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The False Promise of Organizational Culture Change: A Case Study of Middle Managers in Grocery Retailing


  • Emmanuel Ogbonna
  • Barry Wilkinson


The strategic importance of managing organizational culture has been a central theme in organizational literature over the past two decades. But relatively little attention has been given to the impact of culture change initiatives on managers. This paper reports on the impact of a programme of culture change on managers at one of Britain's leading grocery retail chains. Based on a series of detailed interviews with managers together with examination of company documents and an understanding of trends in grocery retailing, we explain the purpose and content of change, and document and analyse the reactions of those managers who are expected to change their own cultural orientations as well as persuade their subordinates to change. We conclude that in this case at least changes in managerial behaviour, as with previously documented changes in the behaviour of shopfloor workers, are related more to surveillance, direct control and the threat of sanction than any transformation of managerial values. Indeed, the situation and experiences of managers - one of reduced autonomy, close monitoring and control, and perceived career insecurity - are explained less in relation to 'organizational culture', more in relation to organizational (re-)structuring intended to create a more centralized form of organizational control. Copyright Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2003.

Suggested Citation

  • Emmanuel Ogbonna & Barry Wilkinson, 2003. "The False Promise of Organizational Culture Change: A Case Study of Middle Managers in Grocery Retailing," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 40(5), pages 1151-1178, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:jomstd:v:40:y:2003:i:5:p:1151-1178

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    Cited by:

    1. Ebrahim Soltani & Jawad Syed & Ying-Ying Liao & Abdullah Iqbal, 2015. "Managerial Mindsets Toward Corporate Social Responsibility: The Case of Auto Industry in Iran," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 129(4), pages 795-810, July.
    2. Karin Garrety, 2008. "Organisational Control and the Self: Critiques and Normative Expectations," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 82(1), pages 93-106, September.
    3. Leo McCann & Jonathan Morris & John Hassard, 2008. "Normalized Intensity: The New Labour Process of Middle Management," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 45(2), pages 343-371, March.
    4. Harris, Lloyd C. & Ogbonna, Emmanuel, 2011. "Antecedents and consequences of management-espoused organizational cultural control," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 64(5), pages 437-445, May.

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