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Charles Handy, The Gods of Management (1985)Charles Handy, The Gods of Management (1985)


Irish oil executive who became a London Business School professor and renowned business philosopher (pictured right).

His 1989 best-seller, The Age of Unreason, gave him global recognition.


See also...

Charles Handy in the Management Gurus section. 


Book summary

 Charles Handy, The Gods of Management (1985)

Why is culture important?

People’s effectiveness and motivation will be maximized, if they work in:

  • a culture that suits them.
  • only one culture at a time (“cultural purity”)

Inefficiency results from “cultural confusion” when different cultures compete for the same activity.


One culture isn't always best...

It is wrong to assume there is one best culture (values, attitudes and management methods) for every employee.

Four cultures are required for different tasks, situations and people, as represented by Greek gods - see below

Organizations will normally need a mixture of the four cultures below for different jobs, and they will under-perform, if they:Charles Handy, The Gods of Management (1985)

  • allow one culture to predominate.
  • refuse to adopt new cultures for new circumstances.


Four cultures


1. Club culture (Zeus)Charles Handy, The Gods of Management (1985)

Autocratic and informal with power coming from:

  • personal charisma.
  • control of resources like money.

This culture is ideal for quick decision making.


2. Role culture (Apollo)

  • role-based, hierarchical and bureaucratic.
  • power comes from position 

This is best for stable and predictable conditions.

The bureaucratic Apollo culture discourages individual creativity and innovation.

This “Apollonian dilemma” can be resolved by:

  • re-organizing organizations into “villages” of autonomous groups that work towards a common purpose.
  • satisfying each individual’s needs (e.g. involvement in decision making, job security and better quality of work).


3. Task culture (Athena)

Emphasis on:Charles Handy, The Gods of Management (1985)

  • knowledge.
  • teamwork.
  • task completion.

Power comes from:

  • professional expertise.
  • persuasion.  Charles Handy, The Gods of Management (1985) 

This culture is ideal for:

  • innovation.  
  • change.  
  • problem solving.

In recent years the Athena culture has become more important, as change and innovation have increased.


4. Existential culture (Dionysus)Charles Handy, The Gods of Management (1985)

Based on:

  • individual autonomy.
  • knowledge.
  • creativity.

This culture is good for:

  • motivation.
  • developing individual talent (e.g. universities).


What about different countries?Charles Handy, The Gods of Management (1985)

Different nationalities prefer different cultures.

For example, the:

  • Japanese like the Apollo culture.
  • Americans and British prefer the other three cultures.


Key quotes on culture (from the 4th edition, 2007)

Inappropriate cultures lead to unhappiness and inefficiency.

Apollo must retreat. We must find ways of designing and running organizations in which the other gods predominate and in which Apollo is encouraged to have a human and smiling face.


Key quote on management (from the 4th edition, 2007)

Management is the art of compromise.


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