Meaning-making in values-driven organizations

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					Meaning-making in values-driven

         Marya Hill-Popper
            May 2005
How do you evaluate your work?
In several ways, I guess. One is a paycheck.
[Laughs.] And that’s why I came – one of the
reasons why I came. The other one was to learn
about the products that were available. The
paycheck works. It’s not big…it’s little. The
learning part’s off and on. Sometimes I learn,
sometimes I don’t. Training and education are
two different things, and they tend to do more
training than education. And the training is
spotty. (M, TM, 16)
How do you evaluate your work?
I really believe in the, you know, the mission
statement of this company, and to tell you the
truth I think that’s why a lot of people work here.
It’s funny, there’s a lot of, um, people who work
here who have, you know, degrees from really
good schools, and, you know, a lot of higher
education, and they choose to work here just
because, you know, of what the company stands
for. You know, even though the pay might not be
the greatest. (M, ATL, 17)
       Outline for presentation

• Motivation and conceptual framework
• Preliminary field study: Whole Foods
• Proposed approach for dissertation
• Loss of meaning in modern organizations
  – Classical social theory (Marx 1978; Weber 1946, 1978)
  – Contemporary sociology (e.g., Khurana 2002)

• Rise of values-driven organizations
  – Many business organizations claim to have purpose or core
    values that guide their actions
  – We do not understand impact of organizational purpose on
    internal and external constituents
  – My work focuses on impact of purpose on key internal
    constituents: employees

• Question: What is nature of relationship between
  organizational purpose and employee meaning?
  Meaning and values-driven organizations
Early organizational scholars linked meaning with common purpose:
   – Weber (1946, 1978) on charismatic leadership
   – Barnard (1968) and Selznick (1984) on mission and common purpose
Three main perspectives among contemporary scholars
• Purpose and values a source of meaning
   – “Integration” scholars advocate use of collective values to generate
     employee engagement and commitment (e.g., Schein, 1985; Deal &
     Kennedy, 1982; Collins & Porras,1994)
• Purpose and values negatively related to meaning
   – Critics of strong culture argue org membership is in tension with self
     identity (Kunda 1992; Martin 1992, 2002)
   – Implication is that strong collective purpose leaves little room for
     personal meaning
• Purpose and values not related to meaning
   – Neo-institutional theorists treat purpose as “myth”, decoupled from actual
     org practices (Meyer & Rowan 1977; Dobbin & Sutton 1998)
   – Implication is that purpose has little or no meaning for employees
                    Relationship between purpose,
                      meaning and performance
                           Individual factors
                           • Status/educ, age, culture
                           • Tenure, job level, function

Organizational                                             Meaning            Performance
 purpose and                                               • Instrumental
    values                                                 vs. value-based
• Content (esp. social /
                            Work context
cultural resonance)
                                                           • Individual vs.
                            • Consistency of
• Internal consistency                                     collective goals
                            values w/ practices
• Multiplexity
                            • Structure of work
        Values-driven organization
• Organization has purpose and set of values that
  connect the product or service produced to a
  broader societal goal
• Purpose and values serve as a basis for
  strategic and operational decision making
  – That is, purpose and values are given a weight equal
    to or higher than financial performance considerations
    in making these decisions
             Defining meaning
• Two components of meaning (Podolny et al. 2005)
   – Action is connected to ends I care about
   – Action is collective not purely individual

• Theoretical roots of definition
   – Weber’s substantive rationality
   – Rousseau, Durkheim on community

• Concept is related to intrinsic motivation, but
  different level of analysis and temporal frame
             Operationalizing meaning
• Examine structure of language in addition to content
   – How people talk not just what they say
• Choices in the grammar represent alternative ways of
  construing experience (Halliday 1994; Halliday &
  Matthiessen 1999)
  Language enables human beings to build a mental picture of reality, to make
  sense of what goes on around them and inside them. Here again the clause
  plays a central role, because it embodies a general principle for modeling
  experience – namely the principle that reality is made up of processes.
         Our most powerful impression of experience is that it consists of
  ‘goings-on’ – happening, doing, sensing, meaning, and being and becoming.
  All these goings-on are sorted out in the grammar of the clause. Thus…the
  clause is … a mode of reflection, of imposing order on the endless variation
  and flow of events.
            Linguistic indicators
Linguistic indicator 1: Process type
• Experience construed through grammatically distinct
  process types (Halliday 1994; Halliday & Matthiessen
   – Material: Doing (to), happening, creating
   – Mental: Thinking, feeling, seeing
   – Relational: Symbolizing, having identity, having
• Implications for meaning
   – Material, mental processes imply more active
        Linguistic indicators (cont)
Linguistic indicator 2: Pronoun use
• Personal pronoun use linked to social integration, self vs.
  group identity (Pennebaker et al. 2003)
   – Relative prevalence of I, you, he/she, we, they
• Implications for meaning:
   – Singular vs. plural pronouns as indicator of self vs.
     group identity
   – We vs. they as indicator of type of relationship with
                Preliminary field study
• How do front-line employees engage with organizational purpose
  and values in making meaning out of their work?

• Choose setting where meaning likely to occur
   – For-profit organization with strong mission and values
   – Within org. design controls for variation in structure of work
• Study process by which employees engage with mission
   – Goal is to identify key elements of sensemaking process
• Use multiple methods to assess meaning
   – Primary data source: Interviews with front-line employees
   – Inductive content analysis
   – Grammatical structure analysis
                Whole Foods Market
• Organic and natural foods retailer
• 150 U.S. locations, 26,000 employees
• Revenues of $3.9 B, 3.5% net margin (FY04)
• Founded 1980, early growth through acquisition, recent
  growth through new store development
• Fortune “100 Best Companies to Work For”, 1998-2005
• Employment practices and work structure include:
      • Peer hiring
      • Information sharing (store level comp, sales, employee satisfaction)
      • Highest compensation capped at 14x avg of FT employees
      • 401K, stock options, health insurance for PT employees
      • Within stores, decentralized teams with P/L responsibility
      • “Team members” and “Team leaders”
       WFM Mission and Values
Declaration of Interdependence
     We are a mission driven company that aims to set the standards of
     excellence for food retailers…Our motto – Whole Foods, Whole
     People, Whole Planet – emphasizes that our vision reaches far beyond
     just being a food retailer. Our success in fulfilling our vision is
     measured by customer satisfaction, Team member excellence and
     happiness, return on capital investment, improvement in the state of the
     environment, and local and larger community support.”

Core values
   – “Selling the highest quality natural and organic products available”
   – “Satisfying and delight our customers”
   – “Team member happiness and excellence”
   – “Creating wealth through profits and growth”
   – “Caring about our communities and our environment”
                     Participant profile
21 interviews across 2 sites in Boston area
Standard interview protocol, ~30min

Gender                               Position
    Male: 9                              Manager/assistant: 11
    Female: 12                           Team member: 10

Education                            Status: 13 “high status”
    HS or some college: 10              College or higher educ. OR work
    College or higher: 11               experience in higher status indus.

Race/ethnicity                       Avg. age: 36
    White/Caucasian: 16              Store tenure: 1.5 yrs
    Hispanic: 3
                                     Company tenure: 3.2 yrs
    African American: 1
    Asian American: 1
        Data coding and analysis
Inductive content analysis
   – By theme and by case
   – Particular attention to how employees …
        • Characterize the company and its mission
        • Describe and evaluate their current work role
        • Link work role to personal goals and values

Linguistic indicators
   –   Existing coding guidelines adapted for spoken text
   –   Process types coded at clause level
   –   Pronoun use coded within clauses
   –   ESL interviews coded but not included in final
Employees engage with mission and
 values by…
• Selecting, prioritizing and reinterpreting
  mission and values in terms of their own
  personal values
• Evaluating consistency of mission and
  values with actions
• Using mission and values to reframe their
               Selecting and prioritizing

Employees recognize multiplex mission, select
one or more components to prioritize over others
The mission is to bring, um, good food to as many people as they
possibly can. It’s…at least in this store and in the last store I worked
at the bosses - who are called team leaders, in different
departments - they really do care about the people who work for
them. They really do. Um, because I think on the whole, it comes
from the philosophy that if you hire good people they’ll make good
hires…[Interviewer: Okay. And for you, is that part of what the
company’s mission is?] To make workers happy. Yes, I think-or at
least that’s one that I choose to emphasize. I’m not at all interested
in, in stockholders. I’m really not. [F, TM, 08]
Employees reinterpret mission consistent with
their own individual values

I understand their mission is to work off the land
and support the people who are working off the
land and…it sounds kind of silly but make the
world a better place by not using extra things in
their foods and contaminants and helping out
kind of with some of the things that we’ve
already done wrong. So…I see their mission as
to just help and improve. (F, TM, 07)
• 19 of 21 employees engage in selecting and prioritizing,
  reinterpreting or both
• In order to select and prioritize or reinterpret, employees
  must find mission and values to be meaningful
• 2 of 21 employees interviewed found no meaning in
  mission and values
  That’s kind of a tough question because they really try to pound the
  mission…We have an orientation and they have this like card that
  they give us with the mission typed out on it. And I couldn’t even tell
  you what it says. I think it’s posted on the wall right over there. I
  mean it’s something about excellence and quality of food and
  customer service and in um, also employee happiness-is one of
  their, is part of their mission. And um, that’s about all. (F, TM, 14)
   Selecting, prioritizing and reinterpreting:
              Linguistic analysis
• Greater cognitive and emotional engagement with
  mission and values compared to other issues
  – Across questions, relative use of mental clauses
    highest when talking about company mission (27% vs.
    avg of 14%)
• When talking about mission, employees who find
  mission meaningful…
  – Use relatively more mental clauses
     • 28% vs. 20%
  – Use relatively more “we” and less “they”
     • We/they ratio of 1.1 vs. 0.1
                                      Relational Process

                                                                            Material Process
                                                           Mental Process


Process types by interview question

                                                                                                                                          ay            w
                                                                                                                                      ld              k
                                                                                                                                  ca               or
                                                                                                                                pi              w
                                                                                                                             Ty             u
                                                                                                                                         yo             h
                                                                                                                                    le               ns
                                                                                                                                op               tio
                                                                                                                             Pe               la
                                                                                                                                  /l               rt
                                                                                                                                b              pa
                                                                                                                             Jo             g
                                                                                                                                us             rt
                                                                                                                             Fr           pa
                                                                                                                                vo             b
                                                                                                                             Fa            jo
                                                                                                                                al             b
                                                                                                                             Ev            jo
                                                                                                                                     ib               on
                                                                                                                                  cr               si
                                                                                                                               es               is
                                                                                                                             D               m
                                                                                                                                        ny               n
                                                                                                                                      pa              pa
                                                                                                                               om              co
                                                                                                                             C             s





                Evaluating consistency
Consistency of mission with profit
• Formally, profit and growth part of mission
• In practice, employees question mission-profit consistency
    – 11 of 21 discuss mission-profit relationship – unprompted
    – Majority (9 of 11) interpret mission and profit as consistent or accept
      tensions between them
    – 2 “deviants” reject profit as a worthy goal

Consistency of values with actions
• Questioning of mission-profit relationship linked to more general
  phenomenon – evaluating consistency of values with actions
• All interviewees engage in this process
    – 15 of 21 interpret practices as consistent with values or overlook
    – 6 of 21 interpret practices as inconsistent with values
                        Mission and profit
Profit accepted
   Sometimes people who work in the stores are very committed to the core
   values or they’re committed to working well with people and being
   supportive and also, you know, to natural foods and everything; and then
   you have other people who, they’re just here to make a profit and they think
   of that as like the highest [goal]. And I think, ideally in the mission of the
   company is a combination of those two. One shouldn’t be sacrificed for the
   other. I mean I understand also that it makes sense not to pay attention to
   social issues at the expense of profit making, because then you don’t have
   the money to support the enterprise. I think that’s really the genius of this
   idea. But I think that paying attention to profits at the expense of the other
   core values like team member happiness or environmental stewardship, is
   just as dumb. [Laughs.] And for me [it is] very unpleasant. I hate it when I
   see people doing that. (F, TM, 09)

Profit rejected
   I shopped at Whole Foods for years. And you know, people that have been
   here a long time have said it’s changed, since, since the old days to going
   public. And…and the numbers-driven kind of thing reflects on the floor.
   Cause they discontinued some things that people like, and, cause it doesn’t
   do big numbers. And…[pause]…that’s not the way I work, but that’s the
   way this company works. (M, TM, 16)
                        Values and actions
   Whole Foods is just, you know, like it’s a supermarket, but as I see it, it’s a
   totally different supermarket... What I see about Whole Foods like the core
   values that we have… It might be not different [than what they have at other
   supermarkets], but we really practice… We greet every customer that comes
   we say “hi” and we say “can I help you” and we do everything that we can to
   help a customer find a product that they are looking for... Whole Foods is
   like, you know…they also worry a lot about team members. You know like
   team members is the second thing for Whole Foods. First customer service
   and then the team member happiness, which is really good. Like, any
   problem that you have, you just go and you talk to them and it’s not like they
   write it on a piece of paper and that’s it, they forget it. You know, they will go
   for it, and they come back to you and they tell you, you know, this is what is
   going on. (F, ATL, 13)
   The thing about Whole Foods being ecologically friendly and providing like
   vegan foods and all these options for people with specialized needs and
   diets…It’s kind of I think a bit misleading. They say that you can throw like
   glass and aluminum and all things in the trash can and that the trash then
   gets sorted and everything gets recycled, but really only like the plastic is
   getting recycled, not all of the cardboard and glass and aluminum. So…that
   is a little bit frustrating for me… A certain image is being presented and also
   being told to you but it’s not all necessarily happening. (F, TM, 14)
 Evaluating consistency: Linguistic analysis

Evaluating consistency of mission with profit
• When talking about company mission, use of plural
  pronouns differs across groups
   – Use of “they” relative to other pronouns highest among those
     who conclude mission in tension with profit
   – Use of “we” relative to other pronouns highest among those who
     conclude mission consistent with profit

Evaluating consistency of values with action
• Across all questions, interviewees who conclude values
  inconsistent with action use relatively more “I” and “they”
• Interviewees who conclude values consistent with action
  use relatively more “we”
              Company mission: Relative use of "we" and "they"

       0.60                                                                  First Person Plural
                                                                             Third Person Plural





                 Issue not raised   Mission consistent        Mission
                                        with profit      inconsistent with
                          Pronoun use, all questions

       1.00                                                       First Person
                                                                  Singular Pct
                                                                  Second Person
       0.80                                                       First Person Plural
                                                                  Third Person Plural
       0.60                                                       Third Person

                                                                  Singular Pct



              Values inconsistent with   Values consistent with
                       actions                   actions
               Reframing the work
• By construing mission as socially important,
  employees enhance the value of their own work
     • Cognitive response to social stigma of the job
     • Interpretation draws on literature on “dirty work” (Hughes
       1951; Ashforth & Kreiner 1999)

• 13 of 21 employees engage in reframing
• Reframing more important and more common for
  high status employees
     • These employees have reference groups and opportunity
       structures that enhance stigma of job
     • 9 of 13 high status employees reframe vs. 4 of 8 other
                Reframing the work
I’ve seen how, from [when] I started here to now, how I feel about
myself, what I feel about going to work and leaving work and, you
know, how it kind of, it fits for me. I enjoy it. And I don’t want to, you
know, leave, because I feel the fulfillment of working here. You
know, I feel good about it. And people say it’s just a grocery store
and it’s like, “Nope, there’s more to it.” You know, so. It’s more of a
frame of mind and how you’re doing things… I wouldn’t go to like a
Shaw’s and work if I had to leave Whole Foods. (F, TM, 07)

I think that there’s a stigma that’s associated with a grocery store.
You know, when people say, what do you do? Oh I work in a
grocery store, and people kinda look at you funny. Like, you know,
didn’t you go get a college education and you know, aren’t you
trained to do this, that, or the other? It’s like well yeah, I am. And
they say, well why do you work in a grocery store? And it’s because I
believe in what I do. (F, ATL 15)
Reframing the work: Linguistic analysis

• When talking about company mission, employees who
  reframe their work use…
   – Lower pct relational process type
       • 43% vs. 57%
       • Suggests more active engagement with mission
   – Lower pct “they”
       • 26% vs. 45%
       • Suggests greater sense of belonging to org. as collective group

• But across other questions, no significant differences in
  language use between those who reframe and those
  who do not
              Company mission: Distribution of process types

                                                       Relational Process
                                                       Mental Process
                                                       Material Process




                    No reframing      Reframing
              Company mission: Distribution of pronouns

                                                    First Person
                                                    Singular Pct
                                                    Second Person
                                                    First Person Plural
       0.80                                         Third Person Plural




                  No reframing      Reframing
               Summary and implications
Main findings
• Employees selectively draw on and interpret mission and values in
  way that is personally meaningful
• Sense-making process involves:
   –   Selecting and prioritizing
   –   Reinterpreting
   –   Evaluating consistency
   –   Using mission to reframe work

• Mission and values as a resource (and liability) for meaning-making
• Attachment to collective values can enable rather than inhibit
  individual meaning
   – Due to selection process participants more likely than average employee
     to feel strong attachment to mission and values
   – But strong attachment to collective values does not preclude
     development of individual interpretation
                          Next steps
• WFM findings diverge from strong culture and neo-
  institutional accounts of relationship between mission
  and meaning
• What accounts for the difference?
   –   Structure of work – NOT a 24/7 job
   –   Interpersonal context – Did not directly examine team context
   –   Content of mission and values – Linked to social change
   –   Selection – Did not interview former employees

• Emerging question: Under what conditions do strong
  collective purpose and values enable individual
  meaning-making and allow room for the self?
           Setting for dissertation
• Values-driven organization, provides business
  technology and consulting services
• In process of introducing new “Purpose”
  – Old purpose: delivering the promise of technology
  – New purpose: enabling human potential
• ~2000 employees; ~50% in India
• Have obtained access for interviews and
• Also have access to annual morale survey and
  performance data
                   Proposed approach
Phase 1
• Exploratory pilot study
• Interviews and observation of rollout sessions for new purpose
• Goal is to develop hypotheses about…
    – How employees make meaning out of collective purpose and values
    – Differences in meaning-making process across sub-groups
• Initial interviews suggest differences along at least two dimensions
    – Internal vs. client-facing groups
    – US vs. India

Phase 2
• Interview and survey-based field study
• Design to be based on hypotheses that emerge from pilot
• Anticipate focusing on differences in meaning-making across
  functions, cultures and job levels
                     Relationship between mission,
                      meaning and performance
                           Individual factors
                           • Status/educ, age, culture
                           • Tenure, job level, function

Organizational                                             Meaning            Performance
 mission and                                               • Instrumental
   values                                                  vs. value-based
• Content (esp. social /
                            Work context
cultural resonance)
                                                           • Individual vs.
                            • Consistency of
• Internal consistency                                     collective goals
                            values w/ practices
• Multiplexity
                            • Structure of work

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