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  • Writer's pictureDominic Cincotta

An Ethnography:An inquiry about agency alignment meetings at H1

Agency Alignment at H1


This is the story of agency alignment meetings at company H1. These meetings happen twice a year and have been going on for five consecutive years. The meetings take place in a large conference room at H1’s headquarters building. Traditionally, these involve discussion and presentation time for each organization and then entertainment and meals provided by H1. The goal of these meetings is to align on roles, responsibilities, and reporting structures between H1 and its agency partners. What is found is a unique dynamic of power and influence and the struggle to maintain a position at the apex of this structure. As Clifford Geertz states, “social actions are comments on more than themselves; that where an interpretation comes from does not determine where it can be impelled to go,” (1973, p 41) and this is exactly what I discovered in H1. Through this story, H1 goes to lengths to assert its control and power and attempts to justify an incongruency, however, assumptions are made by the agencies and this leads to doubts about H1’s financial standings.

H1 is in the consumer packaged good industry. Specifically, H1 produces, distributes, and markets 5 major brand name food products. Their products are in worldwide distribution. In order to market these products successfully, H1 employs a number of agency groups, which are responsible for different aspect of the marketing. They cover everything from media buying, sampling and event tactics, to in-store shelving and consumer interaction pieces. While each organization is siloed, they do have an accountability to H1 in that if H1 struggles financially, the employment of the agency might be at risk and hence the employment of each agency member. H1’s products have a long history and are easily recognizable. They have very established brand names with excellent reputation in quality, packaging, and distribution.

The key issue at hand in these meetings resides around H1 being able to maintain control, power, and dominance through a set of rituals and meeting structures. However, as participation in these meetings continued and the economic climate for the packaged goods industry became more strained, an organization trying to maintain dominance had to take into account all variables and status symbols. In the most recent meeting, it was noted that H1 has begun to ignore one of Hofstede and Hofstede’s (2010) dynamics and this caused doubt as to the prosperity of H1 among their agency partners.

I made a very interesting discovery as this exploration progressed. What I found was an intricate web of signs and symbols expressed through a unique vocabulary that establishes a power structure. In the conservative personality of the leading organization, this power is never questioned. It is a culture of fear that keeps this organization at the top of the structure. However, this culture of fear risks the future stake for all organizations when it leads to assumptions. During this meeting, new information is introduced. When the participants are left to independently interpret this information and make assumptions that are left uncorrected, this culture of fear creates a potential slippery slope situation.

Meeting Format

The schedule of these meetings is almost always a two-day affair opening with a formal breakfast, proceeding through an ice-breaker and overview of an agenda and finishing with a dinner and entertainment. Day one consists of issues pertaining to the interests of the agency partners. This is H1 providing the agency partners information that will help them better perform their jobs. This also subtly endows H1 as having humbly provided information to help the agencies. Day two flips this idea and consists of H1 providing their expectations, rules, and regulations for their brands during the next fiscal year, which sets up a power dynamic. This is when H1 asserts its influence and since the Agency partners have already adopted a submissive posture and are expected to submit due to the “good will” of H1 in day one.

Along with these days of work related discussion, the various entities interact in social ways that serve to reinforce cultural norms as dictated by H1. H1 is responsible for providing meals, entertainment, and social time to the agency partners in attendance. An evening activity is tradition, which is sponsored by H1 in order to show off some sort of asset. This asset is presented in a way that the agencies are made to feel partially responsible for the resources that allow H1 to showcase the asset.

The format of the meeting is always entirely of the H1 mandate. The participants show up on the first day and are presented with an agenda including times and destinations dictated by H1. This reinforces who is in control of these meetings and whose business is truly being served by the agencies work and financial success. This format serves to regulate and control the H1 norms in the sense of values, and inter-organizational productivity and information flow. The information transferred at each stage of these meetings is tailored to each audience. The participants of each meeting session are tailored by the H1 agenda and the agency members are expected to abide by this schedule and these attendance expectations.

Bubbles of Influence

Bubbles of influence are the different agency organizations and H1 as a whole and the members that make up these factions. These meetings are coming together of a number of bubbles of people in the interest of the H1 organization. In Hofstede and Hofstede’s book, it is claimed that, “Organizing always requires answering two questions; (1) who has the power to decide what? And (2) what rules or procedures will be followed to attain the desired ends?” (2010, p 302) This is the entirety of the culture brought about by these meetings. What I found is that the power to decide resides solely with H1. This is only amplified in the second consideration since H1 creates the rules and through a series of assumptions and creates a culture of fear, which ensures their power. This forms a cycle that, to this day, has not been broken and props up H1’s power.

These bubbles of influence interact in a way that conveys and reinforces cultural bonds. The bubbles are well defined with members who are charged with fulfilling a role and a responsibility. These roles and charges are meant to serve a goal. This goal is always the continued success of H1 in order to preserve the structure and economic viability of the greater organization. The bubbles also serve to segregate information sharing and transfer.

Only certain bubbles are privileged to certain meeting session and therefore certain sets of information. It is generally accepted without question, that H1 has tailored the information and the attendance requirements to these bubbles in a way that should benefit the greater good. However, as shown in the following story, this can also serve to create silos, which segment information in a way that allows uncertainty and eventually a culture of fear.

Power Structure H1 is the lead organization as it employs all other organizations as agencies. The internal H1 teams are the Shopper Marketing team, integrated marketing VP, Seibel data team, MIS team, and finance analysis teams. The Integrated marketing VP was the person of absolute power symbolized by:

  • Her ability to come and go as she pleases

  • Casual dress

  • Ability to interrupt the conversation

This member of the group seemed to be able to make decisions that would affect all parties involved, including the future employment of the agency partners. This was represented through complete respect and attention when she spoke. No one interrupted or debated points with her. There seemed to be a sense of fear when dealing with this VP.

Next in the power structure of the H1 organization for this meeting is the shopper marketing team. This team is made up of three people who split responsibility for different aspects of the H1 product portfolio. The Shopper Marketing department is responsible for the planning and execution of any in-store brand marketing for the H1 portfolio. They deal directly with the agencies and are intimately involved with the agency reporting to H1. The meetings were called to serve the specific needs of the H1 Shopper Marketing department, which put the rest of the organizations at the service of this group.

This relationship creates an interesting dynamic with financial implications for all parties involved. It is in the agencies best interest to stay in favor with H1 because they rely on H1 for their financial well being. However, H1 is also dependent on the agencies in order to effectively get their products to the retail landscape and create a need with the consumers. The agencies are at slight disadvantage here because the supply of potential agency partners is much greater than brands needing to employ agencies. It would be much harder for the agencies to find employment than it would for H1 to find new agencies. While this dynamic certainly puts H1 at an advantage, they work very hard to maintain control over their agencies and perpetuate these relationships. For the agencies, this creates a very delicate situation in that they must be able to clearly and effectively market these products while staying in bounds of what H1 desires of them.

After the H1 teams, in terms of power, would fall the agency teams. There are three teams here, Agency 3 (A3), Agency 1 (A1), and Agency 2 (A2). A3 is housed entirely in house. A2 is housed in Pittsburgh and is a subset of a larger partnership with the Distribution organization (D1), which handles retail sales for H1. Finally, A1 handles only specific customers; however, this team has the most representatives and had traveled from Chicago to attend. A1 was also the only organization that was at every session of the meeting besides the internal H1 Shopper Marketing team. These agencies are the coordinating body between the H1 groups and their customer bases in the retail outlets. H1 cannot effectively market without these groups, however, there are other groups who do what the agency partners do. This means that while these meetings were there to benefit their functioning, they could be replaced by other agencies.

The internal H1 teams that attended would be next in the power rankings as they are part of the oversight organization and have direct and unfettered lines of communication to the controlling parties. These organizations are the MIS, Seibel, and finance teams. These teams represent knowledge bases that have information to educate the A1, A2, and A3 teams. Internal H1 elements work with each of the attending agencies but in different ways, more one on one with A3 and A2 due to proximity, and virtually with A1, with A1 on a more personal level indicated through use of humor in communications but much more corporately with A3 and A2.


One of the key dynamics discovered in this meeting and a historical look at past meetings like this one, is found in the newest of Hofstede’s list and is known as Indulgence-Restraint. While the entirety of the meetings procedures seemed fairly routine and regimented for environment, the glaring misplaced element was the food. The history of these meetings shows a pattern of indulgent meals and plans of entertainment as well as extended visits in order to facilitate more social bonding. However, in this most current meeting, the food, entertainment, and length of stay indicated some change and incongruence with the past. The light food fare and lack of emphasis on social bonding time, seemed to suggest a possible economic strain on the hosting organization. This was confirmed through post event discussion with other participants and through meeting feedback.

It is at this point that an the idea of the “new normal” surfaces. One of the key pieces of information for this story is that H1, just before this most recent meeting, had introduced this term as a new business practice. The “new normal” meant that H1 recognized the tough economic climate that the US was experiencing. In order to function effectively with customers and partners, H1 was now going to make an effort to cut back on excess and move to represent a more humble and streamlined business model. In the following story it should be noted as to how the H1 team introduced this idea of “new normal,” and how they left it up to the agency partners to deeply define this term.

The incongruency of the need to hold and enforce a power structure with a humble business model creates conflict for H1 and their agency partners. Leaving this incongruency unaddressed and floating for interpretation opens a culture of fear and cautiousness.

The story and its telling: Forms of life

The goal of these meetings was to align on goals, objectives, processes, and products for the 2013 Fiscal year. The title of the meeting was “H1 Shopper Marketing Agency Partner Meeting.” It was set up as a two-day meeting involving different factions presenting to all partners on behalf of the corporate goals of H1 for the following fiscal year. The meetings took place in a conference room on the twelfth floor of the H1 HQ building. This room was set up in an “L” shape and included a small kitchenette, two entrances, a conference table, conference telephone, presentation projector and screen, and seating for 20 or so people. The room was nicely lit and had artwork and plant life to create a less sterile environment. It was evident that this set up is comfortable for these groups since this meeting has been repeated so many times. Each group had its assumed seats so there is no political jockeying for seats.

In each session of this meeting H1 was prominently positioned at the head of the rooms placing them at the focus of each of the other groups as well as placing them in a position to direct the meetings. Each agency then assumed its seats generally with the leaders being closest to H1. Flowing back through the room was a mixture of agency personnel generally sorted by rank with the administrative assistants at the furthest point from H1.

Prominently posted 3 places throughout the room were the “H1 rules for meetings.” These were:

These rules are framed in a H1 keystone symbol, which reflects the artwork and many of the details of the room. The H1 Logo/Keystone never seemed to be far out of the frame of sight. It was very difficult to forget whose “house” we were in for this meeting due to the constant reinforcement of the “H1 experience.” All of these elements of this setting and landscape established The H1 rules as the accepted governance for these meetings as well as aligned the H1 symbols, rituals, values, and vocabulary as pervasive and the accepted norm.

Day 1

The Tuesday portion of the meeting opened with a light breakfast of simple bagels and cream cheese. The A1 and A2 teams were presented with gift bags that included three new H1 products (hot sauce, beans, balsamic ketchup), a baseball (reflecting the theme for the meeting), and a “strength finder book (a basic personality test).” A3 was not included in this gift, presumably due to their in-house status. These gifts seemed to be for the agencies that did not have daily face-to-face interaction because it is more customary to give a gift to a visitor than a resident family member. It is interesting how the book on personality and strengths was not questioned. It could have easily been seen as a suggestion of sub-par performance; however, it was accepted without a second thought. As I saw later, I think this was out of the culture of fear that H1 has created. Questioning the gifts could have viewed as lacking respect and putting the future employment of the agency at risk.

These gift bags contained less than what I have experienced at other corporate meetings with business partners but I dismissed it as ok for this group. Later I would discover that this assumption was wrong, as the agency partners would point out the lack of following tradition. This was only done privately and was never presented to H1, which further indicated the culture of fear that was present. Dress was business casual which is more standard at H1, occasionally required at A2, and a step up from casual at A1. At 1:30 pm the meeting commenced with a short icebreaker between the H1 Shopper Marketing team, A2 team, and A1 team. No one else was present which identified these as the key players for the action items to be discussed. At this point, all relationships seemed to be pretty jovial and casual. The next two days would change this dynamic due to new information. These relationships would change and shift to more guarded communication and sharing.

As the meeting progressed, different groups were brought in to present knowledge relating to their function and how it affects the business. This ranged from internal H1 employees from departments such as Seibel, MIS, and finance as well as another agency, A3. Each team was given approximately an hour to present and answer questions. These presenting H1 groups did not seem to gain anything from these meetings. They simply seemed to function as knowledge transfer agents with suggestions in how to improve relationships between the key agents of the meetings. They were representatives of other H1 departments and therefore were not present to acquire anything new.

All of the groups that presented stood or sat in the front of the room. Some used a projector as well as PowerPoint presentation. Generally the closer to the front of the room you moved, the higher ranking in the organization the person. All of the H1 employees sat at the first three seats accompanied by the leader of A1. From here the room devolved to a mix of account executives and support staff from both A1 and A2. All of the presenters, who were assumed experts in their sphere of knowledge as laid out by the knowledge transfer basis for this meeting, were reserved 5 seats at the front of the room, facing the group. This posture also created a setting where we assume that the smaller group facing the larger group is the expert and therefore should be given full attention.

The power-distance principle, as per Hofstede and Hofstede (2010) deals with how power is distributed and established among groups of people. I saw a clear example of this in how the communication and information flowed between groups in this room. Since the group leaders and presenters were located at the front of the room, they were the bases of knowledge. This group was made up of the three H1 shopper marketing managers (Angie, Drew, Megan) and one manager per group (Gary, Jody, Amy, Wendy). This centered the power through the use of knowledge with a select few at the front of the room. As the conversation moved to the back of the room and became more muddled, the power of this information became more specialized but less broadly applicable. This dynamic set up a power center at the front of the room with decreased power as information distanced itself from the source. The select seven members were gifted with power to manage the mass of twenty employees in attendance, and even within this select seven it was evident of the power structure with H1 at the top and the agencies filling in just behind them in the seating.

The seating layout placed the knowledge bases at the front of the room. Most discussion began here and slowly moved to the back of the room. Information started out as headlines and concepts with the presenters and group leaders, as this information flowed back in the room through questions and analysis, this information became more and more defined. This definition was characterized through more use of symbols and meaning specific to an individual. The created a scenario where information was clear in the front of the room, but devolved into confusion towards the rear of the room; hence most of the discussion and clarifying happened in the rear of the room until meaning was created when a confirmation of knowledge acquisition was sent back to the front of the room.

This dynamic of the understood power dynamic was further reinforced through the seating arrangement that took place without any formal prompting. The front of the room was occupied by the highest level knowledge holders. With people storing the least amount of knowledge seated towards the rear, this seemed to connote a submissive policy among the work force. The power distance dynamic is directly related to the amount of knowledge as power an employee has in this setting. The seating arrangement such as this also served to preserve everyone’s place in the structure. As we will see, vocabulary is a key identifier of status in this culture. Since complex vocabulary will originate at the front of the room and filter back, the persons in the rear of the room will not be equipped with the tools to decode this vocabulary. This is where the culture of fear in H1 is first seen. Questions in this culture are scoffed at and are assumed as signs of incompetence or challenges to power, both of which could risk a lower level employees status and financial stake in this relationship.

This day ended with a group activity. This seems very normal for these groups; however, the invitations were limited to the A1, A2, and 1 person from each of the presenting H1 groups. The activity was a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game in the H1 corporate suite. Food was served in the form of hot dogs and turkey sandwiches with chips. This seemed to be in a bit of conflict with the setting. The corporate box for H1 is very highly appointed with mirrors, soft lighting, leather furniture, AV equipment including a broadcast of the game. There was also a waiter/suite attendant. The setting said “very high class” but the food represented average ballpark food. In my past experience, these suites serve only the best food. There was also beer and wine on hand.

This activity seemed to represent the H1 team wanting to show good will to their partners. However, this type of event can also serve to show the dominance of H1 through the use of their suite, their food, their choice of activity, a range of their employees, all in a setting that represents corporate wealth. This seemed to be a delicate balance. One could have assumed that while H1 wanted to put on a wealthy facade, they were in fact confronting financial trouble represented by the lack of incremental luxury in food and drink and this idea would show up again later.

It was a cooler September evening and it was raining. While there were about 8 outdoor seats that were under an overhang to shield from the rain, the majority of attendees watched about the first 4 innings from the indoor portion of the box. When someone discovered the how to turn on the heaters there was a small migration outside. This was lead by the younger portion of the crowd that made up the lower side of the power scale. This group was far more social and discussed life issues while the power-wielders remained inside until late in the game. This group spent most of the evening discussing work and the work relationship that we were examining in the meetings.

It was at this point some interesting observations were expressed to me in confidence. The agency partners began to ask why the luxuries of past meetings were being spared. They inquired about the days food and lack of supplies in the suite as opposed to the history of these meetings. The representatives of H1 began to speak of a concept they labeled “the new normal.” According to the H1 management, this concept consisted of purposeful savings in business dealings so as not to look opulent in a down economy. The agency partners had not heard of this concept before which made it seem a bit unfounded to them. At this point the H1 management quickly dismissed the topic and actively tried to move to more casual conversations. It seemed a bit hurried and very purposeful which had an effect on the proceeding actions on part of the agencies.

Since the concept of “the new normal” was not introduced formally and in any other business dealings, the agency partners doubted the validity that it was the cause of the incongruency in comparison to other meetings. This allowed the members of the agencies to create the narrative of “the new normal” on their own and make assumptions. It was concluded that each agency should be very careful in their upcoming dealings with H1 through the next fiscal year due to the assumption that “the new normal” was just a way to disguise poor financial standing for H1.

Day 2

The enlightenment gained on the previous night changed the dynamic of the second day in considerable ways. The first half of the second day of meetings included only H1 employees and A1 employees. All other agencies were excluded. Since A1 is in Chicago and not in-person accessible, this day was to deal with issues relating specifically to their business. The morning began with another light breakfast with no frills.

The meetings began with a review of the A1 performance grading metric called the scorecard. This discussion involved a review of performance metrics, as well as a discussion into what the scorecard should look like in the future. The objective of the H1 team seemed to be to get A1 to use the same quantitative process that is used by A2. A2 is much closer to H1 in that A2 is part of a larger organization call D1. D1 provides H1 with various services and is located in Pittsburgh. This set up a distinct relationship between A2 to which A1 is not privileged and includes its own set of knowledge transfer systems and technologies.

A1 seemed to be much more focused in this discussion. Much of the informality of the first day faded from their communication. A sense of doubt was very thick in the air. It seemed that a meeting or communication had been made from the director of A1 to his employees to the affect that they needed to take precautions in order preserve the good standing of the agency.

At noon, the H1 team provided lunch. As I stated in Day 1, traditionally these meetings would involve an off site lunch at a semi-formal restaurant. However, this meeting was different in that it echoed the dichotomy of food and setting from the baseball game. Instead of going out, the team was served pizza in the preparation kitchen. The upscale nature of the offices and formal nature of the meetings, did not match the cost-saving form of food. This only served to reinvigorate the internal debates among the agencies as to the financial standing of H1.

At this point this point in Day 1, A2 and A3 rejoined the meeting. It seemed as if the knowledge of the “new normal” affected the way they approached this meeting. Now the members of A1 seemed to pay extreme attention and ask questions pertaining to their specific performance. A2 focused on whether or not they should be on-site more due to their geographical proximity. A3 seemed the lease bothered and most assured which was mostly a result of their in-house status. The behavioral affect of the doubt created by the agencies and the true meaning of “the new normal” as it pertained to their futures was clearly evident.

As the afternoon progressed, groups from the finance team and information tracking groups came in to speak. While the physical layout and set up of the rooms did not change, these meetings seemed a bit more quieted, reserved, and guarded. These meetings were more of a discussion of shopper marketing in general and of practices that could be implemented to make the business more efficient. They were less about knowledge transfer and more about business feedback and the discovery process.

As the day progressed, I noticed evidence of a reserved posture and a need for the agencies to have H1’s approval on all points start to surface. There was constant clarification being made. Every time H1 made a point and the discussion filtered to the back of the room, a clarification was certain to come back forward. Even the lowest level employees wanted to ensure that they were gaining the knowledge they needed to ensure their future employment and success in their jobs.

The afternoon wrapped up at 4pm with an unceremonious closing. At this point most of the A1 employees moved away from the meeting space and out to other offices in the building to visit with colleagues. The nature of A1 being an integrated partner within H1, yet residing in Chicago creates a unique dynamic when the A1 team comes to the H1 offices. It seemed to be understood that it was important to close the meeting in order to capitalize on the rare occasion where this group could be face to face. This unceremonious closing signified the tenuous tone of the last day of the meeting. There seemed to be a glass coating on every action which no one want to risk shattering.


It was noted that in some of the conversations throughout the meetings, as the employees of H1 became frustrated and felt that their needs were not being served, vocabulary became a weapon of choice. When the directors of the conversation from H1 wanted to assert authority, a clear progression from simple vocabulary to a complex set of internal abbreviations, acronyms, and symbols was made. This seemed to serve to perplex the guest agencies since they are not privileged to the daily use or practice of this vocabulary. When this is butted up against the unquestioned power structure, it was evident that no one wanted to question these symbols out of fear. Heated discussion was peppered with acronyms such as IMP, PFP, DMA, NAM, CD, ACV, NSV, PPA, HFRA, FY, and CY. All of these relating to a specific position or group within H1 but had no application in any of the agency partners.

In order to avoid uncertainty, H1 managers and presenters would also begin to interrupt and speak with a quicker pace. By combining this fast pace and the specialized vocabulary, H1 was certain to perplex their partners which would move any uncertainty from H1 into A1, A2, and A3. This also helped to move H1 into the position of power. H1 seemed to be making the statement that the only way to avoid uncertainty is to separate oneself as the expert through specialized knowledge. If you are the expert, then no one can question your authority and in a system with a very defined and unquestioned power structure, this becomes dangerous. The agency teams seemed to leave these meetings with a sense of questioning and fear, which served to perpetuate the control of H1.

It is this sense of fear that seems to serve as the controlling force in the culture of H1. This fear ensures that the bubbles of influence remain in tact with only the information that they need. It is out of fear that the segregated meeting sessions are respected. Each agency fears that if they do not attend their session, they will be ill equipped to function within the H1 structure. The other agencies respect being excluded under the assumption that uninvited attendance is against H1 culture and norms. Attending a session while uninvited would show suspicion and uncertainty, both of which could signal weakness and an inability to do their job.

The culture of fear perpetuates H1’s allows immense room for assumptions which lead to information gaps. The agencies did not understand the out of place entertainment portion of the meeting. The meeting format enhanced this through constant reinforcement of H1 as the dominant and empirical force. The fear to ask questions led to the assumption that the “new normal” is a symbol of economic hardship.

The future implication of this fear is immense. With the casual dismissal of the meeting, the sense of fear and aversion to questions allows the agencies to go back into the field and work to serve a misplaced purpose. They are now allowed to do business on behalf of H1 under the assumption that the financial standing of H1 is unhealthy. Budgets can be withheld leading to initiatives that can be under funded or cancelled in a critical time. The agencies also have the potential to be more guarded in their information sharing so that they are insulated from any potential impacts. This can lead to decreased creativity and more siloed information.

In the end, the culture of fear created though assumptions, unguided information flows, and incongruencies in structure and format have paradoxical implications. First, it serves H1 through keep the agencies aligned and in subjection to H1’s doctrine and value systems. However, the fear and lack of corrective action risk the financial viability of all parties involved. The culture of an organization such as H1 is so powerful that it seem s to be propagated without question which can lead to a slippery slope scenario. Slippery Slope, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is, “A course of action that seems to lead inevitably from one action or result to another with unintended consequences.” Authors on Wikipedia take this definition a bit further when they state, “the slippery slope is an argument for the likelihood of one event or trend given another. It suggests that an action will initiate a chain of events culminating in an undesirable event later…The slippery slope can be valid or fallacious.” We can see this in action with the assumptions of the agencies leading unintended consequences which can lead to H1 asserting more power and control, leading to more assumptions and eventually a financial risk. This could have all been prevented through clarity of communication and openness in information sharing.

Concluding remarks

This study of H1 clearly shows that an organization can take all precautions to retain power and structure, but if they fall short of expectations in a single sense, this blind acceptance of power can be shaken and create fear and confusion. Hofstede would define this as a result of a move from indulgency to restraint. There was an expectation of indulgence by H1 to show off their wealth and success brought on by their agency partners. However when meals and entertainment began to fall short of these expectations a doubt arose in the agency groups as to the true financial standing of H1. These doubts were enhanced through a discussion of a “new normal” which seemed to be a buzz-word without a clear definition. A fear of the unknown disallowed any questions as to the true meaning of this term and the accepted tradition of H1’s vocabulary as pervasive and accepted further prevented certainty from being established.

Going back to Geertz we can see that the quote from his 1973 book to be very true. A social action that takes place in a culture is not justification for meaning in itself alone. H1 clearly took the idea of “the new normal” and the perceived short cuts as having minimal consequence and the agency partners should just accept this. However, their lack of concern for a shared definition allowed the agency partners to create meaning of their own. The meaning that they created involved a negative connotation on the financial well being of H1 which could have severe impact on their future businesses. H1 only furthered this uncertainty through the drive to maintain power through increasing complexity in action and vocabulary meant to confuse their partners.

In the end there were and still are questions as to how much of a partnership is this relationship. Is it simply a way to support a financially driven business? This story demonstrates that in a culture where power structure and understood status are of key importance to all involved, whether through assumption or documentation, if clear definitions are not given to all terms and historical norms are not followed, these businesses risk their power. In the case of H1, it seems that pride and a sense of honor drives them to stay in power. For the agencies involved, abiding by H1’s rules, norms, and values, is a result of a need to remain in good standing for future financial viability. To question the powers that be is a sign of incompetence and a challenge for power in this culture as well as a risk to the agencies future employment. Through assumptions and failing to account for all possible meanings of symbolic terms, H1 has created a culture which not only propagates is future stake in power but aligns the agencies in submission out of fear. Although there was doubt created through vocabulary used, the culture of fear and accepted practice filled the void of uncertainty in a way that aligned the agencies with the agenda of H1.


Geertz, C. (1973). The interprestation of cultures. New York, NY., Basic Books

Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G. J., Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and organizations: software of the mind. New York, NY., McGraw Hill

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