Bite-size Case Study

CellCo: using metaphors to understand organizational identity

Published on May 1, 2018 Originally recorded 2012   10 min
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CellCo was a European mobile telephony provider,
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and the workshop aimed at exploring and addressing the strategic and operational implications of major changes in CellCo's business landscape. The most important one, that was that CellCo had been acquired by FixCo, another telephony provider in Europe. In 2000, CellCo was the fastest growing of the three largest players in its domestic market, with a market share of nearly 25 percent and an image of a dynamic, innovative, and very unconventional company. Then two strategic changes impacted on the company. First, CellCo purchased a domestic 3G license through competitive bidding and financed this purchase through huge debt. Second and shortly after making this purchase, CellCo was acquired by FixCo, a large European competitor that was the leader in its own domestic market. The workshop had eight senior members present and took place in 2002 and the instruction was very straightforward namely, we asked participants to individually and then collectively build a model of your organization and its competitive landscape. As materials, we relied on construction toy materials as outlined above.
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Now, what you see here is the outcome at the collective level. This is the collectively constructed representation of CellCo as an organization. This is the result of a collective metaphorical mapping process from the individual experiences onto the collectively held concept of self in terms of this organization. In this case, the metaphorical mapping operated at different levels. As you can see, at the broadest level, the metaphorical mapping worked as follows. The team conceived of CellCo as a castle. Source domain was a castle that was mapped onto a target domain namely the organization of CellCo. Despite the obvious richness of detail of the model, I would like to highlight a few aspects of the castle metaphor and zoom in on four aspects that I would like to then discuss in more detail in terms of their strategic relevance. Let's start with the grand metaphor, CellCo as a castle. As you can see, there are several features at the artifactual level that referred to castles. You have platforms, you have towers, and what you cannot see, there is also a huge entrance on the left of the model that all embody the idea of a castle. Secondly, we see, I go through this clockwise, a disconnected lighthouse. The disconnected lighthouse was to represent the brand. The brand was represented as a lighthouse and was no longer disconnected to the platform of the organization. One step further, we see bureaucracy. Bureaucracy was represented by a pile of gray bricks. We see here the mapping in terms of gray bricks typically associated with boring, dull, onto the notion of bureaucracy. We move one step further and we see an elephant and a tiger who are facing their backs to each other and that was to represent the 3G license purchase. What participants implied by that was, it was still an open question whether this purchase would actually be either the tiger of growth or an elephant around our neck. Let's move on to the empty carousel on the further left of the platform. The empty carousel was integrated in this construction as to represent the bygone fun that the organization used to have because there's nobody sitting on the carousel on the merry-go-round, and thus the fun is seemingly gone. In the next gesture, the participants represented with a ghost person figure, the ghost of the founder, who used to be a very inspirational member of the organization but he left shortly after the acquisition by FixCo. We also see that the operations team represented itself on the white platform, and we also see that the tower of technology then at the opposite end of the Green platform, represent or was meant to represent the organization's technological capabilities, so far for the metaphorical mapping at the artifactual and meaning level.
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CellCo: using metaphors to understand organizational identity

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