Corporate motivation in perspective

In my last blog I talked about theories on intercultural communication related to societies, after which I linked these to personal motivation. This blog will address the same subject, but from the perspective of corporations.

Before I start explaining some theories, I will give you an example of a clash between a person and the corporate culture this person works in: Last week the Dutch Minister of foreign affairs Stef Blok said that peaceful multicultural societies don’t exist. He challenged his audience, that consisted of people working for international organisations, to come up with an example where it did work, and then answered his own question by saying they can’t give any examples because there are non. I am using this news item not only because I can link it to theories on corporate culture later on, but also because it’s linked closely to the subject of this website in general: (mis)communication in intercultural settings. After explaining a few theories related to the subject, I will use this example to further clarify and demonstrate the relation between this example and the theories on corporate culture and motivation.

Over the years, many theories related to the diversity of corporate culture with a focus on organisations have been published. The following three have been first published decades ago, but did undergo some revisions over the years. The first one is from Schein: Three Levels of Culture, then Cameron & Quinn: Competing Values Framework  and finally Handy & Harrison with their Corporate Culture model. Like I said, these models and theories are used to explain and understand the diversity of corporate culture. What they do is interpret and explain intercultural teams and work-related situations when the setting is not purely local but either international or supranational. So these theories on average are not used to explain the culture in your local HEMA, but they are used to explain the corporate culture of international organisations such as Shell, or supranational organisations such as the United Nations

Let’s see how these models can be used. I will start with the Three Levels of Culture, this model refers to the degree to which cultural phenomena are visible to others. The model distinguishes artifacts and behaviours, espoused values and assumptions. Artifacts are tangible or verbally identifiable elements of any organisation. This means they are easily recognized by people outside the organisation. An example of artifacts would be the Shell logo. Values refers to the rules and behaviour, this becomes visible in mission and vision statements. Finally the basic assumptions, these are typically well embedded the company dynamics and therefor hard to recognize, even from within. Think about ‘taken for granted behaviours’ within a team.

The Competing Values Framework uses a different approach to corporate culture, this model produces polarities, such as flexibility versus stability. These polarities construct a quadrant with four types of culture. One of these types is the ‘adhocracy culture’, examples of this culture can for example be found in crowdsourcing platforms, since this type of culture is known for external focus and flexibility. Another type would be a ‘clan culture’, here the focus lays on the internal organisation and also on flexibility. The clan culture is a friendly corporate culture, think about a family owned pizzeria. The next type would be a ‘hierarchy culture’, the focus here is internal as well, and in the same time actions are more controlled and therefore less flexible. This creates a formal workplace with a lot of structure and stability. Think for example about the military as an example of this corporate culture. Finally, there is the ‘market culture’, with an external focus and a controlled work environment. This combination creates a competitive workplace. The focus is goal oriented with tough and demanding leaders, an example of this corporate culture would be an investment company.

The last model is the Corporate Culture model where organizational structure is linked to organizational culture by distinguishing four types: power culture, role culture, task culture and person culture. In the ‘role culture’, also referred to as hierarchical bureaucracies, where power derives from personal positions and no so much from expert power, procedures are highly valued and the consistent systems that are used are highly predictable. An example would be a governmental organisation. A ‘task culture’ focusses on teams that are formed to solve a specific problem. These teams are usually small, with high skilled people. Think about a crisis team for example. A ‘power culture’ is based on a few rules and not a lot of bureaucracy. There is one person or a small group of people that influences the other team members. Finally a ‘person culture’ is formed in a situation where the individuals believe themselves to be superior to the company they work for. This might be difficult for some organisations, but for others is works great. Think about a law firm where each lawyer brings his own type of clientele.

In my last blog I addressed personal motivation. Now for organisations, there is also such thing as corporate intrinsic motivation. Think about organisations that feel a sense of purpose and the need to spread the thought behind this purpose. Or the pride a corporation takes in their presence in society. Looking at the different ways to analyse corporate culture as described above you can imagine how much the intrinsic motivation differs per type of organisation. Companies like HEMA or Shell have both beautiful mission and vision statement written down on their public websites, but their intrinsic motivation cannot be compared. Like with corporate cultures, corporate intrinsic motivation can only be explained from within the environment of the company you are analysing. There is no general intrinsic motivation. With extrinsic motivation that is a little different, as many organisations have a main goal to be profitable.

Now let’s look at this motivation by the example from the Minister of Foreign Affairs that came in the news last week. The Dutch Minister of foreign affairs, Stef Blok, said that peaceful multicultural societies don’t exist. He said this during a meeting with international organisations. Saying this goes directly into all international agreements on the direction an approach towards this subject. No wonder Zembla, a Dutch organisation that practices research journalism and that got their hands on this audio fragment, was asking for an explanation. The fragment was all over the news for several days. The Dutch parliamentarians said they are shocked by these statements. Calling it very unprofessional. Now why is this such a problem? Two answers: first of all, it does not line up the the intrinsic motivation behind the direction of the Dutch government. Secondly, it does not fit the corporate culture of a governmental organisation. By definition the governmental systems are hierarchical bureaucracies where procedures are highly valued. Usually power in these types of corporate cultures does not derive form expert knowledge, but instead in derives from personal positions. Blok said his statement might have seem unfortunate, but in the same time he is not changing anything regarding to it. Theories related to the diversity of corporate culture are used to avoid a clash between specific personalities in specific roles. No doubt personal motivation plays a big role, as shown in the example of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. In this case, Blok used this position to get a personal opinion across a group of internationals whom it might directly concern.