Archive for the ‘organizational culture’ Category

Is it me or is a sign of the times, that sense making and meaning tend to appear more often in academic literature? I had immersed myself into the subject of CSR and was surprised by  Hanke & Stark (2009) “Strategy Development: Conceptual Framework on CSR”. A concept which very simply states that CSR strategy development  has two main elements: Legitimization and sense making, where sense making here again is understood as “active, ‚negotiating expectations’ in collective and interactive processes”.

A CSR framework

If we look again at the model by Lips-Wiersma and Morris (2009) it could be very easy to avoid what Calvano (2008) calls “Stakeholder Perception Gaps” usually created by stakeholder power inequality. Stakeholder dialogues logically should be part of a viable CSR strategy process. The corporation “makes sense” to its internal stakeholders such as employees and management, but also to external stakeholders, such as the community or NGOs. One could even argue that this is a process of social integration. But what stakeholders should be approached and to what extend should their concerns be incorporated into the overall business practice without endangering the economic success of the company?

The Trade and Investment Division of UNESCAP writes 2009 in their STUDIES IN TRADE AND INVESTMENT 68 to ask the following questions:

• To whom do legal obligations exist?
• Who might be positively or negatively affected by the organization s activities?
• Who has been involved when similar issues needed to be addressed?
• Who can help the organization address specific impacts?
• Who would be disadvantaged if they were excluded from the engagement?
• Who in the value chain is affected?

Mitchel et al 1997 defined attributes of key stakeholders or salient stakeholders as being powerful, legitimate and urgent. However Calvano (2008) warns that stakeholders such as communities or NGO which might not be seen as powerful in the CSR strategy conception can develop certain dynamics when their interests are being infringed.  Longo et al, 2006 propose the following grid to what values stakeholders expect from the corporation:

The grid of values

Although the above values appear to be a bit anticipated, they very much demonstrate again how stakeholders make sense of a corporations action in the light of their own expectations. Above grid also shows how norms, values and culture of an organization impact CSR strategy. Corporate culture is thus in an interrelated web with values of the stakeholders, emphasizing that CSR is an activity which builds social capital.

The values web

The Values Web (McBain 2010)

This idea of a value web also demonstrates the necessity of the CSR effort to be authentically grounded in the organizational culture and be well linked with its core competencies to allow other actors to actually allow themselves to be associated with the corporation. Any sort of CSR effort should thus start with a careful audit of the company culture.


Calvano, L. (2007) Multinational Corporations and Local Communities: A Critical Analysis
of Conflict, Journal of Business Ethics (2008) 82:793–805
Hanke, T. & Stark, W. (200) Strategy Development: Conceptual Framework on Corporate Social Responsibility; Journal of Business Ethics (2009) 85:507–516Copyright © United Nations 2009
Longo, M., M. Mura and A. Bonoli: 2005, ‘Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate Performance: The Case of Italian SMEs’, Corporate Governance 5(4), 28–42.
Mitchell, R. K., B. R. Agle and D. J. Wood: 1997, ‘Toward a Theory of Stakeholder Identification and
Salience: Defining the Principle of Who and What Really Counts’, Academy of Management Review 22(4), 853–886.

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Some papers deserve just more attention, because their simple  clarity and their will to create something helpful is just overpowering.

Lips-Wiersma and Morris (2009) have set out to see what people find meaningful. They clearly set out to distinguish between meaningful work in management literature, which looks at meaning creation as a tool to motivate people in a sense of vision and mission,  and the meaningful work humanities which looks at meaning in a more broader holistic sense.

First of all: All people strive to make sense of what they experience. it is part of the human condition  to create meaning. I am surprised how little this is discussed in the workplace. In what sense is our work meaningful?

Lips-Wierma and Morris present several themes of the humanities, such as authentic living, which underpins the wish of a life full of personal discovery and free choice as opposed to prescription and domination. Moral living deals with the question on “how are we to live?” and enacting virtues. Work becomes meaningful if it supports this wish for moral development. Dignified living deals with the inner wish to have just and diginifed work, the ability to resist and oppose. Finally Lips-Wierma and Morris mention living that serves an ultimate concern, a concern which transcends not only self, but also the organization to a “more universally beneficial legacy”.

These four cornerstones would be enough for every workplace to discuss and explore:

  • Do we offer possibilities for being authentic at the workplace?
  • Does our company enable our people to live up to higher moral standards?
  • Do we ensure the dignity of employees and how?
  • How do we serve an ultimate concern?

But Lips-Wiersma and Morris go a step further an uncover various elements of meaningful work and their relationship to each other.  They claim that there are four sources of meaningful work and life:

  • Developing and becoming self: The ability to enjoy moral development, personal growth and staying true to one self.  I can maintain and develop  the identity of my choosing.
  • Unity with others:  Belonging to a community, sharing values and working together
  • Serving others: To make a difference and to meet the needs of humanity. I can see that my work is relevant to something bigger.
  • Expressing full potential: Creating and achieving and influencing my surroundings.  I have impact with what I do.

Lips-Wiersma and Morris suggest the following framework to make “the various components of meaningful work visible”:

I would find it very interesting if any reader out there will one day work with this framework and perhaps can notify my what the results were.

In the classic view of leadership, it is the leader who shapes culture and provides meaning, through creation of a corporate identity.

This of course is a one-sided view as Lips-Wiersma and Morris put it  ” it is a condition of the being human to create meaning”

Coherence and wholeness are of prime importance as each individual creates meaning for him and herself subjectively by relating external events to an inner stock of values and experiences. Meaning thus is something very personal, it cannot be provided, but only be made. In this sense Lips-Wiersma and Morris follow up with  recommendations:

  1. Meaning should emerge from the collective.
  2. Tensions between vision and reality should be addressed openly because Because discrepancies  disrupt the individuals wish to find meaning in work.
  3. Make commonality on our human aspirations, while respecting the differences.
  4. Moral issues are just as important and should be engaged in just as actively as in the management of values.


Lips-Wiersma, M. & Morris, L. 2009, Discriminating Between ‘Meaningful Work’ and the ‘Management of Meaning’,  Journal of Business Ethics 88:491–511

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In an interview with a retired public manager of a Berlin tax revenue office, we went through the topic of leadership in several sessions. First of all it was a great interview; I got insight into how the state finances itself.  Also it was quite interesting to see the results and how much they mirrored the findings of the private sector.  This is what I noted down in my analysis of the discussion:

1)      Several concepts known from literature have remerged, such as:

  • Value leadership as the driving concept, here specifically the value of justice. A driving value used to
    • Resolve conflicts
    • Make decisions – even to the extent to which the decision might go against assumed organizational interests and generally accepted behavioral norms.
    • Influence employees
    • Create culture
  • The concepts of culture and sub-culture and these being dependant on the leaders values and behavior
  • The concept of coaching as a main source for personnel development
  • The concept of employees as stars, cash cows and poor dogs, but presented here in the concept of a “Gauss distribution curve”, with the top 5 to 10% of employees as high performers, the middle 80 to 90% as medium performers, and the bottom 5 to 10 % as low performers.  This included different strategies on how to address these different employee groups.
  • External collaboration, political management: According to the subject, very little contact to the political level existed, however: “It is necessary to have ‘Bundesgenossen’ (strong allies) to influence the political level.” … and in this specific case to improve cooperation between agencies.
  • Internal collaborative leadership

2)      New concepts emerged, which have not yet been observed in existing literature:

  • An office can have “goodwill”. According to the subject, leaders need to build the “goodwill” of an organization to incur trust in oversight bodies to allow the leader more flexibility in solving problems, while at the same time not overstepping any legal boundaries. The concept of “goodwill”, known in the private sector, and here referred to a virtual value of the organization,  reminds the researcher very much of the concept of “social capital” (Fukuyama, 1995) which is needed for individuals to trust each other and to foster collaboration.
  • The concept of empathy, which Crosby and Bryson (2005) perhaps define as “caring for the common good”. In this case  Mr. C. said: “We have to be aware that people suffer and we should try, if possible, to ease their suffering.”

I still like the idea that a good leader instills trust into collaborating agencies and thus creates public value and I thought I had hit a jackpot in my research.  But I was overly enthusiastic about having discovered the connection of leadership and social capital in fact there are some very good papers out there which did just that. I can just name three of them:

  • Hitt, M. A. & Ireland, R.D. (2002) The Essence of Strategic Leadership: Managing Human and Social Capital
  • King, N.K.  (2004) Social Capital and Nonprofit Leaders
  • Maak, T.  (2007) Responsible Leadership, Stakeholder Engagement, and the Emergence of Social Capital

Instead of ranting on what a great concept that is and how social capital relates to values, culture, internally and externally, I will give a little room for those excellent researchers.

King writes: “Nonprofits and their leaders would do well to take stock of their organization’s social capital, assessing the strengths and areas for improvement. The assessment could include identifying strategic networks and relationships that they need to developed. Importantly, this audit could also help the organization identify any problems or costs related to generating or leveraging social capital.”

Maak writes: “To conclude, I suggest to think of a responsible leader with respect to stakeholder engagement as a weaver of social ties, as an embedded and engaged networker who makes sure that her organization is ‘in sync’ with stakeholder expectations, and who is able to mobilize multiple stakeholders in a coalition to build a responsible and sustainable business.”

A leader as a weaver of social capital – I like that.


Crosby, C. & Bryson, J.  (2005) “Leadership for the common good”, San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons

Fukuyama, F.  (1995), “Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity”, New York: Free Press

Hitt, M. A. & Ireland, R.D. (2002) The Essence of Strategic Leadership: Managing Human and Social Capital, The Joumal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, 2002, Vol. 9, No.l

King, N. K  (2004) Social Capital and Nonprofit Leaders,  NONPROFIT MANAGEMENT & LEADERSHIP, vol. 14, no. 4, Summer 2004

Maak, T.  (2007) Responsible Leadership, Stakeholder Engagement, and the Emergence of Social Capital,  Journal of Business Ethics (2007) 74:329–343

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I had the pleasure of giving a short lecture on corruption and anti-corruption. And since I had a feeling that it relates us back to the topic of leadership and culture, I brought it back into the blog.

It has become unpopular to see corruption as pure cultural phenomenon, because it takes us down the road of making corruption justifiable. Economists have taken over to explain corruption through causal relationships and this makes us feel we can look at it with more objectivity. However theory points also towards culture as a driving force behind corruption.

In his outstanding paper “CAUSES OF CORRUPTION:TOWARDS A CONTEXTUAL THEORY OF CORRUPTION” Gjalt de Graaf lists 6 major theories which explain corruption:

  1. Public Choice Theory
  2. Bad Apple Theory
  3. Organizational Culture Theory
  4. Clashing Moral Values Theory
  5. The Ethos of Public Administration Theory
  6. Correlation Theories

I will go through them briefly just to see where this will lead us in a sense of leadership.

  1. Public Choice Theory

Public Choice, as part of institutional economics, basically states that all individuals are utility maximizing, which includes your standard public service employee. This employee or the manager just weighs the benefit of being corrupt with that of the cost of being caught and punished and makes his or her decision. If law enforcement and judiciary is weak, then the public service leader will siphon away millions to Swiss bank accounts.

  1. Bad Apple Theory

This theory has become rather unpopular in corruption research, because one tends to see corruption a failure on the system level. It basically states that the individual has a faulty character and wrong values and thus displays criminal behavior. Causes could be faulty socialization.

  1. Organizational Culture Theory

Here we meet again the concept of organizational culture which is reenacted by its members. If my work buddy policeman x takes a bribe instead of giving a ticket, I can and must surely do the same to avoid being excluded from the group?

  1. Clashing Moral Values Theories

Fukuyama in his book “State Building: Governance and World Order in the Twenty-First-Century” relies heavily on this model. If the values which bind me to my family are stronger than those which obligate me towards my employer, I tend to use the resources of the organization for the benefit of my clan, family or personal interest group.

  1. The Ethos of Public Administration Theory

Quite a new theory, which builds on the assumption that after having reform the public sector using business practices and ideas, public administration becomes “hollow”, lacking its fundamental values, since its ultimate aim is not to behave like a business but to serve the greater good of society.

  1. Correlation Theories

Certain variables in societies are explored and correlation to corruption affirmed, such as:

  • Poverty
  • Colonialism
  • Ethno-lingual Fragmentation
  • Organized Crime
  • Democracy
  • Freedom of Press
  • Political Stability
  • Income of public servants

Apparently long-term stable democracies seem to be less corrupt than instable regimes, with low accountability to their citizens.  Not a big surprise there.

Many anti-corruption programs always a multi-pronged approach and have a formal and an informal component to them, such as judicial reform and creation of code of conducts. Rather like one needs intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to overcome corruption. In any case, there is broad consensus that anti-corruption programs are only successful if the top government level drives it forward and wants to see success.

Perhaps there is a lesson for leaders: Leading requires leading through polarities. One needs a strong set of control systems and regulation to raise the cost of corruption, but on the other hand a value system must be created to which public servants can relate to and to they which feel loyal to.

Above example shows: Anti-corruption, or let’s just say –  integrity-  is a leadership duty. And leaders have to use the means at their disposal to ensure integrity in their systems. True leaders should thus always ask themselves:  What example are we giving and why are we doing this work? What do we want to achieve? What means do we have to stay true to our cause?



Francis Fukuyama

State Building: Governance and World Order in the Twenty-First-Century

Profile Books; New Ed (7. Juli 2005)

ISBN-10: 1861977042

ISBN-13: 978-1861977045

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There seems to be an interlinked deep structured relationship between narrative, leadership and organization through the theme of narrative at different levels.

Level one: The organization is a collective narrative which is told by its members but framed by its leaders. This concept relates also to Appreciative Inquiry which builds on past success to dream and fulfill the future destiny. In the collective story telling process, the members become aware of their part of the narrative and how they play a vital role in building the story into the future.  Overcoming obstacles is a way to embody the story, continue its narrative and achieve a higher level of consciousness. The promise of all stories is to become more than what you are currently. The organization as narrative fulfills transformational and spiritual leadership and also relates to Otto Scharmers Theory U – leading from the future http://www.ottoscharmer.com . Future is anticipated and “written”  by deep listening and constant creation. Since all members are working inside of the narrative context, conflict and misunderstanding is minimized.  If leaders want to know where they will be going, they should look at the deep narrative structure of their organization.

Level two: Narrative as a vehicle for communicating values, creating consensus and expressing organizational culture. Following Denning http://www.stevedenning.com , but many other management scholars, storytelling is the essential leadership tool to shape communities and transmit messages. Denning claims that different stories fulfill different objectives such as:

  • Sparking action
  • Communicating who you are
  • Transmitting values
  • Fostering collaboration
  • Taming the grapevine
  • Sharing knowledge
  • Leading people into the future

As these messages are being decoded, they enhance the sense of purpose, meaning and belonging in people who listen to them.

Level three: Narrative as a means to understand community, culture and leadership. Narrative analysis, just like the critical incident technique, can serve as an a tool for extracting information. A tool which already has been used in researching leadership behavior (Danzig, 1999), and which can expand the thematic analysis to include a structural analysis by looking at how the story teller selects particular narrative devices (Riessman, 2003). Most researchers on storytelling and narrative analysis agree that in stories and narratives there is a form of equilibrium in the beginning of a narrative which is disrupted by an event and in which the protagonist, sometimes the narrator, tries to establish equilibrium again, usually on a new level (Franzosi, 1998). I want to highlight the structural components of Labov (1982), because Labov works on the assumption that not what is said is said will reveal the core of the story, but what is done, this being very much in line with Aristotelian conception of story and narrative.  Labov points out that a narrative has six common elements:

(1) An abstract (summary of the substance of the story)

(2) Orientation (time, place, situation, participants)

(3) Complicating action (sequence of events)

(4) Evaluation (significance and meaning of the action, attitude of the narrator)

(5) Resolution (what finally happened)

(6) Coda (returns the perspective to the present)

In a comparable analysis, the researcher is able to discover patterns in the stories themselves. How do people solve problems? How do they interpret events and gain what sort of lessons?  What are typical problems which one with struggles in the system?

If any interdependencies of the three levels exist needs to be verified, but I suggest the following cycle of analysis and practice:


Danzig, A. (1999) “How might leadership be taught? The use of story and narrative to teach leadership”, International Journal of Leadership in Education: Theory and Practice, VOL. 2, NO. 2, 117 – 131

Franzosi, R. (1998) “Narrative analysis or why (and how) sociologists should be interested in narrative”, Annual Review of Sociology, 24, 517- 554

Labov, W. (1982) “Speech actions and reactions in personal narrative”, Analyzing Discourse: Text and Talk, ed Tannen, D., Washington DC: Georgetown University Press

Riessman (2003) “Narrative Analysis”, The Sage Encyclopedia of Social Science Research Methods, eds. Lewis-Beck, M.S.; Bryman, A. & Futing Liao, T. , Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

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