Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Corporate Culture - Some Personal Impressions.

For many years I worked as director of a government organization, the National Food Authority (formerly National Grains Authority (NGA). Then I joined another corporate world, that of the academe as professor. 
 Dr Abe V Rotor 
During NFA's transformation I worked with the “old guards” and the “young turks,” young people chosen for their outstanding performance in the academe and in the industry.  I belonged to the middle group, the so called technocrats in the likes of Bong Tangco, then the minister of Agriculture, JD Drilon the founder of agribusiness in the Philippines, Paeng Salas the chief architect of the country’s food self-sufficiency program, Catoy Fronda, the brain and brawn of the implementing council of MalacaƱang’s food production, National Food and Agriculture Council (NFAC), and Jess Tanchanco, a party man who transformed NGA into a giant government corporation annexing Food Terminal Inc, Grainscor, Naphire, and Quedan.  

Belonging to middle management gave me access to both policies and programs of the agency.  And when I was assigned regional director, I learned how program addresses itself to the needs in the field, and how the field interprets a program into projects. In 1989, exactly 24 years with the government, I left and joined the academe as a professor.

What is corporate culture? Japan is the most cited example, second to the US, when it comes to describing a culture that is shaped by a company’s vision and mission, and incorporated in its objectives.  That is why employees are made to fully understand, nearly to the point of indoctrination, the company’s VMO (vision-mission-objective).  In fact, conferences and seminars continue to instill this culture.  Continuing education is needed both as refresher and orientation of new programs and developments, particularly to new members.

 We had our corporate logo, motto, foundation day, uniform, and while we looked alike inside the office we appeared distinct from other organizations outside. “NFA, yan,” gave an chin-up feeling. In the same way that we would find our models from other organizations.  “SMC yata, yan,” “Taga-Meralco sila.” "Thomasian siya,"  “Taga NIA siya.” And our admiration rises when we meet a UN-FAO man, or a DBP consultant.  One time the NGA played one of the host organizations to Miss Universe contest in Manila. For a particular occasion it was also putting our best foot forward, honing our social and organizational talents. I felt important having been part of an entourage of beauties. Many times I was invited guest of honor and speaker.  I also went up the stage to receive an award.  

The idea of a corporate culture is good.  I have been a part of this select world myself which without such experience I would not be as prepared (and fulfilled) as I am now in my retirement age.  In short, it provided a strong foundation to the golden years of life.  I venture to say on behalf of my colleagues who left the same organization at compulsory retirement age. 

 But what makes corporate culture unique, a world of its own? Let us look into the some general impressions of people.

1.  Exclusivism – A number of corporations – governmental or private, local and multinational – tend to identify themselves in a crowd so to speak, in general circulation and in the community.

2. Elitism – There is a feeling of superiority developed by members of top corporations. And because of the many benefits they derive, this feeling may develop into some kind of  elitism.

3.  Bandwagon – Corporations tend to become doctrinaire, under the, “Follow the leader" principle, so that individual decisions are subordinate to the company’s direction. Human rights, particularly on the exercise of freedom (e.g. to vote, to worship, to assembly), may remain mute even outside the organization’s umbrella.

4.  Homogeneity – While conformity may be good in instilling discipline and loyalty, the lack of diversity may be in the long run more dangerous. Diversity of ideas may mean introducing reform. 

5.   Reputation -  There is a saying, “Tell me your company, and I’ll tell you who you are.” One interpretation of this comment is that our character is reflected by the reputation of the company to which we belong. The big players in the oil industry cartel do not enjoy a good reputation for controlling fuel supply and prices always to their advantage as a general impression. Mining companies likely share the same public impression because of the destruction of the environment they inflict. 

6.  Exclusivity  –  There are people who stand big because their company is a giant.  It is standing side by side with a big brother. These people earn a lot, they have separated themselves from their class. "That beautiful house is owned by Mr. X who works with a International Company.”

7. Marx Dialectics - Corporate cultures wedge people into classes – not only economic, but social and psychological – which leads us to believe that corporate "greed" is the hidden fuel of people's discontent.  Dialectic Materialism is an orthodox philosophy of communist countries. Social unrest leads to people's revolution as society is alienated by isolation, apathy, poverty, abuse of power, subjugation, many of which are products to socio-economic inequity.   

8.  Bigness - How big can a corporation get? There are corporations bigger, in terms of assets, than third world countries. They dictate national policies, in collaboration with institutions that provide finance, technology and manpower. Bigness destroys smaller competitors and stunts growth of local initiatives that come across their way. International communications corporations are among the giants in the corporate world today. Big Brother in George Orwell's  book, "1984." stalks the world in many and varied ways. 

9. Dinosaur Syndrome. Coined to refer to physiologic imbalance such as in obesity, it too, applies to corporate excessive bigness. Like the dinosaur imagined as a beast that far exceeded size, balance and voraciousness, it ultimate perished, its extinction sealed by a rare phenomenon, asteroid impact, which happened 65 million years ago.  

 10.  Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a saving grace to corporate excesses, a voluntary social commitment not only to the employees but the public as well,  particularly in times of calamities. NFA is always on the front line in providing staple food in calamity stricken areas as part of its mandate. Corporate participation in sports, arts, health, rural development, and the like, may be regarded as image building but its impact is undoubtedly of great value.

I imagine the Roman God Janus when studying organizations, individuals notwithstanding. Corporations collectively represent two faces. Actually, Janus represents beginning and end, good and evil, times of scarcity and times of plenty, war and peace, evil and righteousness, happy and sad, the duality of personalities, etc - all these characterize the extreme complexity of man and his society. A dissertation on this subject, particularly the corporate world, would entail a lot of unending research and debate.

I have not really "graduated" from this unique world. My eldest son works at the Lung Center of the Philippines,  his wife a medical doctor in a government hospital. My daughter and her husband work as computer specialists in Nokia, a Finland-based company, while my youngest son is with Megaworld, headed by one of the country's business tycoons. My wife has just retired director of NFA the same government corporation I worked before. 

Today we all live happily like a corporate family. ~

Acknowledgement: Internet cartoons

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