Culture change in any organization takes considerable time to integrate. This requires changes at the leadership and management level, at the level of administrative and academic units and, above all, at the level of individual staff.
At the organizational level, a shared purpose or mission, strategy, and supporting systems, including policies and procedures, must align with the culture the institution seeks to have. These guide the behavior of all staff within the facility. An important part of the mission is a work culture based on shared values.
Supporting change in any aspect of an institution’s way of working depends on involving those who will be affected.
The prospect of adopting change will be increased if the institution is receptive to broad participation from across the institution early in the change process. This includes discussing the intent of the change and the potential implications for different groups within the institution.
A cultural metamorphosis
Not so long ago, the president of a university at the time asked me to facilitate a process by which the institution would determine what its values should be. The institution was well known to me as I had forged a relationship with it through various guest workshops I had facilitated on strategic and operational planning and quality assurance.
It was a young university, still in its infancy in many areas of its operation. Although it has made significant progress in many key areas in a relatively short period of time, it has also encountered adverse practices in its academic faculties and administrative units.
These were a notable source of concern and led to lingering tensions throughout the institution which impacted performance and the general well-being of staff.
The President recognized that the organizational culture needed to be transformed. He decided to make it a priority, understanding that for real positive change to occur in work performance and staff well-being, what was needed was a “transformation” of the culture. .
At the heart of many of the undesirable behaviors commented on by staff and brought to the President’s attention was a lack of care, respect, value and collegiality in the way people interacted with each other. others.
There was a feeling that some people’s ideas were regularly rejected while others were repeatedly promoted, that the contributions and areas of expertise of some staff members were not valued in the same way and that their well-being was of lesser importance.
The goal as presented to all staff was to arrive at a set of shared values for the university that would underpin expected behaviors, guide decision-making, and help create a work culture beneficial to all.
To assuage some nervousness among staff and recognizing that a comprehensive cultural change would naturally be met with resistance, they also let people know that certain cultural characteristics that had served the university well would be preserved in the future.
The expected result was a more positive and engaged response from staff, as they knew the changes would build on the productive elements of the current culture.
The methodology used deliberately strived to be inclusive and collaborative. The principle of everyone’s participation aims to promote the appropriation of the values that will guide the organizational culture. It helped recognize and respect different perspectives and gave staff a real sense of contributing to what would be the future success of the university.
Identify key themes
The president first invited all staff to participate in open forums to share their views and, for those who are more hesitant to express their opinions publicly, to write anonymously to his office.
My involvement began with chairing open forums, listening to and collecting all thoughts, beliefs and ideas shared on the forums as well as written contributions and identifying key themes from those contributions.
For several staff members who participated in the forums, it was the first time they had met and heard about what was on the minds of staff from other administrative or academic units.
Participants received the values statements that had been developed as part of the strategic planning process three years earlier. It is not surprising that many said they were unaware of it or had never referred to it in their daily work.
Forums and written contributions had no problem with existing statements, which encompassed aspects of quality, innovation, excellence and equity in teaching, learning, scholarship and the research.
However, an overwhelming majority of staff expressed concern about the lack of values statements focused on their individual well-being. It was understood that there was a correlation between the institution’s management practices, structures and systems and the motivation, morale and healthy working relationships of the staff. The terms that were mentioned several times were respect and collegiality.
It was decided to have a cascading discussion about adding an additional value statement that captured the essence of what was needed and how they could define such a value statement. Each administrative unit and faculty has managed its own process for doing this through its own communication channels.
Responses were collated and collated into actual statements and then sent back to the various groups for comment. Further refinements followed, and the “shortlist” value statements were presented to the university in an open forum. A single statement of value was eventually agreed upon and incorporated into the official common purpose of the university.
Respect and collegiality
Of course, this only marked the end of the initial phase of the process. Indications of a cultural metamorphosis that is beginning to take place require that the values of respect and collegiality be reflected in all aspects of the relationship between individuals within the university.
This is the incredibly difficult part of real culture change. This requires multi-level leadership and the establishment of networks of people who act as role models for these behaviors.
This means holding individuals accountable for contradictory behaviors and communicating and reinforcing behaviors consistent with expected approved values. In the end, it all takes time, perseverance and commitment.
Dr Nita Temmerman has held senior academic positions including Professional Vice-Chancellor (Academic Quality and Partnerships) and Executive Dean in Australia. She is a Visiting Accreditation Specialist with the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications and an International Associate at the Center for Learning Innovations and Customized Knowledge Solutions in Dubai. She is the chair of two Higher Education Academic Councils and a visiting professor and consultant at universities in Australia, the Pacific Rim, South East Asia and the Middle East.