Food Co., a pseudonym for a large U.S. food processing plant, had a problem it couldn’t solve alone: The plant’s employees did their jobs well, but beyond that, they didn’t seem to care much about looking out for each other. This observation led to a yearlong experiment in which researchers, including Wharton assistant management professor Michael Parke, studied ways to improve Food Co.’s culture. Their findings are detailed in the paper “Creating Organizational Citizens: How and When SupervisorVersus Peer-Led Role Interventions Change Organizational Citizenship Behavior.”

Key Definition

Organizational citizenship behavior: Actions that go above and beyond a worker’s defined tasks.

The researchers identified seven organizational citizenship behaviors the plant wanted to amplify.


How to Transform Company Culture 2Being respectful

How to Transform Company Culture 3Taking initiative

How to Transform Company Culture 4Improving safety protocol

The Study

Workers were assigned to one of four groups, with the task of encouraging the behaviors led by different people in each:

Illustration showing four groups, one led by supervisors, another by peers, one by both peers and supervisors, and one control group that had no intervention

The Findings

Supervisors are more effective at influencing organizational citizenship behavior early on — when there’s greater uncertainty about new standards — while peers are effective later. Surprisingly, peer-led change interfered with supervisor-led change when both happened early, likely because of mixed signals.

Implications for Managers

Supervisors need to know when to cede control to employees. “You have to give teams the chance to self-lead,” says Parke. “The more you’re mindful of that process — and make minor encouragements and adjustments if they fail to self-correct — over time, they’ll start to take ownership, and you won’t need to intervene as much.”


(Illustrations: Businesspeople — iStock/Appleuzr; Smiley face — Noun Project/Thiago Cruz; Firework — Noun Project/Vectors Point; Hard hat — Noun Project/StudioPAF; “No” symbol — iStock/Fad1986)

Published as “How to Transform Company Culture” in the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of  Wharton Magazine.