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The case aims to describe Timberland’s highs and falls in maintaining its position in the footwear industry. In terms of changes to organisational culture, it sheds light on Timberland’s attempts to find the middle ground between innovation, collaboration, and social responsibility to implement its new values into practice. This essay analyses the culture change issues at Timberland with reference to subcultures and Lewin’s force field analysis framework.
Timberland: Culture Change
Jeffrey Schwartz and leaders on other levels of the organisational hierarchy had to overcome multiple challenges to depart from a purely innovative culture and implement the values of collaboration and social responsibility, thus creating a more versatile culture. At first, the introduction of in-line teams and an emphasis on product segmentation were not as successful as expected. It resulted in the failure of Travel Gear, and the organisation had to maximize the presence of collaboration by creating cross-functional project teams. Product segmentation and new foreign manufacturer control practices were to support the culture of community service and social responsibility. Creating a culture of collaboration and open knowledge-sharing is a popular goal for modern organisations that cannot be achieved without proper leadership involvement (Yeo and Marquardt, 2015). Based on the case details, the leadership’s temporary inability to recognise and address forces resisting change, such as habits and current culture, can be listed among the key prevailing issues affecting culture change.
The frameworks that could explain the situation include the force field analysis. Lewin’s model states that resistance to change is essential, and change occurs when the restraining forces (habits, perceptions, organisation culture, etc.) become much weaker compared to the change forces (Mtongana and Musundire, 2020). Despite attempts to impose new values on employees, the habit of emphasising personal freedom remained strong. As opposed to the “we consciousness” of supportive cultures that Timberland wanted, the key characteristics of innovative cultures include personal creative freedom and risk-taking behaviours (Mtongana and Musundire, 2020, p. 1024). To some degree, these risks could also be perceived as pitfalls of innovation. The implementation of in-line teams compromised the creative freedom of designers that could not focus on functional inventions anymore. The habit of engaging in risk-taking behaviours (product development without thorough research) led to the failure of Travel Gear. In the next projects (PreciseFit and Mion), Timberland improved communication channels (the force that supports change) by creating cross-functional project teams (Kanter and Raffaelli, 2006). The managers stayed involved, thus challenging the old habit of autonomy (the force that resists change).
Another applicable conceptual idea is the existence of subcultures that resisted change and a shift towards a universal culture that would promote innovation and communication. In innovation cultures, self-confidence supports the free expression of employees’ discovery skills (Davies and Buisine, 2018). Even at the times of Urban Renewal, Invention Factory still displayed certain signs of a purely innovative subculture, which found reflection in the critique of their limited attempts to use customer data collected by other teams and the tendency to maintain autonomy and work by themselves (Kanter and Raffaelli, 2006). Based on Hofstede’s research, one and the same behaviour can have different meanings in dissimilar cultures (Chudzikowski et al., 2011). For innovation-oriented Invention Factory, risk-taking and autonomy in concept development could be the manifestations of unlimited creative power, whereas the departments that valued collaboration could perceive it as a poor understanding of target customers’ needs.
In summary, it is possible that the departure from a purely innovative culture at Timberland was complicated by the management’s timely inability to increase forces that could promote change, such as new links between departments and communication channels. The prevailing forces resisting innovation probably included employees’ old habits and the culture of autonomy that could give rise to subcultures. Thus, the force field analysis and the concept of subcultures allow gaining new insights into teams’ behaviours in the case.
Chudzikowski, K. et al. (2011) ‘Relation between big five personality traits and Hofstede’s cultural dimensions’, Cross Cultural Management: an International Journal, 18(1), pp. 38-54.
Davies, M. and Buisine, S. (2018) ‘Innovation culture in organizations’, in Chouteau, M., Forest, J. and Nguyen, C. (eds.) Science, technology and innovation culture. London: ISTE Ltd., pp. 101-116.
Kanter, R.M. and Raffaelli, R. (2006) Innovation at Timberland: thinking outside the shoe box. Boston: Harvard Business School.
Mtongana, B. and Musundire, A. (2020) ‘Exploring the relationship between culture change, Kurt Lewin’s model of change, employee behaviour and employee performance in South African state owned enterprises: the case of Transnet Property Division’, International Journal of Science and Research, 9(7), pp. 1020-1032.
Yeo, R. K. and Marquardt, M. J. (2015) ‘To share or not to share? Self-perception and knowledge-sharing intent’, Knowledge Management Research & Practice, 13(3), pp. 311-328.