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HR Magazine, January 2004 - Is Your company Two-Faced?

By Pamela Babcock  1/1/2004
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HR Magazine, January 2004

Vol 49, NO.1

Staying the Revolution

Cultural inconsistency happens for many reasons and is usually unintentional, says William Rothwell, professor in charge of workforce education and development on the University Park campus of Penn State. For example, an organization may make glowing statements for public relations’ sake to make everyone feel good, but day-to-day realities may necessitate actions that don’t seem to match the language.

“Ask the soldiers in Iraq if they are living the ‘Be All You Can Be’ motto,” Rothwell says. “The crashing disparity between how we want people to feel about us and what we actually do to get results is what leads to most problems.”

Karl Marx’s critical theory technique can be useful in dealing with these problems, since, according to Marx, there’s a difference between ideology—what we say about ourselves—and actual events or people’s interpretations of them.

“He believed it occurred all the time,” says Rothwell, who describes the concept in his book Practicing Organization Development (Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer, 1995). “He also believed that people reacted to that in different ways. For him, it was a matter of finding the hard core group that is so dissatisfied with the status quo—that is, the mismatch between what is being said and what is really happening—that it can lead to revolutionary change.”

Marx would then stoke the fires of discontent by bringing up example after example where “what we say” does not match “what we are doing,” which would force change, Rothwell says.

That suggests that employers who reduce cultural inconsistencies might be able to avoid a worker revolt.

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