable fact, since the success of discourses also depends upon the interpretation and inventive powers of employees (Alvesson and Willmott, 2002). Therefore, it is important to evaluate the success of managing culture (and in turn, identity) for different types of employees.
The presentation and comparison of theories 'X', 'Y' (McGregor, 1960) and 'Z' (Ouchi,
1981) is although largely silent on the issue of identity regulation and identity work (Alvesson & and Willmott, 2002), yet, I will attempt to provide a brief proposal regarding the fit of identity regulation in each of these theories. McGregor's (1957) theory X, for example, assumes that employees are unreliable, lazy, uncommitted and chasing a paycheck (Jex, 2002). This view of people highly facilitates the idea of managing the identity of employees, as they are more or less seen as a blank slate (the concept of tabula rasa) upon which the managers can write the organization's goals and beliefs by providing them valued incentives (such as a high pay).
Considering Ouchi's (1981) theory Z next (as it can be seen as a middle path between the two extremes X and Y), we find that this perspective is based on 'commitment to employees' and views them in a positive light (Jex, 2002). With regard to identity regulation, Wilkins & Ouchi (1983) explain that Japanese firms, for example, tend to hire inexperienced recruits, socialize them intensively to accept the company's views and objectives as their own, and compensate them based on seniority, number of dependents, and other non-performance criteria.
Lastly, the Theory Y manager operates under the assumption that work is a natural part of people's lives and, rather than avoiding it, most people seek greater meaning it (Jex, 2002). Therefore, the question of identity regulation of this type of employees suggests that they are not passive receptacles or carriers of discourses but, instead, more or less actively and critically interpret and enact them (Alvesson & Willmott, 2002). Additionally, it may be assumed that if these workers are given increased flexibility and 'multiskilling' opportunities, it may stimulate a keener questioning of, established hierarchies and practices, and can create pressures and opportunities for the removal of constraints upon the exercise of initiative and responsibility. In principle, such movement may foster forms of micro- emancipation (Alvesson and Willmott, 2002), i.e. workers who are seeking higher meaning in their work can be emancipated through the process of identity regulation.
The association, however, is not as simple as it seems. It brings us to the debate regarding 'whether culture and identity management are aimed at liberation and extending individual horizons or controlling and restricting them'. On the one side, we have theories that assume 'member identification' to be associated with critical reflection and liberation (eg. Barker, 1999); while on the other hand, it is seen as an attempt to render employees into socialised dupes. In the context of work organizations, Casey (1995) explains, the language of liberation and self-actualization may be promulgated as a seductive means of engineering consent and commitment to corporate goals such that the feel-good effect of participation and "empowerment" disguises their absence. In cases where this manipulation becomes clear to employees, it results in severe resistance. Lave and Wenger (1991) explain that it is naÃ¯ve to assume that identity can be pushed in any direction without inertia, pain, resistance and unintended consequences (Lave and Wenger, 1991, cited in Alvesson and Willmott, 2002). Alternatively, in their text, Alvesson and Willmott (2002) clarify that in practice, however, the fluidity and fragmentation of identity may render employees more vulnerable to the appeal of corporate identifications, and less inclined to engage in organized forms of resistance that extends their scope for exercising discretion. Hence, it can be said that, although identity regulation as a form of control discourages the emancipation of workers, it is an effective method.
In conclusion, I would like to clarify that despite the issues regarding 'whether culture can be managed' and despite the challenges demonstrating its unfavourable consequences, cultural management can with certainty be regarded as having some effect on the identity of the employees. Additionally, since the identification of the employee with his/her organization, more often than not, leads to favourable outcomes such as increased commitment and productivity, identity regulation can be seen as effective forms of control. Therefore, combining the two arguments, I assert that cultural management is an intentional attempt on the part of the managers to regulate the identity of employees.