Alibaba Company’s Organizational Behavior


Jack Ma’s Alibaba is one of the greatest success stories of the 21st century. The growth has been unprecedented and it can be argued that the company’s culture and philosophy have been the key drivers to the success. People are at the heart of the progress as they are committed to the company and the cultivation of the right behaviors among the employees. The organizational behavior of the firm is examined in this essay, and the related concepts are discussed in detail.

The Alibaba case is the one where the concepts of organizational behavior are apparent. Organizational behavior (OB) entails how members of a business act react and think in the workplace. OB is concerned with the behavior of the employees, their relationships, culture and the structure implemented for them to work in (Hammond, 2016). The OB of Alibaba is founded on the company’s philosophy stating that “success and profitability are outcomes of focusing on customers and employees, not objectives” (Ibarra et al., 2019, p. 4).

All the activities undertaken by Alibaba are intended to maximize customer experience from which the second priority becomes the employees. A firm which key goal is to support employees in their improvement will develop a culture of learning and fruitful relationships.

Alibaba is the perfect case where the social approach to the OB is widely used. The social approach suggests that the major emphasis is on the organizational members and the personality system consisting of the attitudes, perception, and motives (Mullins & Christy, 2016). Alibaba brings together the employees to share ideas anonymously and to interact freely with others. Jack Ma’s personality is the key driver of the attitudes of the employees. He has been described as having an ability to charm and attract talent (Ibarra et al., 2019).

However, his greatest achievement is to inspire people to give their best and to engage in behaviors that work best for the customers and the firm. For example, he believes that internal rivalry is the key to innovation, and he successfully experiments with the idea until a new culture of competition takes root and continues to propel Alibaba’s growth even further.

Application of Concepts

Several theories of OB can be applied to Alibaba’s case, especially those which focus largely on the organizational ways of life. The growth of Alibaba has been characterized by cultural changes where some values are embedded into the company’s daily operations to improve one or more aspects of productivity. As such, Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory can help explain Alibaba’s traditions. Initially applied to the national customs, the four dimensions are power distance versus closeness, uncertainty avoidance versus acceptance, individualism versus collectivism, and masculinity versus femininity (Beugelsdijk & Welzel, 2018).

Alibaba can be described as having a smaller power distance whereby the employees and the management are close. The leadership hierarchy is fairly horizontal even though the internal bulletin is majorly used to bridge the gap between the first line employees to the executives. For example, the management decisions and suggestions are forwarded directly to Feng Qingyang, Ma’s online persona (Ibarra et al., 2019). Such characteristics hint at an organization where employees and management are close.

Another cultural dimension applying to Alibaba’s scenario is uncertainty acceptance as opposed to avoidance. Jack Ma can be credited with building Alibaba on uncertainty acceptance. Internet was a novel technology in China by the time Alibaba was founded. Ma has no computer science or other technical expertise yet he builds the largest tech in China. As mentioned earlier the culture change within Alibaba has been effected through experiments the outcomes of which are unknown (Ibarra et al., 2019). The third dimension, as applied to Alibaba, is collectivism rather than individualism (Beugelsdijk & Welzel, 2018).

The internal is built with the sole purpose of bringing the employees together to allow knowledge sharing to take place seamlessly. The workers have embraced team spirit and their actions are all geared towards a joint goal of improving customer experience. Even when the internal competition is implemented, it is not individuals versus individuals but rather the competition is between the business units.

The last dimension is feminism as opposed to masculinity where the company’s employees embrace cooperation, caring for others, and solidarity. On the contrary, masculinity is associated with workers pursuing individual achievements and success through antagonism (Beugelsdijk & Welzel, 2018). The culture change from cooperation to competition has not changed the femininity dimension. Zang states that “it was hard to tell employees that while they were competing against each other in the market, they also belonged to the same company” (Ibarra et al., 2019, p. 7). It is this statement that clarifies that solidarity and cooperation within Alibaba remain the vital elements of the company’s OB.


The success of Alibaba can be attributed to the ability of the company to implement culture changes to make the workers even better. However, as the organization grows exponentially, then it might have to rely more on the loyalty and goodwill of the employees. A further culture change would need to take place, which is not an easy task. According to Walker and Soule (2017), changing a firm’s culture will require a movement rather than a mandate. Additionally, the authors state that while a manager may demand compliance, they cannot dictate trust, optimism, creativity, or conviction. The recommended approach to make Alibaba even better through further culture changes is the adoption of the culture of corporate citizenship.

Organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) is a perfect way to improve employee performance. OCB works best in organizations which are knowledge-dependent, and it helps to appreciate the need to match key resources with the right behaviors to boost the entity’s competitive edge (Tefera & Hunsaker, 2020). OCB can be defined as the corporate behavior based on volunteerism where workers pursue the best interests of the company without feeling obligated and by not expecting to be rewarded (Taşkıran & Iyigun, 2019). Failure to behave in such a manner does not attract any punishment but building a culture on this concept increases the dependability of the employees and eliminates the need for micromanagement on the part of the managers.


Alibaba’s organizational behavior has brought success to the company majorly by building a culture which derives the best out of the workers. Hofstede’s dimensions of culture have been used to explain Alibaba’s OB which can be summarized as closeness between management and staff, uncertainty acceptance, collectivism, and femininity. Jack Ma’s personality has helped him build such a culture to reflect what he believes in, including a philosophy that shapes all actions of the workers. Culture change has been associated with the company’s growth, and, therefore, it has been recommended that further changes in values in the form of organizational citizenship behavior will help make Alibaba even better.


Beugelsdijk, S., & Welzel, C. (2018). Dimensions and dynamics of national culture. Journal of Cross-cultural psychology, 49(10), 1469–1505. Web.

Hammond, M. (2016). Introduction to organizational behaviour. In C. Crosss, & R. Carbery (Eds.), Organizational behaviour: An introduction (pp. 1–22). Palgrave.

Ibarra, H., Spungin, J., & Borpujari, R. (2019). Jack Ma at alibaba: Bulding a learning organization. Harvard Business School.

Mullins, L., & Christy, G. (2016). Management & organizational behavior. Pearson.

Taşkıran, G., & Iyigun, O. (2019). The relationship between organizational citizenship behavior and entrepreneurial orientation: A research in the hospitality industry. Procedia Computer Science, 158, 672–679. Web.

Tefera, C., & Hunsaker, W. (2020). Intangible assets and organizational citizenship behavior: A conceptual model. Heliyon, 6(7), 1–11. Web.

Walker, B., & Soule, S. (2017). Changing company culture requires a movement, not a mandate. Harvard Business Review. Web.

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