De!ning culture as “the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one human group from another” (p. 21), Hofstede focused particularly on work-related values. The heart of his book is a survey of a large U.S. multinational company’s employees. Approximately 117,000 surveys were collected from workers and managers in 40 countries and 20 languages. Data were collected in two waves, one in 1968 and another in 1972. Hofstede then identi!ed variables that reliably differentiated managers of various nations. He ultimately settled on four dimensions of national culture:
1. Power distance: A measure of power inequality between bosses and subordinates. High power-distance countries (such as the Philippines, Mexico, and Venezuela) display more autocratic relationships between bosses and subordinates. Low power-distance countries (including Denmark, Israel, and Austria) show more democratic and decentralized patterns.
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2. Uncertainty avoidance: The level of comfort with uncertainty and ambiguity. Countries high on uncertainty avoidance (Greece, Portugal, Belgium, and Japan) tend to make heavy use of structure, rules, and specialists to maintain control. Those low on the index (Hong Kong, Denmark, Sweden, and Singapore) put less emphasis on structure and are more tolerant of risk taking.
3. Individualism: The importance of the individual versus the collective (group, organization, or society). Countries highest on individualism (the United States, Australia, Great Britain, and Canada) put emphasis on autonomous, self-reliant individuals who care for themselves. Countries lowest on individuality (Peru, Pakistan, Colombia, and Venezuela) emphasized mutual loyalty.
4. Masculinity-femininity: The degree to which a culture emphasizes ambition and achievement versus caring and nurture. In countries highest in masculinity (Japan, Austria, Venezuela, Italy), men tend to feel strong pressures for success, relatively few women hold high-level positions, and job stress is high. The opposite is true in countries low in masculinity (such as Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, and Sweden).
Hofstede argues that management practices and theories are inevitably culture bound. Most management theory has been developed in the United States, which is culturally similar to nations where people speak English and other northern-European languages but distinct from most countries in Asia (as well as those speaking Romance languages). To Hofstede, managers and scholars have too often assumed that what works in their culture will work anywhere, an assumption that can have disastrous results.
Hofstede also explores the relationship between national and organizational culture, noting that a common culture is a powerful form of organizational glue. This is most likely to occur in multinationals in which a home country culture reigns companywide, which in turn requires that managers from outside the home country become bicultural. Many American managers who work abroad, in Hofstede’s view, tend to live in American enclaves and remain both monolingual and monocultural.
Hofstede’s research was limited in many ways. His sample came from only one American company (IBM), and many nations were absent (China, Russia, most of Africa and Eastern Europe). His data are now about four decades old. But no other work has been as in”uential in demonstrating the pervasive impact of national culture on organizations.
Nordstrom’s Rooted Culture Nordstrom department stores are renowned for customer service and employee satisfaction. Customers rave about its no-hassle, no-questions-asked commitment to high-quality service: “not service the way it used to be, but service that never was” (Spector and McCarthy, 1995, p. 1). Year after year, Nordstrom has been ranked at or near the top in retail service ratings, and in 2016 it continued to hold the top spot for department stores. The company is consistently listed on Fortune’s list of the 100 Best Companies to Work for.
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Founder John Nordstrom was a Swedish immigrant who settled in Seattle after an odyssey across America and a brief stint hunting gold in Alaska. He and Carl Wallin, a shoemaker, opened a shoe store. Nordstrom’s sons Elmer, Everett, and Lloyd joined the business. Collectively, they anchored the !rm in an enduring philosophical principle: the customer is always right. The following generations of Nordstroms expanded the business while maintaining a close connection with historical roots.
The company relies on acculturated “Nordies” to induct new employees into customer service the Nordstrom way. Newcomers begin in sales, learning traditions from the ground up: “When we are at our best, our frontline people are lieutenants because they control the business. Our competition has foot soldiers on the front line and lieutenants in the back” (Spector and McCarthy, 1995, p. 106).
Nordstrom’s unique commitment to customer service is heralded in its “heroics”—tales of heroes and heroines going out of their way:
• A customer fell in love with a particular pair of pleated burgundy slacks on sale at Nordstrom’s downtown Seattle store. Unfortunately, the store was out of her size. The sales associate got cash from the department manager, marched across the street, bought the slacks at full price from a competitor, brought them back, and sold them to the customer at Nordstrom’s reduced price (Spector and McCarthy, 1995, p. 26).
• According to legend, a Nordie once refunded a customer’s payment for a set of automobile tires, even though the company had never stocked tires. In 1975, Nordstrom had acquired three stores from Northern Commercial in Alaska. The customer had purchased the tires from Northern Commercial, so Nordstrom took them back—as the story goes (Spector and McCarthy, 1995, p. 27).
Nordstrom’s commitment to customer service is reinforced in storewide rituals. New- comers encounter the company’s values in the initial employee orientation. For many years,
! 8´´they were given a 5´´ card labeled the “Nordstrom Employee Handbook,” which listed only one rule: Use your sound judgment in all situations. Newcomers still get the card, but Nordstrom has added a handbook that lists a few rules and legal considerations. The emphasis on pleasing the customer is still dominant. At staff meetings, sales associates compare and discuss sales techniques and role-play customer encounters.
Periodic ceremonies reinforce the company’s cherished values. From the company’s early years, the Nordstrom family sponsored summer picnics and Christmas dance parties, and the company continues to create occasions to celebrate customer service: “We do crazy stuff. Monthly store powwows serve as a kind of revival meeting, where customer letters of
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appreciation are read and positive achievements are recognized, while coworkers whoop and cheer for one another. Letters of complaint about Nordstrom customer service are also read over the intercom (omitting the names of offending salespeople)” (Spector and McCarthy, 1995, pp. 120, 129).
At one spirited sales meeting, a regional manager asked all present to call out their sales targets for the year, which he posted on a large chart. Then the regional manager uncovered his own target for each person. Anyone whose target was below the regional manager’s was roundly booed. Those whose individual goals were higher were acclaimed with enthusiastic cheers (Spector and McCarthy, 1995).
The delicate balance of competition, cooperation, and customer service has served Nordstrom well. Its stellar identity has created a sterling image. In a sermon titled “The Gospel According to Nordstrom,” one California minister “praised the retailer for carrying out the call of the gospel in ways more consistent and caring than we sometimes do in the church” (Spector and McCarthy, 1995, p. 21).
Nordstrom, like every business, has stumbled occasionally. But its steadfast loyalty to proven values and ways keeps the company on a successful course.
CONCLUSION In contrast to traditional views emphasizing rationality, the symbolic frame highlights the tribal aspect of contemporary organizations. It centers on complexity and ambiguity and emphasizes the idea that symbols mediate the meaning of work.
Myths, values, and vision bring cohesiveness, clarity, and direction in the presence of confusion and mystery. Heroes carry values and serve as powerful icons. Rituals and ceremonies provide scripts for celebrating success and facing calamity. Metaphors, humor, and play offer escape from the tyranny of facts and logic; they stimulate creative alternatives to timeworn choices. Symbolic forms and activities are the basic elements of culture, accumulated over time to shape an organization’s unique identity and character. In The Feast of Fools, Cox (1969, p. 13) summarizes: “Our links to yesterday and tomorrow depend also on the aesthetic, emotional, and symbolic aspects of human life—on saga, play, and celebration. Without festival and fantasy, man would not really be a historical being at all.”
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13 c h a p t e r
Culture in Action
Not a having and a resting, but a growing and becoming is the character of perfection as culture conceives it.
The public has been fascinated with the U.S. Navy’s secret SEAL strike teams ever since one of them, SEAL Team Six Red Squadron, tracked
down Osama bin Laden in 2012. The public eye typically focuses on the modern weaponry, awesome !repower, and sheer bravado of the SEAL operators. At least three books and a hit movie, Zero Dark Thirty—each with its own interpretation of that operation—came out in 2013. But lurking beneath the surface of Red Squadron’s successful foray is another story about the culture of SEAL Team Six, which has not been fully told.
The books written by SEALs generally underscore the important contributions of the team’s tightly knit culture. The members of Team Six “are bound together not only by sworn oaths, but also by the obligations of their brotherhood” (Pfarrer, 2011, p. 28). As one SEAL described it, “My relationship with Team Six has been more important than my marriage” (Wasdin and Templin, 2011, p. 254). Posttraumatic stress disorder among returning soldiers has been attributed to the loss of brotherhood. Published sources sometimes mention pranks, humor, ritual, and specialized language, but they don’t describe in depth the essential cultural components that create these intense emotional and spiritual bonds.