April 1995 // Volume 33 // Number 2 // Feature Articles // 2FEA2

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Understanding and Changing Iowa State University Extension's Management Culture

It is one thing to understand and alter the structure of an organization and the technology it uses; it is quite another to understand and alter the culture of an organization and the relationships that characterize it. Iowa State University (ISU) Extension's Human Resources Unit assessed ISU Extension's existing culture and then compared that culture to the conditions necessary to create competence. According to the findings, if ISU Extension wants to create an organization that fully taps the competence of its staff, the administrative team must change its management culture from patriarchy to one of competence.

Don Broshar
Organizational Development Specialist
Internet address: x1brosha@exnet.iastate.edu

Mark Jost
Communication Specialist
Internet address: x1jost@exnet.iastate.edu

Iowa State University Extension
Ames, Iowa

It is one thing to understand and alter the structure of an organization and the technology it uses. It is quite another to understand and alter the culture of an organization and the relationships that characterize it.

During the last few years, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension has experienced the arrival of a new head, reorganization brought on by reduced budgets, high-level management turnover, and the adoption of a statewide wide-area computer network (in process). These changes are significant and well documented. But until a few months ago, little was known about ISU Extension's culture and the relationships that exist between managers and staff, even though it is this culture that affects an organization's ability to perform (Atkinson, 1990; Bolman and Deal, 1991; Deal and Kennedy, 1982; Hall, 1988a, 1988b; Schein, 1991; Schneider, 1990; Weisbord, 1987).

To remedy this lack of information, ISU Extension initiated a study of its organizational culture--a study that drew heavily from research presented by Jay Hall in The Competence Connection (Hall, 1988a). Hall's work is based on the premise that workers have what is needed to achieve excellence: both the desire and ability to do good work. What is missing in some organizations, according to Hall, is an environment that encourages and enables the expression of that competence.

In his book, Hall (1988a) states,

     If we are to achieve excellence in our organizations
     and communities, we must be willing to reorient
     ourselves.  We must make a presumption of competence in
     the workplace rather than incompetence, for high-level
     performance rests on the simple, yet not widely
     accepted, premise that people will behave competently
     if we will but let them. (pp. 29-30)


ISU Extension's Human Resources Unit proposed to begin a study by assessing the existing culture and then comparing that culture to the conditions necessary to enhance competence. These steps would then lead to an assessment of ISU Extension's organizational capacity for competence.

The instrument used to assess the existing culture was Hall's Quality Potential Assessment (QPA). Used in organizations such as Ford Motor Company and Coca-Cola, as well as nonprofit and governmental agencies, the QPA provides a benchmark for beginning an effective intervention program and diagnosing training needs. This instrument measures three components necessary for competence: collaboration, the way managers invite people to share power; commitment, which springs from collaboration and provides vitality and vigor; and creativity, the combination of a healthy environment and a sense of ownership and purpose.

The Human Resources Unit's Organizational Development (OD) specialist began the assessment of Extension's environment by asking a cross-section of staff and faculty to complete the QPA instrument. This sample consisted of more than 200 employees, some selected randomly and some by their position.

Analysis of the QPA results revealed an organization profile that indicated a very low score for collaboration, a low but higher score for commitment, and a low but higher score yet for creativity. There was a significant gap between the existing environment and the ability to tap the potential of the staff and faculty. So the Human Resources Unit decided to further study the management culture.

The unit used two additional sets of instruments in the next phase (Hall, 1987a, 1987b). First, the 18 managers on the administrative team were given two instruments designed to provide feedback to themselves. These instruments, the Productive Practices Survey and the Management Styles Inventory, provided managers with information about the way they operate under a variety of conditions.

Both instruments had companion pieces: the Survey of Management Practices and the Manager Style Appraisal. These pieces, which comprised the second component of this phase, were used to learn how staff perceived their individual manager's practices and style. Six staff members per manager were given one of the two instruments (three staff for each instrument) to complete. One manager asked to survey two additional staff members, for a total sample of 110. These instruments were used to provide managers with feedback they could use to compare with their own perceptions.

After the instruments were completed, they were returned to the Human Resources Unit where they were scored and analyzed. Each manager reviewed and discussed the results with the OD specialist. The managers were told how they scored on the conditions (collaboration, commitment, and creativity) that lead to an environment of competence. The managers also received a style profile indicating their management preferences.

After the initial meeting, each manager and the OD specialist met with the staff members who had completed the instruments for that manager. At that meeting, the OD specialist shared the results of both the staff and manager's instruments and began a dialogue about the manager's practices and style. Managers used these sessions to better understand their needs for enhancing or changing their behavior.


Though this process has been instructive for individual managers, it also has been instructive for the organization as a whole. Research by Hall (1990a, 1990b) indicates that the most effective style in creating an environment for competence is the Developer followed by the Manipulator, Taskmaster, Comforter, and finally (the least effective) Regulator. The Management Styles Inventory and the Manager Style Appraisal instruments were designed to identify five distinct management styles of relating to employees: the Developer, the Manipulator, the Taskmaster, the Comforter, and the Regulator. These management styles are based on the relationship between people and performance.

The Developer management style sees people and performance as complements to one another. Such managers believe that work is healthy for people, that people have an innate need to work, that they must achieve around some productive issue in order to feel good about themselves.

The Manipulator management style uses compromise to deal with the conflict often created between people and work. The Manipulator understands the need for performance but tries to yield enough to maintain morale. Unfortunately, the Manipulator tends to treat people as if they are gullible and have to be tricked into performing well.

The Taskmaster management style is primarily concerned with performance and not people. The Taskmaster views people only as contributors to production and expects them to carry out plans and directions given to them.

The Comforter management style focuses on people and their relationships and pays little attention to performance needs. The Comforters thinks people are somehow fragile and see themselves as protectors or barriers between their people and the organization.

The Regulator management style has little concern for either people or performance. Regulators seek neither to attain any real production nor to establish sound relationships. The Regulator's major goal is to stay out of trouble by avoiding risk and to meet minimum requirements for both performance and relationships.

When manager's styles were compiled and compared, the resulting profile yielded a "snapshot" of ISU Extension's management culture. Of the 18 managers who completed the practices and style assessment instruments:

Perceived Style Number of Respondents Percent of Respondents
Developer 2 11
Manipulator 1 6
Taskmaster 0 0
Regulator 6 33
Comforter 9 50

Of the 55 staff who completed the Manager Style Appraisal for their manager:

Perceived Style Number of Respondents Percent of Respondents
Developer 11 20
Manipulator 6 11
Taskmaster 0 0
Regulator 15 27
Comforter 23 42

These results indicated that a substantial number of managers (15 of 18) and staff (38 of 55) perceived the management styles as Regulator or Comforter. It appeared that there was strong agreement on the predominate management style used within ISU Extension.

When the results of the managers' styles were compared to the QPA assessment, it was possible to draw some conclusions about the management culture of ISU Extension's administrative team. The team's role, as indicated by the predominance of Comforter and Regulator management styles, corresponds with Peter Block's (1993) definition of patriarchy: "the belief that it is those at the top who are responsible for the success of the organization and well-being of its members" (p. 7). The traits that accompany patriarchy--caretaking, protection, and providing for the emotional morale of the staff--are among the least likely to develop staff collaboration, commitment, and creativity--the foundation of organizational competence. The results of the management survey also corroborate the findings of the QPA: a very low score for collaboration, a low but higher score for commitment, and a low but higher score yet for creativity. Because ISU Extension's management team is dominated by a patriarchal style, it is no surprise that the conditions for competence fall below what is needed to fully tap staff potential.

According to these findings, if ISU Extension wants to create an organization that fully taps the competence of its staff, the administrative team must change its management culture from patriarchy to one conducive to enhancing competence. In fact, ISU Extension's administration already has started this cultural transition. Managers are learning about their management styles and the effect they have on staff and the organization. More learning opportunities are planned to assist with this development. Administrators are also being encouraged to learn how to become more of a Developer through experiences outside the organization.

By understanding and choosing to change the management culture, the administrative team is seeking to change not only the structure and technology of ISU Extension, but the very character of the organization. It is at this level that the competence of the managers and their staffs can truly be realized.


Atkinson, P. E. (1990). Creating culture change: The key To successful total quality management. San Diego, CA: Pfeiffer.

Block, P. (1993). Stewardship: Choosing service over self- interest. San Francisco: Berrett-Hoehler.

Bolman, L. G., Deal, T. E. (1991). Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice and leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Deal, T. E., Kennedy, A. A. (1982). Corporate cultures: The rites and rituals of corporate life. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Hall, J. (1987a). Productive practices survey. The Woodlands, TX: Teleometrics International.

Hall, J. (1987b). Survey of management practices. The Woodlands, TX: Teleometrics International.

Hall, J. (1988a). The competence connection: A blueprint for excellence. The Woodlands, TX: Woodstead.

Hall, J. (1988b). Models for management: The structure of competence. The Woodlands, TX: Woodstead.

Hall, J. (1990a). Management styles inventory. The Woodlands, TX: Teleometrics International.

Hall, J. (1990b). Inventory manager style appraisal. The Woodlands, TX: Teleometrics International.

Schein, E. H. (1991). Organizational culture and leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Schneider, B. (1990). Organizational climate and culture. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Weisbord, M. R. (1987). Productive workplaces: Organizing and managing for dignity, meaning and community. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.