Can Cultures Be Managed?

Organizations are held intact with many factors out of which the most important is its culture and environment. It is also known as “the glue” which links the company to its growth and plays an imperative role in shaping whether it may survive or fail on a long run (Journal of Business and Retail Management Research, 2017).


One brand which is struggling to maintain its culture is Sports Direct which owns 750 plus stores across the UK and internationally (Sports Direct, 2018).

Mike Ashley (

After interacting with a few friends who have worked in this brand along with reading case studies and articles, we can interpret that the company does not impart valuable work culture to sustain and motivate its employees.

The company shows its enacted values through the overall layout but the espoused beliefs and values do not coordinate together (Mullins 2016: 539) What it shows is not what actually happens inside!!!

A culture of fear, long working hours without prior notice, wages which are less than the minimum standard, sexual harassment, dress code issues and no formal contracts or registration with trade unions (Guardian, 2016) are some of the issues that the workers faced. The cultural web by Johnson et al, precisely describes how the culture of an organization can be deeply understood. Routine behaviours of staff and management, rituals practiced, stories told by employees are some of the factors encompassing it.

Image screenshot from youtube

A leader is one who creates changes, influences relationships and does right things (Mullins 2016: 312) that builds excitement in an organization. Mike Ashley, founder and majority shareholder in Sports Direct needs to change his approach from being a consequentialist (one who proposes that goodness or badness of an action relies upon the result of the action) to emphasizing on duties that must be done or not irrespective of the results (Mullins 2016: 523).

A major issue with Ashley is his disability to interact directly with his employees who he can articulate via the 4V model based on ethical leadership which emphasizes on Values, Vision, Voice and Virtue (Mullins 2016). 

Vogue 2017

For example Marco Bizzari, CEO of Gucci has changed the way the brand operates by keeping his people at the centre and nurturing a culture of respect with a single vision followed by all of them (Business of Fashion, 2018). Allowing the workers to put forth their opinions is also an empowering quality of a leader which Sports Direct can implement in their operational environment.

Some major issues like language barriers and not speaking up to the management is prevalent in Sports Direct. Generally, it has been seen that the United Kingdom is classified as a linear active culture where people tend to be highly organized, straightforward and logical (Mullins :548). Hofstede analyses culture via comparisons in which UK has a low context culture where power distance should be low but this is not the case of Sports Direct.

Employees should be able to communicate without hesitation in a clear-cut way to put forth their opinions which may help the company in the future and managers must listen and use the information to improve the working culture. The brand managers of Sports Direct created an uncertain atmosphere where the members of staff feel threatened due to unusual situations(Mullins )  for example their wages were reduced since they had to stand in long queues for body searches which was not at all their fault or the fear of losing their jobs if they went on strike (guardian, 2016).

As per a survey by PWC, 2200 corporate managers around the world were asked regarding the relevance of organization culture, 84% consider culture as a critical factor to business success and 60% think that it is even more important than having a business model and strategy (strategy and PWC, 2013).

Looking at the above statistics, Sports Direct need to and must evolve their soft elements using the Mckinsey 7s framework. By looking at the soft elements which consist of shared values, skills, staff and style of leadership, it can work on improving and emphasizing the development of its internal capacity to create a clear and consistent image which will be in line with the vision of its employees. (Mckinsey, 2008).


Also, for Mike Ashley it is important that he uses the power of relationship, expertise and information (Centre for creative leadership, 2008) which have been said to be the top three effective means a leader can incorporate in their day to day lives to improve and develop power within their organization.

Cultures can be managed as long as the leaders in the organization put their heart and soul in forming a respectful, work oriented and healthy environment as long as communication is direct and workers are given equal rights.


Aguirre, D., Alpern, M. and Post, R. (2018). Infographic: Why culture matters and how it makes change stick. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2018].

Anon, (2018). [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2018].

Butler, S. (2018). JD Sports Fashion rides athleisure boom as sales rise by more than 40%. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2018].

Centranum. (2018). Organizational Culture and Culture Change. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2018].

Conlon, S. (2018). Gucci’s CEO On Michele’s Revolution. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2018].

Gayle, D. and Butler, S. (2018). ‘A potentially oppressive model’: key points of Sports Direct review. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2018].

Goodley, S. (2018). Culture of fear persists at Sports Direct despite promise to raise standards. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2018]. (2018). Organisational culture. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2018].

McKinsey & Company. (2018). Enduring Ideas: The 7-S Framework. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2018].

Mullins, L., 2013. Management and Organisational Behaviour. 10th ed. Harlow: Peasrson Education. (2018). About Us. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2018].



21 Comments Add yours

  1. Abhishek says:

    Interesting insight to the way cultures are percieved and the significance of cultural awerness. Well done Harleen!

    Thank you.


    1. Thanks Abhishek, I am glad you enjoyed my view point.


  2. Vijay Raghav says:

    Well written. Perhaps Ashley could change his leadership style from coercive to affiliative to get sportsdirect back to the track


    1. Thank you Mr. Raghav. I completely agree that Ashley needs to empower and build relationships with his employees to get his train back on track. I hope he understands that employees need to feel happy and motivated which in turn will reflect in the overall running of the organization. I hope I too can be a well rounded leader in the future.


  3. I really appreciate your thoughts on the above subject, as work culture is definitely imperative for the company to grow and have positive outcomes. This is something which is not given enough importance, as much as having a business model/ strategy. ‘Emotional wellbeing’ ‘Creative Energy’ ‘Office Environment’ are terms which should be highlighted more often, and ways need to be looked at to quantify them from time to time. I work for an Arts Production company in UK, and we recently had team reviews which was the first time in the whole year when we analysed my personality development through different projects, and how my relationship evolved with the manager. I wish as employees we had more opportunities to be forthcoming about our thoughts, and more transparent ways of communicating within the hierarchical structures of an organisation. This can mutually benefit the employees and the company, for it to continue to attract great talent and achieve higher outputs as a whole team. It would be really interesting to read some of your personal experiences working in various organisations, and looking at your personalised versions of the diagrams you have used in the above blog. Also, are there strategies you would like to implement in your future workplace as an employee or the leader of a company?


    1. I am happy you enjoyed reading my blog and it gave perspective to your own work environment. I too believe team reviews play an imperative role in managing the culture of the organisation as the employees feel “important” and can improve their weaknesses and feel appreciated when their strengths are listed it out. It is another form of encouragement. I will soon share some of my personal experiences. I too would like to implement leadership strategies which will empower my employees as I feel people need to feel important. And it should be done in a smart way. Also, I believe cultures in organizations vary a lot in different countries which is also another great topic to debate upon. Thanks for your critical review 🙂


  4. Sukh says:

    Very well worded Harleen 😊
    Its a great take on how leadership has seen a paradigm shift over the years and there are various tangents to being a leader and its great how you’ve related it to the your own core industry.
    Way to go! 🤗


  5. Sukh says:

    Very well worded Harleen 🙂
    Its a great take on how leadership has seen a paradigm shift over the years and there are various tangents to being a leader and its great how you’ve related it to the your own core industry.
    Way to go! 🤗


    1. Thanks Sukh! I appreciate that you enjoyed this blog.


  6. Abhinav Sharma says:

    The article seems to be a perfect and concise statement on issues faced by employees peculiar to the Sports Direct. It seems to put employer behaviour and employees’ aspirations as flip sides of the same coin.
    An impartial comparison with Gucci brings forth the qualities of an ideal organisation nevertheless it fragments down even to the level of its CEO.

    At last, this article finds place in my stock of ‘save as a document’ .


    1. I appreciate your positive words for this article. Hope I can keep on increasing your save as documents with my blog. Thanks much 🙂


  7. Vijay Rajasekar says:

    Well researched article. A congenial work environment is necessary in any concern where there are people from different countries. By respecting the cultural differences there could be good management of the concern and indeed as you pointed out, it can be possible only when there is proper interaction with the workers.


    1. i truly agree with you Vijay! For me personally, a well rounded and balanced work environment is extremely important. Thanks much:)


  8. Vansh Kohli says:

    With working cultures being too rigid lately, timelines being unrealistic, the brunt of all this is being faced by the lower management. All this can effectively being managed by a good leader understanding the cultures and the head space of the team on the job and efficiently syncing it with the job on hand. It requires immense talent to do this since human behaviour is unique in every person. However, a great leader is known for sailing the team through.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. Reading about all the types of issues companies face due to diverse cultural differences made me realize that understanding humans and their backgrounds is a must. A manager has to have knowledge and experience in order to implement good values and balance work with it. I truly agree it requires alot of hardwork and talent as every person is unique and different but at the end of the day like you said a great leader has to make sure the boat doesn’t sink! Thanks for the wonderful insight, it has given more value to my learning 🙂


  9. Piyush says:

    Cultural management is truly important. Your experience in London will add value to your futurr endeavours. Good luck and an interesting read.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Dr Ritu Rana says:

    As you so rightly pointed out, leaders need to really put in their heart and soul to create a healthy environment in the workplace. After all, the workplace is the second most important place if our life after home, where we spend most of our time (2112 hours/8640 annual hours).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so glad you understood the soul of this piece which is the fact that work life is extremely important and should be dealt with utmost care esp. in a wise culturally diverse company. One must put their heart and soul to achieve results and most importantly understand the backgrounds of people before assigning tasks. Thanks Dr. Ritu for your knowledge, much appreciated 🙂


  11. Bhanu says:

    Aha, on the other post, I just spoke about how culture can help discover and shape your leadership style. I wish I could add something valuable with this comment, but you’ve hit this out of the park. You may be interested in reading Satya Nadella’s “Hit Refresh”. he has specific chapters dedicated to how he transformed culture within microsoft after he took over.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thanks Bhanu! I am delighted that you culd relate my blogs and I will definitely check out te reading you have mentioned. Thanks much 🙂


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