British Journal of Management, Vol. 13, 31–49 (2002)
The Unintended Consequences of Culture Interventions: A Study of Unexpected Outcomes* L. C. Harris and E. Ogbonna
Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University, Colum Drive, Cardiff CF10 3EU, UK email: HarrisLC1@Cardiff.ac.uk The topic of managing culture has been central to organizational culture research for the last two decades. Although critical theorists argue that culture management efforts are prone to unintended consequences, few empirical studies have explicitly explored this issue. The study reported in this article is designed to redress this imbalance in the literature through focusing on the exploration and description of the unintended consequences of culture management interventions. The aims of the study are to locate and describe how management actions during culture change initiatives result in unintended consequences and then subsequently to explore and describe these effects. The article begins with an overview of contemporary research into the nature of culture, the rationale, approaches and perspectives on culture management as well as research into unintended consequences. After a discussion of the research design and methods employed, the results of the study are presented. These findings review and elucidate eight forms of management action during culture change programmes that resulted in unintended consequences, which had serious consequences for the organizations concerned. The article concludes with the discussion of implications and conclusions for theorists and practitioners.
The concept of organizational culture constitutes one of the most fascinating and yet elusive topics for management researchers. Scholarly interest in the subject is such that academic journals are strewn with conceptual and empirical studies (recent examples include Daymon, 2000; Jones, 2000; Veiga et al., 2000). Similarly, practitioneroriented articles extol the benefits of examining organizational culture characteristics (see for example Fey, Nordahl and Zalterstrom, 1999; * This study was supported by the British Academy, grant number SG – 29742. The authors thank Professor Gerard Hodgkinson and the anonymous reviewers whose detailed and constructive comments helped in restructuring this paper. © 2002 British Academy of Management
McLarney and Chung, 2000). Such is the pervasiveness of the culture concept that an extraordinarily broad range of management fields has embraced, incorporated and sometimes abused it. Prominent examples include the conceptualization of a ‘market oriented culture’ prevalent in marketing (see Harris and Ogbonna, 1999), the growing recognition of the importance of culture within operations management (for example McDermott, 1999), the incorporation of culture issues into management accounting (for instance Goddard, 1997) as well as the more-established recognition that culture is a core strategic change issue (see Welford, 1995). Furthermore, the concept of culture has been studied in broad series of contexts including; services (Appiah-Adu, 1999), manufacturing (Dove, 1998), conventional non-profit organizations (Berman, 1998) and even the
32 armed forces (Bodnar, 1999). An extensive range of national contexts have also been examined, including, for example, studies of Turkey (Herguner and Reeves, 2000), Australia (Wilkinson, Fogarty and Melville, 1996) and Russia (Fey et al., 1999). However, despite the acknowledged significance of organizational culture to the practices and theories of management, the intricacies of culture management remain comparatively understudied. Whilst the more critical scholars raise concerns regarding the conceptual feasibility of culture management (see Ackroyd and Crowdy, 1990; Legge, 1994), practitioners continue to attempt (often unsuccessful) culture management initiatives (see for example, Ogbonna and Harris, 1998a). To date, studies of the impact of culture change have...
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