Skip to main content Skip to navigation

New Research Reveals Corporations Increasingly Make Employees Face the Music

Originally Published 04 September 2003

Forget performance related pay and flexi-time, new research by Martin Corbett from Warwick Business School reveals large corporations are using hip pop music to develop loyal, hard-working employees, and encourage workers, literally, to sing from the same hymn sheet. However, despite encouragement, not all employees dance to the same tune.

Company songs, from IBM’s rehash of a US fighting song to NCR’s rendition of the Beatle’s ‘Back in the USSR’, typically reinforce senior management’s definition of corporate culture and extol the virtues of team effort to employees, or promote corporate brand to external stakeholders such as potential customers.

Corbett’s research paper on company song lyrics and style entitled “I Sing the Body (In)Corporate”, reveals that companies are taking cover versions to the extreme by incorporating tunes and phrases from well-known Gospel and pop songs into new compositions. Hewlett Packard’s contribution to pop is a reworking of the band Pink’s worldwide hit ‘Get the Party Started’, and AT& T heavily borrowed from Sister Sledge’s million selling disco album ‘We are Family’.

Pop music is used to create place and exercise power, and upbeat company songs stress youthful exuberance, teamwork and ability to respond to customers. And it’s not only American and Japanese corporations that are employing ‘aural branding’, Asda, Price WaterhouseCoopers, McKinsey and KPMG are all getting in the groove.

However, it’s certainly not always the case that songs entice employees to readily identify with their company and unite. While sing-along marching songs, as used by Wal Mart, induce positive feeling and happiness, so help control employee behaviour, songs are also used subversively to provide resistance to work. In fact, many ‘official’ songs are received with cynicism by employees, or even result in embarrassment.

Although songs or music can help branding and team building, a number of company songs, especially those in the style of Gospel anthems, such as ‘Ahh Fujitsu’, inspire dysfunction amongst employees. Fujitsu’s attempt to get employees to join in a Japanese style sing-song using sheet music failed when few could read sheet music.

Without control over the placement and timing of anthems, company music runs the risk of ridicule. For example, KPMG’s anthemic, but now cringe worthy, ‘Vision of Global strategy’ was copied in mp3 format by employees, remixed, and distributed on the net.

Martin Corbett, Researcher with Warwick Business School, said: “Many insights into corporate culture are given by lending an ear to organisational practice. However, it’s only when the reproduction of a company song, its location, timing and performance is firmly managed can Executives ensure their intentions aren’t distorted. Motivational songs are still, at times, derided as nonsense and employees can be cynical about ageing companies trying to gain the respect of youths by linking to Platinum albums.”

For more information contact: Martin Corbett, Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, Tel: 02476 522 465 or Tel: 01926 423 165 or Jenny Murray, Communications Office, University of Warwick, Tel: 02476 574 255

The research paper “I Sing the Body (In)Corporate: Identity, Displacement and the Radical Priority of Reception” was delivered at the Critical Management Conference, Lancaster University, July 2003. For examples of company songs visit:,39020481,2122414,00.htm