The transfer of military culture to private sector organizations: a sense of duty emerges.

Author:Tinoco, Janet


"We Never Forget Who We Are Working For[Tm]."

Lockheed Martin Company motto (2012)

The literature suggests that organizational culture differs between industries (e.g. Gordon, 1985; Hofstede, Neuijen, Ohayv, & Sanders, 1990) as well as professions and occupational communities (e.g., Barley, 1986; Bloor & Dawson, 1994; van Maanen & Barley, 1984). Some research suggests that the cultures of organizations may differ because institutions are open-systems that interact with the external environment beyond their immediate communities, an environment that includes key stakeholders in their organizations (Katz & Kahn, 1966; Schein, 2004). As such, it is likely that some stakeholders can have an effect on the development and transformation of organizations and their cultures; especially those influential stakeholders that have unique, strong, and lasting relationships with organizations outside their immediate institutional boundaries. Interestingly, despite the rich and abundant research in organizational culture, there is a large gap in the research arena on the evolution and transfer of culture, particularly as a result of stakeholder influence.

A stakeholder represents an individual or group that can affect or is affected by the actions, decisions, policies, or goals of an organization (Caroll & Buchholz, 2008). As a key stakeholder to organizations in the private sector, the United States (US) government can influence all practices, actions, policies and decisions of these organizations via the public policy process (e.g., Buchholz & Rosenthal, 2004). It develops, implements, and enforces the laws and regulations that frame how private sector organizations conduct business. Yet, it is likely that the government can impact some organizations far beyond the reach of laws and regulations, spreading into the more "personal" characteristics of the firm, such as its organizational culture. Specifically, we argue that the Department of Defense (DOD), as an integral part of the US government, represents a highly influential stakeholder that can affect the culture of private sector organizations in the defense industry. With its unique and deeply embedded military culture, it influences and shapes the culture of these organizations through culture transference. This transference and the resulting implications for both the DOD and organizations in the defense industry are particularly important in today's business climate where the boundaries between government and the private sector have begun to blur (e.g., Grimshaw et al., 2005). We propose that the main avenue in which culture transference occurs is via the intensely interconnected relationships between the two entities.

Past research on interorganizational relationships suggests that these relationships develop because a key stakeholder may perceive it has similar values to an organization in which it desires to interact (Voss et al., 2000) and that some organizations view themselves as deeply interconnected with others through dyadic bonds, subsequently leading to shared norms and values (e.g., Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Brickson, 2007). While this literature suggests organizations can develop strongly interconnected relationships, it does not inform us about the effect of those relationships on the transfer of organizational culture. More specifically, we are not aware of research that has investigated why and how culture transfers between organizations, or more specifically, between the DOD, as a key customer stakeholder, to organizations in the US defense industry.

In this conceptual study, we analyze the military culture of the DOD using the Organizational Culture Profile (OCP) developed by O'Reilly, Chatman, & Caldwell (1991) and create propositions regarding the DOD's culture. We also research how cultural dimensions can transfer from the DOD to the defense organizations via interorganizational relationships. While we acknowledge that in many settings culture transference can be bidirectional, we propose this direction on which to base our initial conceptual research due to the uniqueness of the government-business relationship, the unusual environment of a "business of war" (Longnecker, 2005, p. 131) on which their relationship is built, and the highly influential nature of the DOD as customer stakeholder. Furthermore, after extensive review of the extant literature of military culture, as well as culture transference, we believe that the subject research arena is severely underrepresented in mainstream literature, but rich with new knowledge possibilities for organizational management. In our research, the organizations in the defense industry are comprised of non-government suppliers of research, development, production, and service of military equipment and facilities. Henceforth, the terms, DOD and military will be used interchangeably.

With this backdrop, our contribution is twofold. First, we review the literature on organizational culture and US military culture and uncover a distinctive culture dimension, sense of duty, not previously identified in mainstream management research yet, as we argue, is also relevant outside the immediate boundaries of the military. We define sense of duty as the degree to which an organization feels a profound obligation and allegiance to support a mission or cause. We propose that this unique dimension that highly defines the military culture of the DOD also aids in characterizing organizations in the defense industry and is the result of culture transference. Because of its prominence in the military culture, we focus on the sense of duty as the key dimension of the DOD's culture that transfers to the subject organizations. Second, we discuss interorganizational relationships and their effect on the transfer of culture, drawing on resource dependence theory, institutional theory and organizational behavior to develop our arguments. As shown in Figure 1, we specifically propose that the conduit for and likelihood of culture transference of sense of duty lies in the type, strength, and tenure of the relationship between the DOD and the defense industry organization. Finally, we close our discussion with implications for management and suggestions for future research.


While differences exist regarding how to define culture and what dimensions make-up organizational culture, most scholars agree that culture is socially constructed, unique to an organization, and that the common elements of organizational culture include fundamental assumptions, values, and behavioral norms and expectations (e.g., O'Reilly, Chatman, & Caldwell, 1991; Rousseau, 1990; Schein, 2004). Scholars agree that values represent the most fundamental and defining elements of organizational culture and that those values manifest in organizational norms, rituals and ceremonies, stories, language, myths, and other cultural artifacts (Chatman & Jehn, 1994; Deal & Kennedy, 1982; Denison, 1996; Enz, 1988; O'Reilly, Chatman, & Caldwell, 1991). Thus, we define organizational culture as the widely shared and strongly held values by members of a social system (see Chatman & Jehn, 1994; O'Reilly, Chatman, & Caldwell, 1991; Peters & Waterman, 1982).

Gordon (1991) argues that the foundation of organizational culture is partially grounded in the organization's assumptions about its customers. He states that an organization's values, that is, its cultural dimensions, are born from these assumptions. Scholars have studied culture and identified cultural dimensions across and within industries such as utilities and non-defense high technology firms (Gordon 1985), private manufacturers of electronics, chemicals, and consumer products, service companies in banking, transportation, and trade, and some public institutions (e.g. telecommunications, police) (Hofstede et al. 1990), general consulting firms, public accounting firms, freight carrier firms, and the US Postal Service (Chatman & Jehn 1994), industry clusters such as basic and assembly manufacturing, telephone utilities, power utilities, banking, and insurance (Christensen & Gordon 1999), and fine arts museums and wineries (Phillips 1994). While all these studies represent a diverse cross-section of industries, it is not exhaustive, leaving open the door for some dimension(s) not yet uncovered (Hofstede et al., 1990) but highly relevant in today's environment.

Organizational Culture Profile (OCP) and the Military

In our quest to understand the culture of the military, we use the Organizational Culture Profile (OCP) (O'Reilly, Chatman, & Caldwell 1991). It is based on the perspective that the organization's external environment is a key determinant of its organizational culture. The OCP has been found to be robust in characterizing organizational culture within and across industries (O'Reilly, Chatman, & Caldwell 1991). Thus, it is well-suited for our research on the military culture of the DOD, as well as, our extension to the organizations in the defense industry.

The OCP defines seven key values as the foundation of organizational culture: (1) innovative cultures are opportunistic, where individuals are encouraged to take risks and experiment; (2) stable cultures emphasizes organizational growth, security of employment and predictability; (3) cultures characterized by respect for its people emphasize respect for individual rights, fairness, tolerance, and personal concern; (4) cultures characterized by a results orientation emphasize achievement and focus on results of the tasks rather than the processes, and procedures to achieve these results; (5) team oriented cultures emphasize cohesiveness, collaboration, and people-orientation

where tasks are structured around teams rather than individuals; (6) attention to detail cultures encourage individuals to be analytical, precise, and pay attention to detail; and (7) aggressiveness cultures emphasize...

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