Diana Kyser, DBA ’17, has played nearly every possible role one can in business. Even with jobs like programmer, marketing manager, customer service representative, consultant and COO under her belt, she was not satisfied with her scope of knowledge. To connect her practice to theory, she decided to pursue an Executive Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) from the Fox School.
Over the course of her career, Kyser found herself at companies with a variety of leadership styles. She noticed that company culture often manifested itself as a reflection of the founder’s personality—for better and for worse.
When it came time for Kyser to decide on a dissertation topic for her DBA, she wanted to use research to investigate her experiences in the workplace in order to better understand the link between founder personality and organizational culture.
Using Data to Investigate Real-World Experiences
“I have spent equal parts of my career in businesses that were co-founded by me and those that were founded by others. In my own businesses, I felt comfortable and fit in. In the ones that were founded by others, I often did not. I noticed the impact of the founders’ personality on the company culture and sometimes it was very negative,” Kyser explains. “By exploring this in my DBA and researching my dissertation, I was able to understand and put names to all the things that I had been feeling all along.”
Kyser’s research used ethnographic tools, interviews and survey data to explore how founder personality and organizational culture is linked at four firms in a variety of industries. She then used a 54-item Organizational Culture Profile to assess cultural factors such as adaptability, integrity, collaboration and more in a larger sample of founder-led companies. The data she uncovered both supported and found some contradictions in predictions from established models of organizational behavior.
New Discoveries in Company Culture Theory
Kyser’s research highlighted in her dissertation “Through the Looking Glass: Company Culture as a Reflection of Founder Personality in Entrepreneurial Organizations,” found that companies tended to hire (and be more successful with) employees that exhibited complementary personalities to that of the founder, rather than those with overlapping traits. That is, organizations often advertently or inadvertently hire people who have strengths and skills that are unique to them and are lacking in the founder.
Kyser suggests an alternative mechanism linking founder personality to organizational culture, finding that employee personality mediates between founder personality and organizational culture, rather than simply reinforcing it. Contrary to much theory, employee personality often trumps founder personality when determining culture, and that established theories might conspire to create a culture that escapes the influence of the founder.
Larger Potential Impact
Managers and consultants, take note: this research finds that, unless managed explicitly, employees might complicate efforts to create the kind of culture a founder might want to create. To the extent that collective personality shapes culture and executives hire complementary personalities, not clones, founders could find themselves working in a culture of their employees making, not their own.
“Organizational culture is so personal,” Kyser notes. “Each company has its own DNA, and no specific approach is a perfect fit. In the future, I want to build on this research and develop a model for where the founder can, based on his/her own personality, understand what type of employees will best enable them to build their business culture and their vision.”