The effectiveness of executives in shaping organisational culture
: three case studies of the sugar industry in the UK, China and South Africa

  • Quintin Heath

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Business Administration


The study of organisational culture is again on the rise and retains significance for executives, yet its literature is fragmented. Whilst it is valuable to understand how the environment affects culture and how culture is maintained, these aspects have been afforded little research. In addition, how executives may alter culture is contested.

This study looks at how organisational culture changes over time and the impact of a firm’s history, its immediate environment and agents’ actions.

A qualitative process case study approach was used. The initial case study was a rare opportunity to examine change in the absence of an executive-led initiative, from which an initial conceptual framework was developed. This was then tested in two further case studies, combining inductive and deductive methods to retain the richness of a case study, and the theoretical robustness of multiple case studies.

The framework provided an important mid-level theory contribution and demonstrated that the environment influences culture through the challenges it poses. These are channelled through boundary sub-cultures and are answered by a combination of the managers’ normal attentiveness to their daily tasks and by new toolkits from beyond the firm’s boundary, provided by new challenger cohorts of managers who draw on other industries’ registers. The change mechanisms (subcultures; cohorts) interact with a culture’s maintenance mechanisms (routines; employment practices; boundary management; and mutual symbiosis) through a continual, low-level, long-term contest, creating a new culture.

This research contributes to the literature in four areas: the mechanisms that perpetuate culture; boundary sub-cultures; the role of cohorts; and its combined use of the cultural toolkit and values perspectives.

The processes identified occur in the absence of executives; therefore the study concludes culture is not solely generated by them. However, they may guide adaptation through thoughtful, long-term resourcing of change that is sympathetic to the underlying process.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMichael J Butler (Supervisor) & Pawan Budhwar (Supervisor)


  • culture change
  • toolkits
  • perpetuation of culture
  • managerial cohorts
  • sub-cultures

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