JustSave Foods is a chain of 19 grocery stores in North Carolina owned by Merchants Distributors Inc. (MDI). While they are now a sister chain of Lowes Foods, JustSave’s stores were originally Lowes stores not too long ago. The 19 stores are largely located in more rural areas with more tight-knit communities. Due to their poor performance in comparison to local competitors, it was clear to management at MDI that the stores needed a change from what Lowes Foods offers.
While one part of that change is focused more on appealing to the economies of these rural communities with lower prices, management at MDI believes that another significant change that needs to be made is in the realignment of JustSave’s organizational culture. Organizational culture is a tricky beast to tackle and there are hundreds of proposed definitions for it. Schein (1990) proposes his own detailed yet succinct definition: Culture is a pattern of basic assumptions that are invented, discovered, or developed by a group as it learns to cope with the problems of external adaptation and internal integration.
These assumptions have worked well enough in the past to be considered valid, and are therefore taught to new members of the group as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems. Schein goes on to define three distinct levels of culture: observable artifacts, values, and underlying assumptions. Observable artifacts are those reflections of culture that appear in an organization. This includes everything from how resources and workplaces are arranged to individual behaviors exhibited by the organization’s members. Cultural values are the ideals to which members within the culture subscribe.
By necessity, a cultural value must be cognizant and definable by the group members. Finally, underlying assumptions are those beliefs that organizational members hold but which they do not necessarily recognize as holding. The reason organizational culture can be so important to measure and modify is because it has a wide range of impacts on behavior within the organization, and these behaviors can impact organizational outcomes. Culture helps to dictate the mission and vision of the organization and can affect how individual functions such as recruiting or frontline customer interactions are handled.
It can also feed back into the attributes of members of the organization and their work, impacting factors such as work-life balance and whether feedback is freely given and received. In the case of JustSave Foods, the management at MDI are looking to secure a competitive advantage through the use of organizational culture. Lowes Foods has typically aimed at appealing more to suburban customers, both in pricing and in more formalized interaction by Lowes employees. Because of this, MDI management believes that one of the issues facing Lowes stores in appealing to more rural communities is that they lack a “hometown community” feeling.
They hope through cultural training and realignment that they can establish this community appeal. With this goal in mind, they have established four cultural values to be espoused in the JustSave brand: emphasis on safety, behaving in a neighborly fashion, practicing less formal and more small-town store presentation, and aiming for efficiency. While they are aiming at establishing new “values”, a critical eye would suggest that they are merely approaching old Lowes Foods values from a new perspective.
For one, it does not take a stretch of the imagination to assume that Lowes Foods values both safety and efficiency. Efficiency directly impacts the bottom line of a business, and the safety of a business’s patrons is paramount in order to encourage them to come back and to avoid costly lawsuits. These two values are therefore direct carryovers from Lowes Foods. As for acting neighborly and adopting a small-town presentation, these are more like retoolings of what Lowes has already been doing. One could rgue that acting neighborly is an extension of valuing “customer service”, something which Lowes assuredly espouses to its employees and customers.
Though Lowes takes a more formalized approach to customer interactions (e. g. , the much talked-about double-handed presentation by butchers to customers) and JustSave plans on encouraging a much more informal approach (e. g. , addressing customers by their names and striking up conversation about local events), the value from which these behaviors spring is the same: the desire to make customers enjoy their interactions with store employees.
Similarly, JustSave’s desire to adopt a more small-town presentation is a fulfillment of the same value that causes Lowes Foods to use a very cleanly and more straight-laced presentation: the desire to organize their store in such a manner that the customers are at-ease while shopping and are able to find the goods that they wish to purchase. This value could be called “environmental comfort”. So if JustSave is not realigning its organizational values like they assume, what are they changing? Going back to Schein’s defined levels of culture, I would argue that they are merely changing their organizational artifacts.
Though the values are the same, management of JustSave are looking to adopt employee behaviors and a presentation style that are more desirable to the clientele that frequent these 19 stores. In these stores, the values of “customer service” and “environmental comfort” were not being adequately fulfilled by the old artifacts that Lowes Foods trains, measures, and enforces. While they were wrong in stating that they were trying to change organizational values, their targeting of the unsuitable artifacts was correct. The new behaviors and presentation style should go a long way in better serving the old values that remain in place.