Organization Culture Surviving Plant World’s Hard Times In ten years, Plant World had grown from a one-person venture into the largest nursery and landscaping business in its area. Its founder, Myta Ong, combined a lifelong interest in plants with a botany degree to provide a unique customer service. Ong had managed the company’s growth so that even with twenty full-time employees working in six to eight crews, the organization culture was still as open, friendly, and personal as it had been when her only “employees” were friends who would volunteer to help her move a heavy tree.
To maintain that atmosphere, Ong involved herself increasingly with people and less with plants as the company grew. With hundreds of customers and scores of jobs at any one time, she could no longer say without hesitation whether she had a dozen arborvitae bushes in stock or when Mrs. Carnack’s estate would need a new load of bark mulch. But she knew when Rose had been up all night with her baby, when Gary was likely to be late because he had driven to see his sick father over the weekend, and how to deal with Ellen when she was depressed because of her boyfriend’s behavior. She kept track of the birthdays of every employee and even those of their children. She was up every morning by five-thirty arranging schedules so that John could get his son out of daycare at four o’clock and Martina could be back in town for her afternoon high school equivalency classes. Paying all this attention to employees may have led Ong to make a single bad business decision that almost destroyed the company. She provided extensive landscaping to a new mall on credit, and when the mall never opened and its owners went bankrupt, Plant World found itself in deep trouble.
The company had virtually no cash and had to pay off the bills for the mall plants, most of which were not even salvageable. One Friday, Ong called a meeting with her employees and leveled with them: either they would not get paid for a month or Plant World would fold. The news hit the employees hard. Many counted on the Friday paycheck to buy groceries for the week. The local unemployment rate was low, however, and they knew they could find other jobs. But as they looked around, they wondered whether they could ever find this kind of job. Sure, the pay was not the greatest, but the tears in the eyes of some workers were not over pay or personal hardship; they were for Ong, her dream, and her difficulties. They never thought of her as the boss or called her anything but “Myta.” And leaving the group would not be just a matter of saying good-bye to fellow employees.
If Bernice left, the company softball team would lose its best pitcher, and the Sunday game was the height of everyone’s week. Where else would they find people who spent much of the weekend working on the best puns with which to assail one another on Monday morning? At how many offices would everyone show up twenty minutes before starting time just to catch up with friends on other crews? What other boss would really understand when you simply said, “I don’t have a doctor’s appointment, I just need the afternoon off”? Ong gave her employees the weekend to think over their decision: whether to take their pay and look for another job or to dig into their savings and go on working. Knowing it would be hard for them to quit, she told them they did not have to face her on Monday; if they did not show up, she would send them their checks. But when she arrived at seven- forty Monday morning, she found the entire group already there, ready to work even harder to pull the company through. They were even trying to top one another with puns about being “mall-contents.” Case Questions
1- How would you describe the organization culture at Plant World? 2- How large can such a company get before it needs to change its culture and structure?
10- Organization Change and Development Spooked by Computers The New England Arts Project had its headquarters above an Italian restaurant in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The project had five full-time employees, and during busy times of the year, particularly the month before Christmas, it hired as many as six part- time workers to type, address envelopes, and send out mailings. Although each of the
five full-timers had a title and a formal job description, an observer would have had trouble telling their positions apart. Suzanne Clammer, for instance, was the executive director, the head of the office, but she could be found typing or licking envelopes just as often as Martin Welk, who had been working for less than a year as office coordinator, the lowest position in the project’s hierarchy. Despite a constant sense of being a month behind, the office ran relatively smoothly. No outsider would have had a prayer of finding a mailing list or a budget in the office, but project employees knew where almost everything was, and after a quiet fall they did not mind having their small space packed with workers in November.
But a number of the federal funding agencies on which the project relied began to grumble about the cost of the part-time workers, the amount of time the project spent handling routine paperwork, and the chaotic condition of its financial records. The pressure to make a radical change was on. Finally Martin Welk said it: “Maybe we should get a computer.” To Welk, fresh out of college, where he had written his papers on a word processor, computers were just another tool to make a job easier. But his belief was not shared by the others in the office, the youngest of whom had fifteen years more seniority than he.
A computer would eat the project’s mailing list, they said, destroying any chance of raising funds for the year. It would send the wrong things to the wrong people, insulting them and convincing them that the project had become another faceless organization that did not care. They swapped horror stories about computers that had charged them thousands of dollars for purchases they had never made or had assigned the same airplane seat to five people. “We’ll lose all control,” Suzanne Clammer complained. She saw some kind of office automation as inevitable, yet she kept thinking she would probably quit before it came about. She liked hand-addressing mailings to arts patrons whom she had met, and she felt sure that the recipients contributed more because they recognized her neat blue printing. She remembered the agonies of typing class in high school and believed she was too old to take on something new and bound to be much more confusing. Two other employees, with whom she had worked for a decade, called her after work to ask if the prospect of a computer in the office meant they should be looking for other jobs.
“I have enough trouble with English grammar,” one of them wailed. “I’ll never be able to learn computer language.” One morning Clammer called Martin Welk into her office, shut the door, and asked him if he could recommend any computer consultants. She had read an article that explained how a company could waste thousands of dollars by adopting integrated office automation in the wrong way, and she figured the project would have to hire somebody for at least six months to get the new machines working and to teach the staff how to use them. Welk was pleased because Clammer evidently had accepted the idea of a computer in the office. But he also realized that as the resident authority on computers, he had a lot of work to do before they went shopping for machines. Case Questions
1- Is organization development appropriate in this situation? Why or why not?
2- What kinds of resistance to change have the employees of the project displayed?
3- What can Martin Welk do to overcome the resistance?