Shared Assumptions About Goals Derived from the Mission

Consensus on the core mission and identity does not automatically guar­antee that the key members of the organization will have common goals or that the various subcultures will be appropriately aligned to fulfill the mission. As noted in the previous chapter, the basic subcultures in any organization may, in fact, be unwittingly working at cross-purposes to some elements of the mission. The mission is often understood but not well artic­ulated. To achieve consensus on goals, the group needs a common language and shared assumptions about the basic logistical operations by which it can move from something as abstract or general as a sense of mission to the concrete goals of designing, manufacturing, and selling an actual product or service within specified and agreed-upon cost and time constraints.

For example, in DEC there was a clear consensus on the mission of bringing out a line of computing products that would “win in the market­place,” but this consensus did not solve senior management’s problem of how to allocate resources among different product development groups, nor did it specify how best to market such products. Mission and strat­egy can be rather timeless, whereas goals have to be formulated for what to do next year, next month, and tomorrow. Goals concretize the mission and facilitate the decisions on means. In that process, goal formulation also often reveals unresolved issues or lack of subculture consensus around deeper issues.

In DEC, the debate around which products to support and how to sup­port them revealed a deep lack of semantic agreement on how to think about “marketing.” For example, one group thought that marketing meant better image advertising in national magazines so that more people would recognize the name of the company; another group was convinced that mar­keting meant better advertising in technical journals; one group thought it meant developing the next generation of products; while yet another group emphasized merchandizing and sales support as the key elements of marketing.

Senior management often could not define clear goals because of lack of consensus on the role of key functions and how those functions reflected the core mission of the organization. Senior management had to come to agreement on whether it was better to develop the company through being well known in the technical community or through being recognized nationally as a brand name in the minicomputer industry. The deeper shared assumption that came to dominate this debate was derived from the identity that most senior DEC people had as electrical engineers and innovators. As engineers they believed that good products would sell themselves, that their own judgment of “goodness” was sufficient, and that they should not “waste” money on image building.

In Ciba-Geigy there was a clear consensus on the mission to remain in the pharmaceuticals business because it fitted the broad self-concept of senior management and was profitable, but there was considerable disagree­ment on goals, such as what rate of return should be expected from that division and over what length of time its growth and performance should be measured.

Because operational goals have to be more precise, organizations typi­cally work out their issues of mission and identity in the context of deciding annual or longer-range goals. To really understand cultural assumptions, we must be careful not to confuse these short-run assumptions about goals with assumptions about mission. Ciba-Geigy’s concern with being only in busi­nesses that make “science-based, useful products” did not become evident in their discussions about business goals until they hit a strategic issue like whether or not to buy another company. In fact, one way of looking at what we mean by “strategy” is to realize that strategy concerns the evolution of the basic mission, whereas operational goals reflect the short-run tactical survival issues that the organization identifies. Thus, when a company gets into basic strategy discussions, it is usually trying to assess in a more funda­mental way the relationship between mission and operational goals.

In summary, goals can be defined at several levels of abstraction and in different time horizons. Is our goal to be profitable at the end of next quarter, or to make ten sales next month, or to call twelve potential cus­tomers tomorrow? Only as consensus is reached on such matters, leading to solutions that work repeatedly, can we begin to think of the goals of an organization as potential cultural elements.

Source: Schein Edgar H. (2010), Organizational Culture and Leadership, Jossey-Bass; 4th edition.

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