The Critical Management Studies Approach Versus The Mainstream Approach

The Critical Management Studies Approach Versus The Mainstream Approach 

Executive Summary

This report compares and contrasts the CMS approach and the mainstream approaches when managing organisational culture. This involves highlighting the scope of organisational culture management as well as the arguments made by critical management theorists and mainstream management theorists in regards to the management of organisational culture. Specifically, the report narrows its scope on 

Lunenburg (2007) organisational socialisation seven-step cycle and Ackroyd and Crowdy (1990) Casterton slaughter house case study. 

To achieve this, the report utilises a range of relevant academic and professional resources including textbooks, textbook chapters, peer reviewed articles, and conference papers. The selection of these resources was guided by the course module as well as the authors’ personal engagement with the report topic.

The report finds that the major point of contention between critical management theorists and the mainstream management theorists is the level of autonomy and democracy at the workplace. Specifically, the CMS approach contend that the HRM department is unable to manage organisational culture because, workplace culture is oppressive, a mental prison, and a totalitarian institution. On the other hand, the mainstream approach contends that indeed the HRM department can effectively management organisational culture particularly the task culture, power culture, role culture, and person culture. 

Nevertheless, the report finds some similarities between the two approaches. It is argued that the elements leading to organisational culture sometimes overlap hence diluting the sweeping differences championed by critical theorists. Specifically, both approaches agree that management of organisational culture is subject to paradigm change and that organisational culture undergoes the same change cycle. 




Table of Contents 

Executive Summary. 2

1.0 Introduction. 4

2.0 Understanding Organisational Culture. 5

3.0 Differences between CMS and the Mainstream Approaches. 7

4.0 Similarities between the Two Approaches. 11

5.0 Conclusion. 13

References. 15

Appendices. 17

Appendix 1: Organisational Socialisation (Management) Cycle. 17

Appendix 2: The Change Cycle of Organisational Culture. 18


1.0 Introduction 

The study of organisational culture (both as an academic and professional discipline) has undergone phenomenal changes over the years. According to Prichad (2009) and Sulkowski (2012), these changes can be broadly categorised into two schools of thought – the critical management studies (CMS) school of thought or simply the left wing and the mainstream school of thought or the right wing. The CMS approach perceives organisational culture as a tool of oppression since the management of contemporary firms is guided by the core aim of making profits and not on the interests of the society or those of the employees (Adler, Forbes and Willmott, 2007). On the other hand, the popular school of thought posits that organisational culture entails the collective behaviours and assumptions of human beings who make the organisational workforce as well as the set of meanings that these human beings attach to their behaviour (Schein, 2011). Arguably, the mainstream approach contends that employees should willingly subscribe to the collective organisational habits, procedures, rules, beliefs, systems, values, and norms. 

Nevertheless, both CMS and mainstream approach are critical for the successful management of human capital. This argument conforms to the diversity in contemporary workplaces where the workforce is made up of people from all corners of the globe and from diverse cultural backgrounds (Schein, 2011). Arguably, a culturally diverse workforce demands new responsive HRM strategies. The CMS approach, for instance, imparts into HRM, the necessary skills for managing organisational culture not only based on internal factors such as mission, vision, and values but based on external factors too. According to Lunenburg (2011) this reduces employees’ pains and suffering.  

This report critically evaluates the differences and similarities existing between the CMS approach and the mainstream approach to organisational culture. Specifically, the report will limit itself to how organisational culture can be managed. While using Lunenburg (2011) organisational socialisation seven-steps cycle and Ackroyd and Crowdy (1990) Casterton slaughter house gang members case study, the report will shed light on the extent to which the HRM department can manage organisational culture as per the set organisational goals and objectives. 

2.0 Understanding Organisational Culture 

As Appendix 1 portrays, organisational culture can be conceptualised into seven cyclical steps. According to Lunenburg (2011), these steps are selecting qualified staff, conducting orientation, mastering the job, developing a reward and control system, enhancing adherence to values, creating reinforcing folklores, and identifying, moulding consistent role models. The central premise behind this model is that developing (managing) a stable organisational culture should be carried out in a gradual and successive manner (Prichad, 2009; Schein, 2011). Though, the composition of this gradual methodology differ across the CMS and the mainstream approaches, it is applicable in both approaches (Sulkowski, 2012). Nonetheless, the CMS approach contends that the HRM department cannot control employees’ behaviour and that organisational culture is a form of corporate hegemony (Adler et al., 2007), while the mainstream approach agree that these steps are meant to effectively control employees’ behaviour (Lunenburg, 2011). In essence, the organisational socialisation model only highlights how organisational culture can be managed without taking sides.   

Lunenburg’s seven-step model acknowledges that organisational culture is a humanistic affair. This affair begins right from the time when new employees are engaged. Tellingly, organisations only engage employees whom they can successfully mould to fit in with their unique organisational culture (Sulkowski, 2012). For example, the Casterton slaughter house only engages physically endowed employees with the ability to slaughter and dress as many animals as possible in a single working day (Ackroyd and Crowdy (1990). However, this just marks the beginning of the long journey as the selected employees must be oriented. To this effect, both the CMS and the mainstream approaches to organisational culture contend that the process of managing organisational culture begins with orientation of the selected workforce (Lunenburg, 2011). Here, the new employees are taken through the organisation’s mission, vision, values, and goals. As Schein (2011) posits, this is meant to impart the unique organisational values into the employees’ behaviour systems. 

The next cyclical step, job mastery, is meant to transform the employees into productive entities as per the set organisational production goals. When they are hired, new employees are expected to be in a position as to comfortably carry out their tasks (Luhman, 2006). For example, the slaughter house gang members are expected to maximise production by slaughtering and dressing animal carcasses in the most time-efficient manner (Ackroyd and Crowdy, 1990). Here, all organisational activities including the actual job tasks assigned to individuals or group of employees are expected to be performed within the set organisational behaviour pattern. Here, the role of the HRM department is to ensure this culture is upheld at all times (Luhman, 2006). To facilitate this, the HRM department develops a reward and punishment system where good behaviour/performance is rewarded with job promotions or increased compensation as was in the case of the Casterton slaughter house (Ackroyd and Crowdy, 1990), while bad behaviour is punished by way of suspension, salary decrease, harassment, degradation, and demonstration.

The next cyclical step assumes that the more employees continue to work for a specific organisation, the more their behaviour conforms to the set organisational value system. This takes the form of sacrificing personal values in exchange for a smooth work engagement and trust in the organisational values (Lunenburg, 2011). For example, new gang members at Casterton slaughter house adjust very quickly to the independent and hardworking culture as soon as they are engaged. As Ackroyd and Crowdy (1990) posit, these new gang members are subjected to immense pressure and harassment during their initial days at the slaughter house but they look upon the independent, hardworking culture to justify them. 

Nevertheless, an organisation needs to reinforce its folklore so as to achieve high levels of adherence to organisational values. The process of organisational socialisation is continuous and the organisation needs to constantly expose its members to the unique traditions that differentiates it with others (Lunenburg, 2011). This could take the form of stories passed on by the HRM department or as was the case of the Casterton slaughter house, told by older gang members to newer gang members (Ackroyd and Crowdy, 1990). The stories should however, be told in a manner that highlights the unique organisational philosophy, say, a philosophy of hard work. 

Lastly, Lunenburg (2011) argues that an organisation must provide good and consistent role models in order to maintain a stable organisational culture. While drawing from the Casterton slaughter house gangs, it is the most experienced, hardworking gang members who can effectively inspire new gang members to work harder. Arguably, though the slaughter house HRM department has the responsibility to inspire new gang members through training, reward and punishments, Ackroyd and Crowdy (1990) strongly feel that, a CMS approach to organisational culture allow the gang members to inspire, motivate and improve their overall performance. 

3.0 Differences between CMS and the Mainstream Approaches 

A critical analysis of the management of organisational culture reveals a number of problematic arguments that differentiate the CMS and the mainstream approach to culture. According to Sulkowski (2012), these problematic issues include the assumption that in an organisational setting, culture is used as a tool of oppression, as “…hypostasis and ideology, as a pseudoscientific trend and fashion, [and] as [a] mental prison” (p.92). Further, according to Grey and Willmott (2005) and Prichad (2009), these criticisms represent a range of ideas gleaned from neomarxism, postmodernism, poststructuralism, as well as from the Frankfurt School which together advises the notion of CMS. Specifically, this critical school of thought bases its argument on the contention that managing organisational culture requires a major input from the employees. Typically, this approach agree that the workplace culture can never by neutral and that some section of the employees, more so the management team wield much power. Since the management team represents the interests of the organisation (Bunting, 2004), it is wise to reason that organisational culture favours some sections of the employees. Further, and according to intepretivist perspective, a theory sometimes employed by critical researchers to explore organisational dynamics (Knights and Willmott, 2007), organisational culture “is what an organisation is and not what it has” (Sulkowski, 2012: 92). Arguably, this illusionary culture makes organisations agents of repression.   

In response to this position, the mainstream approach contends that organisations must wield some substantial level of power culture. Based on Bunting (2004) arguments, this power culture gives organisations the leeway to control, make decisions, and implement such decisions in relation to the set organisational goals. For example, a line manager may draw out standard operating procedures for a certain production line. In turn, the line manager expects the line charges to follow these procedures without or with minimal fail. According to Ezzy (2001) and Luham (2006), this hastens the pace with which decisions are made and implemented. In extension, this increases the chances of organisational success in the market place. Though this approach is mostly in small organisations with smaller workforce, sometimes even large organisations utilise it especially when they appoint employees’ representatives who together with the management team are charged with the process of making and implementing work related decisions (Lunenburg, 2011). Nevertheless, this approach may kill innovation and creativity especially when employees develop negative feelings of being unappreciated and not consulted when core organisational decisions are made (Adler et al., 2007). In the long run, and as McCabe (2004) posit, the mainstream approach to managing organisational culture may contribute to high staff turnover especially in organisations that exercise high-handedness or in small organisations with less professional HRM department.    

The CMS approach contends that the HRM department cannot generate a culture of excellence at the workplace without the express support from the subordinates who are in actual sense the determinants of organisational success. From a postmodernist approach espoused by CMS proponents, it is arguable that organisational culture is far from the set of collective beliefs and assumptions shared by employees at the workplace (Adler et al., 2007; Collinson and Hearn, 1997). In essence, organisational culture should comprise of all aspects of the employees’ informal experiences picked within and beyond the organisation’s physical walls and the HRM department has nothing to do with its management (Luhman, 2006). This postmodernist approach dismisses the modernist perception of organisational culture as something that can be managed and controlled by the HRM department. It contends that contingencies related to organisational culture cannot be effectively controlled by way of myths but by embracing serendipity and diversity (Adler et al., 2007). Arguably, this gives audience to the most marginalised elements of culture such as the forgotten hunting culture practised by Casterton slaughter house gang members who in their free time like going in groups to trap game meat for family consumption (Ackroyd and Crowdy, 1990). Moreover, the slaughter men were noted to have a kind of independent organisational culture characterised by immense commitment to work and independence at their workplace. Ackroyd and Crowdy (1990) argues that not even the Casterton slaughter house management could exercise a direct control over the slaughter gangs’ performance. The gangs were controlled by informal leaders occupying very junior positions in the organisational hierarchy but who commanded much respect among the gang members. Arguably, these gangs portray a form of sub-culture whose control is beyond the HRM department capabilities. 

In response, the mainstream approach to managing organisational culture contends that indeed the HRM department can successfully manage a culture of excellence at the workplace. Specifically, the task culture espsoused by the mainstream approach can help organisations to accomplish complex tasks (Collinson and Hearn, 1997; McCabe, 2004). This involves establishing project teams to complete specific tasks within a specific time frame. The best thing about task culture is that staff members are motivated as they can make decisions on their own within their team. Again, team members develop a strong sense of belonging and compete with other teams in accomplishing tasks assigned to them. As Wilson (2004) asserts, task culture is most effective when teams are given the leeway to develop, create and innovate. In essence, the concept of task culture very important since organisations get to strengthen their overall competiveness through product and service differentiation. This is true since the core of the HRM is to manage employees’ behaviour so as to guarantee high performance, reduce redundancy, and enhance efficiency (Bunting, 2004). Again, task culture is very helpful especially among employees with low self initiative or who take a lot of time to learn basic procedures and who sometimes may feel pressured by the management or even by their colleagues to quickly master their jobs. 

The CMS approach considers organisational culture as a “total institution” in itself and that it is unmanageable by the HRM department. According to Adler et al. (2007) and Knights and Willmott (2007), large institutions that operate independently in the market place have powerful control mechanisms whose aim is to completely destroy employees’ individualities in order to build collectivism. For example, large public institutions such as penal institutions and health facilities have very strong control mechanisms which monitor how their employees engage each other. This results into a culture of oppression which even labour unions find hard to penetrate when they call for mass demonstrations. As Ackroyd and Crowdy (1990) and Adler et al. (2007) warn, this surmounts to undue oppression especially when employees are not allowed to internalise and shape their own workplace culture. For instance, if employees are not given the opportunity to structure and restructure their job tasks, to internalise their job tasks or even to choose the specific job tasks they are most suited to fulfil, they may develop an inner revolt that may be detrimental to the set performance goals. Moreover, and as Sulkowski (2012) posit, strong control and self-censorship systems amounts to building a totalitarian system that bears cultural characters and whose ultimate goal is to homogenise culture. Arguably, when culture at the workplace is homogenised, then employees may become apprehensive and unproductive as they are unable to fully exploit their intellectual faculties.

In response, the mainstream approach view organisational culture as humanistic and sensitive to employee interests. The role culture, for instance, enables individual employees to choose specific tasks that they can best accomplish. If they make the right decision, such employees can then become specialists in those tasks. The very beginning of the organisational socialisation cycle depicted in Appendix 1 and as argued by Lunenburg (2011), requires that the HRM department should select persons with the necessary potential to carry out tasks they were selected to accomplish. Therefore, when the HRM department assign specific roles to specific persons it does not amount to undue totalitarianism as argued by critical theorists, but amounts to the mere allocation of jobs to the right persons (Hunting, 2004). Even in the Casterton slaughter house case study, members were organised into gangs, each gang specialising in a specific organisational task and gang members did not move from one gang to another. Actually, the most experienced (specialists) gang members were given the most challenging tasks such as stunning and sticking animals (Ackroyd and Crowdy (1990). In essence, such role culture allows the HRM department to effectively manage human capital as each task is audited to determine the correct number of employees that can effectively perform it (McCabe, 2004). In essence, large organisations with large workforce should exercise role culture as this increases productivity while reducing undue redundancy. 

4.0 Similarities between the Two Approaches 

Though CMS and the mainstream view of culture at the work place are very different, there are areas where the two approaches agree with each other. According to Sulkowski (2012), both the CMS and the mainstream approaches agree on the nature of elements that influence organisational culture. For instance, and as Adler et al. (2007) argue, the CMS approach to management is in acknowledgement that a paradigmatic change is critical to the way organisations handle their core responsibilities whether as profit making or non-profit making entities. Here, proponents of CMS argue that the management of organisational culture depends on the prevailing paradigm (see for example, Burrell and Morgan, 1979; Brewis and Wray-Bliss, 2008). For instance, the management of organisational culture at the Casterton slaughter house was shaped by the piecework arrangement where employees were given competitive bonuses to enhance their overall job attachment and commitment (Ackroyd and Crowdy, 1990). Similarly, proponents of the mainstream organisational culture contend that organisational culture is subject to a paradigmatic shift where organisational purpose, mission, and vision are at the centre of such paradigm (Bunting, 2004). Arguably, these paradigm shifts are shaped by a number of factors including industry, external environment, workforce size, available technology, and the organisation’s ownership structure. 

Both the CMS and the mainstream approach of organisational culture management agree that organisational culture undergoes similar change cycle. This cycle comprises of nine steps. According to Lunenburg (2011: 9) and as Appendix 2 shows, these are, “external enabling conditions, internal permitting conditions, precipitating pressures, triggering events, cultural visioning, cultural change strategy, culture change action plans, implementation of interventions, and reformulation of culture.” As Sulkowski (2012) and Knights and Willmott (2007) argue, this cross-cutting organisational culture change cycle takes into consideration that the employees external environment must be considered when managing culture at the workplace. The Casterton slaughter house case study, for example, underscores this argument. Specifically, Ackroyd and Crowdy (1990) argue that despite the largely dirty tasks they carry out in their workplace, the gang members seemed very happy and satisfied with their workplace culture chiefly because they perceived it as exceptional but sensitive to their masculinity. Arguably, the mainstream approach confirms this position especially the requirement that HRM department should ensure that all the divergent cultures represented in the organisation should be respected and addressed. 

Further, and what seems to be an agreement with the mainstream approach to managing organisational culture, Ackroyd and Crowdy (1990) argue that an organisational culture that epitomises reality is crucial for the building of a strong self-mage and work attachment. Similarly, the mainstream school of thought contends that since organisational culture is a valuable organisational resource that organisations employ to build long-term competitive advantages, organisations are always willing to socialise their employees (Lunenburg, 2011). Moreover, Collinson and Hearn (1997), contend that the elements of both CMS and mainstream approach to managing organisational culture such as folklores, symbols, structures, control systems and rituals may at times overlap. This happens along the power and control systems especially when HRM department exploit unresponsive rituals and folklores that are not in tandem with employees social experiences. This is in tandem with the critical argument that the main reason why organisations develop and nurture specific cultures is to adapt to the prevailing external environment (Knights and Willmott, 2007). Interestingly, adapting to the external environment requires a purposeful integration of the internal environment. Since the adaptation to external environment is evolutionary in nature, the HRM department should be at the central position in integrating the internal environment (Ezzy, 2001). This brings out the close link (albeit illusionary) between the CMS and the mainstream approaches.  

5.0 Conclusion

This report has presented evidence to the effect that the main difference between the CMS and the mainstream approaches to the management of organisational culture is the level of autonomy and/or democracy at the workplace. Specifically, the CMS approach considers that mainstream approach to the management of organisational culture is oppressive and does not encourage employees’ creativity, innovativeness and hard work. This is because it is largely built around long-term profitability goals and it does not give much emphasis on unique employees’ socio-cultural interests such as hunting, as was in the Casterton slaughter house gang members. Further, the discussion has revealed that unlike the mainstream approach to organisational culture, the CMS approach to organisational is critical, pro-employees’ welfare, anti-establishment, and anti-capitalism. 

The Casterton slaughter house case study, for example, underscores the sweeping conclusion that no matter the effort, the HRM department cannot manage organisational culture since, like the case in many other workplaces, employees tend to create a strong attachment to their tasks and a good self-image when they are given the space to voluntarily utilise their skills and knowledge without undue pressure from the management. Overall, the report has argued that oppression of any kind kills motivation, innovation, and the inner drive to work hard for both personal and organisational interests. Interestingly, both the CMS approach and the mainstream approach support a democratic workplace where employees have the autonomy to engage and lobby within themselves in order to come out with the best informal or even formal arrangement for sharing and executing tasks amongst themselves. As a matter of fact, the piecework arrangement at the Casterton slaughter house registered high success because the employees worked within informal gangs headed by informally elected and experienced members. 

Nevertheless, this report concludes in a pessimistic tone by asserting that, though the CMS approach to organisational culture has overwhelming benefits, not many organisations are willing subscribe to it. Majority of contemporary organisations are out to build long-term competitive advantage, fulfil their corporate profitability goals and maximise the utility of their employees. This leaves a very small room, if any, for inculcating CMS practices when building organisational culture. Arguably, this leaves the impression that the HRM department only succeeds in controlling organisational culture but does not succeed in managing it. 




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Appendix 1: Organisational Socialisation (Management) Cycle 


Source: Lunenburg (2011: 6). 







Appendix 2: The Change Cycle of Organisational Culture



Source: Lunenburg (2007: 9). 




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