Organizational Culture Gone Awry: The Double-Edged Sword of Ambiguity
Chan, Curtis Kwinyen
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CitationChan, Curtis Kwinyen. 2017. Organizational Culture Gone Awry: The Double-Edged Sword of Ambiguity. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractScholars often conceptualize culture as a resource utilized by actors with strategic intention, and managers have long yearned to master organizational culture. In particular, organizational culture is seen as a crucial part of the recruiting, management, and retention of talent in organizations. Yet, organizational culture may be double-edged: the managerial use of a cultural resource can have unintended consequences. In this dissertation, I examine the research question: How can strategic utilizations of cultural resources go awry of actors’ purposes? In other words, how can cultural resources be double-edged? I draw on a two-year empirical case study of consultants at a strategy consulting firm, including 87 interviews with organizational members, 119 days of observational data, and a range of archival documents.
From these data, in my two empirical chapters, I elaborate two sets of findings about the processes that can allow cultural resources to be double-edged. The first set of findings shows that managers’ use of an ambiguous expression can powerfully mobilize recruits, but it can also provide the interpretive space for members to articulate the expression in ways that diverge from what managers had intended. Recruits can then use these divergent articulations as reasons to exit the organization. The second set of findings suggests that managers’ use of sanctions can overreach managers’ intent. Particularized sanctions targeted at specific people and specific behaviors can enforce norms, but they can be turned into stories that become generalized as they get circulated, abstracted, and mythologized. These generalized sanction stories, then, can serve as justifications for refraining from an entire category of action, rather than the specific behavior managers intended to prevent. In all, my dissertation examines how cultural resources can be double-edged by theorizing different ways in which organizational cultural resources—intended one way by managers—end up having consequences in unanticipated directions.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41141518
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