MIS40640 – Managing Technology & Change: Cultural & Political Perspectives – IT as a cultural artefact

Readings of the Week:

Gallivan and Srite – IT and Culture

Robey and Azevedo – Cultural analysis of IT

Questions & Comments:

Gallivan’s paper:

Gallivan & Strite started the paper accepting the need to define a more holistic view of culture in IT domain and they did explore Virtual Onion model grounded in Social Identity Theory as part of their research. But this model represents only one way of seeing culture which is based on multiple identity layers and does not take into account other ways of defining culture. Thus the paper is limited in its scope and cannot claim to explore culture holistically in IT domain. Why did authors focus so much on models based on multiple identity layers?

There is no analysis on alternative models like Schein (1990) which emphasises that there are visible and invisible levels of culture (the ‘culture iceberg’ analogy − the visible levels (surface manifestations) of the ‘culture iceberg’ incorporate observable symbols, ceremonies, stories, slogans, behaviours, dress and physical settings. The invisible levels of the ‘culture iceberg’ include underlying values, assumptions, beliefs, attitudes and feelings.

In fact Rousseau (1990) proposed a better model which is also a multi- layered model like Gallivan & Strite but is structured as a ring and takes into account both visible and invisible levels of culture. Rousseau’s rings are ‘organised from readily accessible (outer layers) to difficult to access (inner layers)’ and appears to capture all the key elements of culture: ‘a continuum from unconscious to conscious, from interpretative to behaviour, from inaccessible to accessible’

The paper emphasises the importance of cultural compatibility, saying that organisational culture should be compatible with the IT strategy in order to be successful. What if a culture is incompatible with the IT strategy? Is culture such an independent variable that this will make implementation too difficult to undertake, or is culture more of a dependent variable, that can be managed even when the fit isn’t obvious?

Robey & Azevedo paper:

In my own organisation there are a series of corporate values which are frequently displayed and often used as a reason or indeed as an excuse for actions. These values form our corporate culture. What is obvious is that in our corporate headquarters in London staff work to and identify with the stated culture, clearly part of that is brainwashing and part of it is hiring specific kinds of people. It is that “unifying force” which the paper alludes to, these values came from their work practices, as the Schein’s definition would lead us to believe. Where in our Dublin office has been in existence only a few years and we would have trouble remembering those values are if they were not written everywhere and I don’t think they play a factor in anyone in that offices working life. These values were imposed on us; they did not grow out of our work practices and there was no development or integration. So we do not adhere to Schein’s definition at all, and as such the culture of the Dublin office is vastly different to that of the London office.

How the organisational culture and IT implementations affected by  organisations taken over by other organisations which is having entire different national and organisational culture?  For example US company is taken over by Indian companies, there will be some people thinking there culture will be changed or affected by this. Will the technology is a barrier in cultural change?

Minutes of the Class:

Initial thoughts on this week’s readings were that they follow on from the previous weeks lecture and papers from Orilkowski and Iacona and Robey; structuration theory is again a recurring theme for both understanding IS in organisations and viewing IT as a cultural artefact. There is clear commonality between the articles and it raised some points to note:

  • Culture is very complex
  • There’s not enough emphasis on the negativity of culture and the complexities
  • It’s difficult to know and understand where to stop when doing research; when is enough really enough?
  • With all the sophisticated theories, how do we put them into practice?

Presentation from Group B, Oisin Hurley, Patrick Walsh and William Lee also highlighted the continuation from the previous week but believed that the deterministic approach and structuration theory approach didn’t consider the social aspect within organisations. Culture tends to be used as a scapegoat, is based on our actions, what we know and where we are from; it is not an umbrella term but one with many layers and sub-groups – the “virtual onion” metaphor; it’s not observable, it’s indeterminable, persistent but changeable and it’s multiple and enduring.

Hofstede’s research, using national culture to review organisations, stood out to the presenters as being too general. Example of his research of Irish people being a society of optimistic “I’s”, not “we’s” who spend money with no concern highlighted this fact.

Trying to interpret the virtual onion metaphor – using the onion as layered within a social group – the individual and what we are within the company, ethnicity, religion, values, etc. some of these layers change as we grow and others persist.

Rather than seeing IT as an enabler for change (e.g.: BOI SAS system) – persistence with company graduate programmes recreate and reinforce the culture (e.g.: BAE graduate programmes).

Led on to the 5Monkey’s experiment ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-PvBo75PDo ) on YouTube. Culture can be affected and changed due to your environment; “are you the sixth monkey?”

Metaphor

Walsham’s chapter II is primarily based on Gareth Morgan’s book “Images of Organisation” (recommended) and the important role of the metaphor. How do we summarise a metaphor? In summary, it’s difficult to separate cognition and language; the language we have at our disposal inherently shapes what we see in the world and how we think. In all aspects of life, we define in terms of metaphors and then act on the basis of these metaphors; the metaphor is often regarded as embellishing, because the use of metaphor is used as a tool to see and understand the complex organisation.

So what is the key point? What produces metaphors?

Something that’s important for metaphors is language; language is not innocent; it’s not a tool used to just define things and something we can step outside of. We are prisoners of language. Traditionally, we see a world and we use vocabulary to describe it. Language is producing the world in a particular way for us. To understand a culture you have to see the people enacting the culture and really you have to understand the language as well to understand the culture. Language portrays a particular perspective on the world. Examples given in class were nuances between the Irish and English languages. Language is dynamic.

Wittgenstein called for a correspondence theory of language; a standardisation of language. All we have is language and metaphor to describe things like organisations. In order to grasp any complex phenomena, we are reliant on metaphors.

There are 2 predominant metaphors to describe the organisation; the machine and the organism. The machine is a closed loop; a smooth process of inputs and outputs, whereas the organism sees the organisation evolve over time. Morgan believes that these metaphors, although useful, are exhausted; utilising them will blind the researcher to other, important metaphors. Morgan recommends utilisation of a combination of metaphors or else all problems become nails if you only have a hammer!

How do we know where and when to stop? To become a better manager you need to be able to see more things, be sensitive to the fact that they’re important and to respond accordingly. These theories are sensitising devices to allow managers to encompass more and understand and develop more. Using a limited number of metaphors marginalises other aspects of the organisation.

What do we mean by culture?

Culture is complex and although we may not become cultural theorists, it is hoped that as managers, we will develop enough theory to know and understand culture and manage it. Andres Brown’s definition of organisational culture from his book “Organisational Culture” states:

“Organisational culture refers to the patterns of beliefs, values, and learned ways of coping with experience that have developed during the course of an organisation’s history, and which tend to be manifested in its material arrangements and in the behaviours of its members.”

Practices of thinking, relating to other people and ways of doing things are central to understanding a particular cultural or organisational context; these have developed over the course of an organisation’s history. Culture is dynamic; certain aspects of culture persist and others change. When one engages with culture, it must be approached with suspicion and objectivity; be aware of espoused culture and culture in practice.

Schein’s model of culture (pictured), illustrates the different layers of culture and their interconnection. The basic assumptions and beliefs, values and attitudes are considered the essence of culture.

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Why are we interested in culture?

The reason we’re embracing alternative theories is that these theories are flexible in helping us understand outcomes; why technology may result in persistence. Technologies can be introduced in two different places and it changes the culture in one place and not in another; it puts an emphasis on the dynamics and process of change in organisations. Technology is interpretatively flexible – cultural theory is useful as the same technology can be interpreted and used differently in different cultural organisations and these are the dynamics we need to understand. Cultural perspective can be helpful to how people interpret and use technology.

Interpretation is central to culture; cultural theory is about how social meanings get produced. In the 1960’s there was emphasis on formal research on companies and results for similar companies were very different so researchers looked for different ways to rationalise the conflicting results. “In Search of Excellence” by Piers & Waterman portrayed how really excellent companies systematically managed culture. Critique here was that the formulae utilised were very simplistic and most of the researched companies had gone out of business!

Application of cultural perspective

So, what do we do with all of this and how do we apply it? Social Identity Theory – occupational culture (engineers and marketing perspectives), education, we should always beware of assuming cultural homogeneity; a collection of different sub-cultures. Cultures are more dynamic and heterogeneous than thought of in research and study.

Weak culture and a strong culture – how well it can enforce itself. Strong cultures have a more homogenous thought process which can lead to group-think. Weak cultures may cause more controversy and friction in organisations but it can be more creative and dynamic than strong cultures.

We’re always prisoners of discourse and perspectives. Cultural perspective hasn’t been developed as well as it should be and these thoughts will be complemented in Friday’s class. Power is central to organisations; it’s a central motor in organisations. Language and metaphors shape our world. Power must be studied when looking at culture and will be addressed on Friday. Symbolism and culture is also very important; company logos or executive washrooms. Metaphors and language enacts the world, how the world is and how we respond to it; it allows for reconciling multiple interpretations

Conclusion

Think of culture as a root metaphor (deterministic view; see it as an objective identity of an organisation and that it is measurable) and culture as an objective entity (it’s a perspective). Look towards culture via structuration theory; reproduced ways of valuing, doing, acting, etc. We should always be aware of cultural homogeneity; it may be more useful to see culture as a group of subcultures than one large culture. Culture is more organic and hard to shape but an understanding of culture would be helpful in order to successfully manage teams.

In order to understand or get an appreciation of culture, you have to spend a considerable amount of time doing this. How practical is it to do this in an organisation?

Cultural sensitivity is important to see more things and learn how to address them organisationally.

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