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The False Promise Of Organizational Culture Change Essay

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Journal of Management Studies 40:5 July 2003 0022-2380

The False Promise of Organizational Culture Change: A Case Study of Middle Managers in Grocery Retailing*

Emmanuel Ogbonna and Barry Wilkinson
Cardiff University; University of Bath
 The strategic importance of managing organizational culture has been a central theme in organizational literature over the past two decades. But relatively little attention has been given to the impact of culture change initiatives on managers. This paper reports on the impact of a programme of culture change on managers at one of Britain’s leading grocery retail chains. Based on a series of detailed interviews with managers together with examination of company documents and an understanding of trends in grocery retailing, we explain the purpose and content of change, and document and analyse the reactions of those managers who are expected to change their own cultural orientations as well as persuade their subordinates to change. We conclude that in this case at least changes in managerial behaviour, as with previously documented changes in the behaviour of shopfloor workers, are related more to surveillance, direct control and the threat of sanction than any transformation of managerial values. Indeed, the situation and experiences of managers – one of reduced autonomy, close monitoring and control, and perceived career insecurity – are explained less in relation to ‘organizational culture’, more in relation to organizational (re-)structuring intended to create a more centralized form of organizational control.

INTRODUCTION Attempts by the UK’s major grocery retailers to transform the culture of their organizations through human resource management practices intended to instil company loyalty and a customer ethos among staff are well documented (Marchington and Harrison, 1991; Ogbonna and Harris, 1998; Ogbonna and Wilkinson, 1988; Rosenthal et al., 1997). Previous research (for example, Ogbonna and Wilkinson,...

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