MIT Sloan Management Review editor in chief Paul Michelman argues that the importance of corporate culture will dissipate as organizations become flatter and more distributed. However, several readers take a different view.

As corporations become increasingly flat and networked, and as more people operate as “affiliates” rather than as “employees,” managers and academics alike are wondering about the role of corporate culture in the future. Given that many workers will be contractors located remotely and much collaboration will be project-based, will organizations be able to establish behaviors and shared beliefs that keep everyone marching in the same direction? In a short essay titled “The End of Corporate Culture as We Know It,” MIT SMR editor in chief Paul Michelman voiced doubts about the long-term viability of corporate culture, which has been an organizational staple for more than 50 years. As Michelman put it, “We are embarking upon a time when the ‘way we do things’ will be reinvented with each new collaboration.”

The question of what happens to corporate culture in a world where teams come together and dissolve as opportunities rise and fall has triggered a lively debate among visitors to MIT SMR’s website. A number of readers were not prepared to ring the death knell for corporate culture. “No organization is able to exist without [some shared identity] … no matter how distributed the system is,” wrote Patricia Galante de Sá, who owns a training and consulting firm in São Paulo, Brazil. “Essence and purpose will still be paramount.”

Another reader, Komal Mathur, general manager of human resources at Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. in Mumbai, India, argued that successful corporations have values that stand the test of time. “There is no denying the fact that cultures will become more vibrant and open than ever before,” wrote Mathur, who has spent more than 20 years working in information technology. However, she noted, “In my view, successful organizations are the ones that have enduring and resilient values…. While the organizational structure may become less hierarchical, a value such as ‘respect’ does not change.” Egbert Schram, managing director of itim International, an organizational consulting firm based in Helsinki, Finland, goes even further with this view: “In a world where there is less and less loyalty to employers (and employees), … proactively … managing a corporate culture to enable the organization to adapt to whatever is thrown its way will only become more important, not less.”

For some readers, the question comes down to the meaning of “culture.

2 Comments On: Don’t Give Up on Corporate Culture

  • Robert Jones | June 5, 2017

    The influences of Durkheim on the definition of “culture” in sociology has created both insights and problems. Until the last century, the term “culture” was widely understood simply as ‘breeding or cultivation of animals or plants for food, the improvement of stock, or other purposes.’ The term was more or less conscripted into society and then the corporate sphere as collections of “beliefs, behaviors, objects, and other characteristics common to the members of a particular group or society.” What got lost in the translation can be summed up as the shift from a deliberate and proactive sense to a passive and reactive. The question isn’t whether “culture” is important or not, or whether it’s dynamic or static, vibrant or slothful. The issue is whether its a deliberate condition or a random occurrence of circumstance, The central dilemma of “culture” in transition from agriculture to commerce is one of choice. Do we choose to believe that we can establish and cultivate collective behaviors, or that we should treat it as an untamed beast that showed up at our front door, and attempt to put it a harness on it.

  • PAOLO PETRUCCIANI | July 20, 2017

    In the Kurt Lewin and Edgar H. Schein “change movement/model or theory” (late ’50 and subsequent years till ‘2000), the 3 phases are unfreezing, moving, refreezing.
    In the middle, during unfreezing phase, you must imprint the new innovative post-change direction, to utilize/explot it in the refreezing phase.
    In absence of a clear, .. call it “future address” …, the risk of caothic management and consequent loss of economic value for a small enteprise or a large mutinational will be so evident that I am not commenting on it.
    On a large scale, expanding the concept, this “loss of value” accounts also for entire world (e.g. the financial crisis of 2007-2008 is just an example).

    The fact is that today when new addresses are so various, technologically driven and liquid, finding/choosing something relevant/worth that might be of universal purpose (not individual purpose, that’s simple), clear in the scope and socially and responsible oriented is very difficult.
    That’s the problem.

    The corporate culture or team culture, or the culture to stay together/affiliate, in a light, soft, hard way, will always remain embedded in our species. We had to adapt continuosly to new waves, but it’s intrinsic in our human nature.

    The future of change and success will be that of surviving with a organizational/group/team culture that generate more value not destroy value.

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