Organisational culture

The basis of the discussion this week as the New Year begins, once again surrounds the problems at the Alexandra School. Some are concerned that the pending transfer will cause problems for the head, since the staff at the new school will have pre-conceived ideas and he may not obtain their respect.

Others believe that he will now be forced to become a new person and change the way he does things. Unfortunately, these concerns may be true and will not only affect the head but all the teaching staff that have been caught up in this transfer. You see, what most people forget when considering entry into an organisation is a little word called “culture”, which is integral to the functioning of every workplace. As a result, the article this week is about the impact of organisational culture on employee behaviour.

Firstly, one good definition of organisational culture is “… the shared values, beliefs, traditions and generally the ways of doing things that influence the way organisational members act” (Robbins & Coulter, 2007). Another management specialist added that organisational culture is “concerned with how employees perceive the characteristics of an organisation’s culture” and “not with whether they like them” (Robbins & Judge, 2011).

So you see the culture of the new organisations (schools) must be considered and will determine if the persons who are transferred will be accepted and if they will achieve some measure of job satisfaction. What is noteworthy here is that culture provides the difference between one organisation and another, therefore when these teachers enter the other schools they will find that things are done a little differently.

Let me explain further, the culture of an organisation is what conveys the feeling of identity. Say for example inter-school sports, when our school team wins a gold medal every individual, whether they are present students or alumni, all identify with that gold and celebrate for the school.

Then you will overhear some of them entertaining each other with stories about their school that they are proud or not so proud of, either way they will boast about the traditions of their school. Those stories are an integral part of an organisation’s culture.

Another integral aspect is that culture is not about any one person but is about the commitment of further generations to something that is very large. In other words, culture is not self-serving, it underpins the stability of the whole “social system” of the organisation. To put it another way, culture is the glue that holds an organisation together and includes the standards, values and policies concerning how an employee is supposed to function (Robbins & Judge, 2011).

Organisational culture can be either weak or strong and dominant and in some instances it can be sub-divide into segments known as sub-cultures. Take for example Harrison College and Combermere, any student, past or present of these institutions whether they liked the teachers at the school or not will tell anyone that it is the best institution in the world. You see they have/had accepted the core values of their individual institution and as a result have a strong commitment to it, thus influencing the attitude of the public’s behaviour towards that establishment. Besides each one of them had their own sub-culture within the wider educational system.

According to management specialists, culture can be so intense that it can have a profound influence over one’s behaviour should you enter the hallowed walls of the institution. For instance, a recent conversation between some former employees of the now non-operational Barclays Bank suggests that they too had a strong culture where values and principles resulted in a cohesive force among employees such that they still reflect on that organisation with great pride.

Having said that, culture can also be a problem, especially if it is a strong one. This is because an organisation can take on a life of its own and can become a stifling force that must not be taken for granted. Case in point, the Alexandra School, we have all suspected for some time now that rapid organisational changes may have been at the centre of the problem there.

You see, if management wants to make any form of change to an organisation they must consider the core values of the organisation or they will find themselves unable to increase the effectiveness of the organisation. It is very possible that the same culture that may have been responsible for the consistent behaviour of employees before Broomes’ appointment there, could also have been an obstacle to any rapid changes that management employed.

In other words, culture is a two edged sword. On the one hand it can enhance the commitment of employees to the organisation while on the other hand if the values are not shared or are perceived as not being in tandem with the culture, it can be a destabilising force.

Let us look at the debacle that is about to unfold at the various schools across the island where rapid changes are about to materialise. I am not a “prophet of doom and gloom” but management should first consider the barriers culture can create when considering the hiring of new employees. Hiring also includes transferring or promoting employees to new departments/organisations as they will all have different ways of doing things.

In theory, it may appear a simple feat to match people to a job but in practice it is not that simple as we are about to find out. The problem is, any newcomer to an organisation must be prepared to fit in to the culture and accept its core values. If they do not fit in, they will be put under severe pressure to conform, especially if the existing culture is a strong one.

Moreover, most management specialists will suggest that before merging two organisations the cultural compatibility must first be considered and the same must apply to the transferring of employees to organisations especially en mass like what is about to happen. Moreover, research has shown that the majority of mergers fail because of incompatible organisational cultures and by this I mean problems with the different people and how they do things (Robbins & Judge, 2011).

On the other hand, the global environment is changing rapidly and organisations must change focus if they want to be effective and not let strong cultures undermine their efforts to achieve their goals. But this is not as easy as a walk in the park, unlike what some would like to believe.

There is a dark side to having a strong culture and it can manifest itself in the form of institutional biases and prejudices along with insensitivity to people who think and act differently.

Now you may ask the question: “Who is responsible for this thing called culture?” The answer is the manager, leader, CEO, head of department or in the case of a school, the principal. In most cases, culture is created by the first leader or founder or in the case of a school the first head. As we all know, we like to surround ourselves with people with whom we feel comfortable so we hire and keep employees that think and feel like us. This first group then goes on to indoctrinate any new employees and to encourage them to identify with the norms and values of the organisation until it becomes embedded in its moral fibre.

Finally, please do not despair, for the only constant is change but the solution is to handle it with integrity, vigilance, fairness and conscientiousness. Too often our actions reek of favouritism, nepotism and political affiliation and oftentimes poor decision making. This is no laughing matter, it strikes at the heart of our educational system which underpins the fibre of our civil society along with our motto of pride and industry.

Before change is carried out, one must research the process very carefully and consult with individuals who have the knowledge and skill to perform the job successfully and not those who will tell us what we want to hear or we will become embroiled in a disaster that will be difficult to mend. Until next time…

* Daren Greaves is a Management & Organisational Psychology Consultant at Dwensa Incorporated. e-mail:, Phone: (246) 436-4215

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