During the last fifteen years the concept of organizational culture has been expanded by students of organizations to explain much of what goes on in organizations. Why do managers at IBM wear white shirts? Why do Procter & Gamble members write memos of only one page? Why do most meetings at DuPont start with a talk about safety? Are these mysterious tribal rituals? Surely these things are not completely explainable in terms of the traditional schools of management theory.
Until the early 1980s coincident with the rise of the influences we call dynamic engagement it seemed to many that it was enough to understand an organization’s strategy (part of planning) and its structure (part of organizing) in order to have a good explanation for what it did. But many thinkers began to see that much more was going on in organizations than just developing new products and services and paying attention to hierarchy and power. Researchers, spurred in part by their efforts to understand organizations that were not US based and that operated on some rather different basic assumptions, began to use the concept of culture from anthropology to understand some of these basic differences.
For instance, it was an assumption within many large Japanese firms that the worker had a lifetime contract and was not to key spots in the hierarchy should be based on both age and ability, not necessarily just ability. As many American firms assumed. Today, these assumptions are much less frequently correct. But in the early 1980s, these kinds of assumptions started researchers thinking about how what looked to be a very different way of organizing a firm could be successful when it flew in the face of all their organizational “Knowledge”. For some, the answer seemed to lie in the concept of culture.
Indeed a strong, widely recognized corporate culture is frequently cited as a reason for the success of such companies as GE, Johnson & Johnson, and Procter & Gamble. Conversely a strong, unchanging culture is just as often cited as the reason for the recent troubles of companies such as General Motors and IBM.
A number of organizations cultivate a particular culture. At Mary Kay Cosmetics the ceremonies, rewards, décor, and other symbolic forms of communication are features of a corporate culture that guides the actions of organization members. At Apple Computer, as the company quickly advanced to a leading position in its industry, managers worked hard to maintain the informality and personal relationships characteristics of a small company. Even in its marketing they touted Apple as the small company alternative to IBM and other industry giants. Tandem Computers emphasizes a culture of employee centered incentives, and Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M) gears its corporate culture toward innovation.
As boundaries between cultures and nations are blurred and new communications technology makes it possible to think of the world as a “global village” the scope of international and intercultural relationships is rapidly expanding. The pace of organizational activity picks up dramatically. These trends indicate a heightened level of intensity in organizations and management today.
To emphasize the intensity of modern organizational relationships and the intensity of time pressures that govern these relationships, we call this flurry of new management theory the dynamic engagement approach. Dynamic engagement is our term. In times when theories are changing, it is often true that the last thing that happens is that someone assigns a name to the new theory. We use dynamic engagement to convey the mood of current thinking and debate about management and organizations. It is quite likely that twenty years from now, well into your organizational lives, you will look back and call this period of movement by some other name.
Dynamic – the opposite of static – implies continuous change, growth, and activity; engagement – the opposite of detachment implies intense involvement with others. We therefore think the term dynamic engagement best expresses the vigorous ways today’s most successful managers focus on human relationships and quickly adjust to changing conditions over time.