Can culture go too far?

In light of the heated discussion over the Heros of the Taj case, I was provoked to think about the extent of influence culture has over the lives of individuals. Culture has undeniably emerged as a potential contributor to organizational success. Take the success stories of Southwest Airlines and Disney for example, we see how healthy organizational culture can impact a myriad of outcomes; directing behavior, encouraging cooperation and the ability to innovate. However, do organizations know when and where to draw the line? When does the content or strength of that culture become overpowering?

 

This reflection came about after reading the recent Wall Street Journal Article- “Facebook’s Company Town”. While I support the organization’s desire to create and an environment that encourages innovation and stress relief, by providing even more perks for its employees, I fear that this development could be a double-edge sword, leading to potential failure.

 

 

FBI

mage of Facebook’s planned Anton Menlo Community Housing.

 

An excerpt from the journal states:

(Facebook) said this week it is working with a local developer to build a $120 million, 394-unit housing community within walking distance of its offices. Called Anton Menlo, the 630,000 square-foot rental property will include everything from a sports bar to a doggy day care.

The development conjures up memories of so-called “company towns” at the turn of the 20th century, where American factory workers lived in communities owned by their employer and were provided housing, health care, law enforcement, church and just about every other service necessary.

 

While most of us are firm supporters of a strong and guiding culture, the article left me feeling vaguely uncomfortable. Of course, I can agree to a large extent with the value of work life integration since housing is an issue in this geographical area of Silicon Valley. In the IT industry there, employees feel less tied to a company and more tied to the geographical location, hence this move serves as a good retention tool for Facebook’s employees. However, at what point does involvement in employees’ lives become intrusion in employees’ lives?

 

Here are some of my thoughts:

  • Culture or culprit? A robust culture can indeed support employees and the work at hand. However, when does the intensity of that culture begin to feel stifling? (Although employees are not required to live near the campus, will this eventually become an unwritten more?) While this is ultimately a person-organization fit issue, will employees feel empowered to draw the line when they feel the need for space?
  • Met expectations. There is concern as to what will happen when an employee seeks employment outside of Facebook, or any other permeating culture). Developed expectations could limit free movement and opportunities for career development. For instance, it could become difficult to give up on-site laundry for potential career opportunities. Moreover, this may hurt employees as they become labeled as spoiled or indulged.
  • Separation anxiety. I have as much concern for organizations as a whole, as for the individual employees. How will management in today’s organizations respond to an employee who refuses to sign on for a 24/7 technologically linked lifestyle? Will developing cultures be capable of digesting independence? It will also be difficult to restrict the employee from over committing himself to work if he is fully submerged in the organizational culture/ environment.
  • Retaining personal Identity. When a defined culture operates, it can become increasingly difficult to “buck” the system, even if this is required for the organization to remain adaptive. Strong cultures can provide support — but they can also begin to bind or limit “diversity of thought”. Having different life experiences outside of work can lead to a myriad of creative ideas that can have true impact on work. Unfortunately, shared norms and practices can unintentionally encourage the opposite of what they were originally designed to accomplish, and this could be a potential downfall for Facebook.

 

To conclude, I feel that organizations should be wary of the associated risks of developing an overpowering culture. While we strongly encourage following in the footsteps of establishing successful organizational cultures, it is important for managers to take note of the downsides of having too strong a culture. Do share with me your thoughts on this topic! I look forward to reading your comments. 🙂

 

 

References

Reed Albergotti. (2013, Oct 3) The Wall Street Journal. Facebook’s Company Town. Retrieved from: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303492504579111792834660448?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052702303492504579111792834660448.html

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