The Cultural Paradigm of the Smaller Firm



This paper presents the findings from an ethnographic study of organizational culture and shared values in four smaller firms, the outcome of which was the identification of the cultural values shared between owner–managers (OMs) and employees in each firm. The research employed Schein's conceptualization of culture as a three-layer phenomenon, consisting of surface artifacts, shared values and beliefs, and basic assumptions. The analytical technique of grounded theory was employed to process the large volume of data gathered during the extended research period. The data reveal a complex array of values in each firm, with only one firm exhibiting a homogenous culture where values are shared by all those working in the organization. In the remaining three firms, five values appear to be shared by all employees; however, this is overlaid by a pattern of subcultures differentiated by distinctive shared values. Interfirm analysis among the four firms found that the values of survival, independence, control, pragmatism, and financial prudence were shared by two or more firms. The research collectively defines these shared values as the cultural paradigm of the smaller firm.