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 / Fall 2004 / Issue 36(originally published by Booz & Company)


How Dell Got Soul

Indeed, the most important role of “The Soul of Dell” may be to evangelize new hires who never will ride an elevator with Mr. Dell or Mr. Rollins. Dell is again in a hypergrowth phase and hiring vast numbers of men and women. Although some long-term employees say nothing has changed for them personally, they still see a value in formally codifying the Dell culture, and infusing the values in the design of management systems.

“As new people come on board, there’s certainly a large part of the population that’s jaded and has a negative [impression] about working for corporations,” says Paul Wicker, a computer programmer on one of the maintenance teams that support Dell’s sales applications. “The Soul of Dell” lets people know “Dell is a meritocracy. If you work hard and do a good job, you get rewarded for it. It also says that just getting the job done is not as important as how you do it, and the quality of the teamwork you do it with.”

Although cultural change yields tangible results only over time, Dell has been able to track some immediate and meaningful improvements, as identified in the quarterly Tell Dell surveys. Employees say management is more inclined to support their efforts to achieve better work/life balance. Workers also see a clearer link between their jobs and Dell’s corporate objectives. The percentage of people who would stay at Dell given a comparable offer elsewhere has risen, although at 57 percent, it is still not as high as management would like.

Has Dell changed its culture in any fundamental way? Maybe not. But it has clearly harnessed those positive aspects of the culture that allowed it to come so far so fast.

At 20, Dell still feels like a “scrappy startup company,” Mr. Dell says. But he won’t be taking too much time to admire and relish the company’s vigor or accomplishments. “Let’s get better. I’m 38 years old now. I want to look back in 40 years and be proud.”

Reprint No. 04305

Author Profile:

Lawrence M. Fisher ([email protected]), a contributing editor to strategy+business, covered technology for the New York Times for 15 years and has written for dozens of other business publications. Mr. Fisher is based in San Francisco.
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  1. Gary Neilson, Bruce A. Pasternack, and Decio Mendes, “The Four Bases of Organizational DNA,” s+b, Winter 2003; Click here. 
  2. Terrence E. Deal and Allan A. Kennedy, Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life (Perseus, 1984)
  3. Terrence E. Deal and Allan A. Kennedy, The New Corporate Cultures: Revitalizing the Workplace after Downsizing, Mergers, and Reengineering (Perseus, 1999)
  4. Joseph J. Ellis, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000)
  5. John P. Kotter and James L. Heskett, Corporate Culture and Performance (Free Press, 1992)
  6. Brook Manville and Josiah Ober, A Company of Citizens: What the World’s First Democracy Teaches Leaders about Creating Great Organizations (Harvard Business School Press, 2003)
  7. Edgar H. Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 1985)
  8. William E. Schneider, The Reengineering Alternative: A Plan for Making Your Current Culture Work (McGraw-Hill, 1994)
  9. Lynn Sharp Paine, Value Shift: Why Companies Must Merge Social and Financial Imperatives to Achieve Superior Performance (McGraw-Hill, 2003)
  10. AES’s values statement: Click here. 
  11. Johnson & Johnson’s values statement: Click here. 
  12. John Kotter: Click here. 
  13. Levi Strauss & Company’s values statement: Click here. 
  14. Edgar H. Schein: Click here.
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