Organizational Culture, Leadership and Innovation: An analysis of a representative Da’wa organization

The Driving Force Behind this Study:Corporate-Communications-Success1-300x225

This is a piece of research in which I explored briefly the concept of organizational culture and then applied it to an organization active in the field of Da’wa. The reason I am publishing this piece of work is the perceived importance of an aspect of organizational work and leadership that is often overlooked by Muslim organization despite the fact most of them are direly lacking in this regard. I am hoping this study will create the spark for mere attention and more research among Muslim organizations in order to enhance their performance and thus service to the Muslim community, society, and humanity at a larger scale.

I kept the identity of the organization anonymous and did what I could to conceal the clues that might reveal the identity of the organization. The point is to tackle a larger problem, an endemic phenomenon, rather than pinpoint specific organizations.

(1.) Introduction:

Organizational culture is inclusive and very broad in scope. Vivid research and heated debate around the concept has been going on over the last two decades (Brooks, 2009).

‘Culture is the soul of the organization… I think of the structure as the skeleton, and as the flesh and blood. And culture is the soul that holds the thing together and gives it life force’ (Mintzberg, 1997). Culture is the mindset and way of being of the organization (Anderson & Anderson, 2010).

There is ample evidence in managerial and organizational literature that culture is a central factor with tremendous implications to organizational effectiveness and success (Alvesson & Sveningsson, 2008; Collins & Porras, 2002; Anderson & Anderson, 2010; Schein, 2004). Culture is indeed at the heart of many organizational aspects that some scholars believe the reality of an organization is in its culture, and thus developed the concept ‘organizations as cultures’ arguing that culture is not something an organization has, but ‘culture is something an organization is’ (Senior & Swailes, 2010, pp. 134).

(2.) Does Culture Really Matter?

Culture defines how an organization sees itself and how it perceives its reality, and the internal and external environments. It stipulates how work is performed and what behaviours are acceptable. It also determines who remains in the organization and who should leave, who gets promoted and who does not (Anderson & Anderson, 2010; Rodgers, 2007; Senior & Swailes, 2010). In a sense, it is the character of the organization and, to a great degree, determines an organization’s success or failure.

(2.1.) Culture and Performance

In a study conducted by Human Synergistics with more than 60,000 respondents to the Organizational Culture Inventory (OCI), results proved culture to be key factor in organizational performance and long-term effectiveness (Anderson & Anderson, 2010).

A study, conducted on organizations from Australia and New Zealand, suggests transforming an organization’s culture from “defensive” to “constructive” proved to increase profit, engagement of employees, growth in business and customer satisfaction. Market share and service quality also grew higher (Jones et al, 2006).

Excellent corporate culture has the potential to reduce collective uncertainties, bring members together into a strong social order, generate loyalty and commitment, create a uniting sense of identity among members, and bind the whole organization behind a collective vision (Alvesson & Sveningsson, 2008; Cameron &Quinn, 2004; Langton & Robbins, 2007; Rodgers, 2007). On a different level, the right culture creates a big customer base with profound loyalty (Freiberg and Freiberg, 2004, pp. 23-66; Sinek, 2009).

(3.) The Architecture of Culture

(3.1.) Levels of Culture

Culture consists of three main levels. The most obvious manifestation of organizational culture constitutes artefacts which include the things one sees, hears and feels at first encounters with an organization (Schein, 2004, Senior & Swailes, 2010). Elements at this level are “easy to observe and very difficult to decipher” which makes it ‘especially dangerous to try to infer the deeper assumptions from artefacts alone’ (Schein, 2004, pp. 26 & 27). Artefacts are also referred to as “indicators of culture” (Anderson & Anderson, 2010, pp. 185-188).

At a deeper level lie the espoused beliefs and values. This level of culture constitutes what should and what should not be done by the organization and its members, how things ought to be in the organization, and what gives the organization its value and distinction (Anderson and Anderson, 2005; Schein, 2004). If beliefs and values are based on successful past experiences and members of the organization are aware of them, they can predict and explain much of the behaviour observed at the more visible layers of culture. And although this level can explain a fair chunk of the overt behaviour within the organization, other large areas of behaviour are left unexplained (Schein, 2004). Different companies could claim to embrace similar beliefs and values, yet interpret them differently, leaving this level insufficient to explain the whole story of organizational culture (Rodgers, 2007, pp. 94).

The deepest, yet the most powerful level of culture represents the taken-for-granted assumptions, what Hofstede calls mental constructs or “software of the mind” (Hofstede, 2001). Basic assumptions guide behaviour, tell members how to perceive, think, and feel about things (Schein, 2004, pp. 31; Bate, 2002; Rodgers, 2007). It is this level of culture that is hard to see, hear, or touch (Anderson and Anderson, 2010, pp. 186). The power of underlying assumptions comes from the fact that they are non-debatable and unquestionable; they function at an unconscious level and therefore are hard to elicit, let alone being put to scrutiny. It is at this core that culture is hard to change, yet it is the most influential. Changing basic assumptions is very difficult as it destabilises the basic cognitive paradigms of members; a process that is time-consuming and could result in a great deal of anxiety, pain and resistance (Schein, 2004).

Basic assumptions are implicit, shared among members of the organization, and very powerful guides of behaviour. They constitute the deepest and most fundamental elements of our cognitive structure and make up the definitions we have of ourselves and the world around us. Schein (2004) calls it the DNA of the organization. The process of bringing implicit assumptions to consciousness makes decisions more mindful and leads to an appropriate and reasoned incorporation and use of what people in the organization know (Pfeffer and Sutton, 2000).

Taken-for-granted assumptions exist in the form of patterns or cognitive maps. Our understanding of ourselves and the world around us is a function of these patterns. Our behaviour is also a product of these sense-making patterns (Anderson and Anderson, 2010; Rodgers, 2007). Understanding the dynamics of these mental constructs is key to understanding organizational culture.

(3.2.) The Human Dynamics of Culture

The deepest level of culture i.e. the basic assumptions are a system of patterning processes. This system enjoys an astonishing ability to organise and reorganise itself to helps us cope with the situations that we encounter each day; it gives meaning and context to events within the bigger frame of our relation to the world (Rodgers, 2007). This system holds the building blocks of our logic and the fundamental vocabulary of our mental processes.

(3.3.) The Definition of Organizational Culture:

The concept of culture is the centre of a great deal of academic debate with that debate resulting in different approaches and definitions of the concept (Schein, 2004; Senior & Swailes, 2010; Brooks, 2009). This is due to the fact that culture is an abstract and elusive concept that does not lend itself to measurement (Alvesson & Sveningsson, 2008; Bate, 2002) and human approach to social phenomena will always hold elements of subjectivity (Hofstede, 2001, pp. 2).

In this paper I will use Schein’s (2004) definition because it encompasses most of the other definitions and is actually more practical and congruent with our case study:

Organizational culture is ‘a pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems’ (Schein, 2004, pp. 17).

(3.4.) Culture and Organizational Success

(3.4.1.) Is there a Good Culture?

What we call “good culture” is situational. What works for one company in a certain industry may not work for another organization operating in different industry or country. However, there are general guidelines for “good cultures” regardless of the situation. In other words, there are universal criteria that guarantee better performance and high levels of success, regardless.

Anderson and Anderson (2010) propose that ‘co-creative’ cultures are more positive and thus guarantee greater organizational results. Within co-creative cultures, members act more from a balanced sense of being; they don’t clamour for power, control, or for the sake of looking good. They feel safe deep inside and work together synergistically for the success of the whole organization. As a result their full collective potential is unleashed and none is left out.

(3.5.) Theories on Culture

Cultural Compass:

Proposed by Hall (1995) and has been developed through an apparent interest in cultural differences in the intercompany relationships, i.e. alliances, mergers and acquisitions, which she calls ‘partnerships’ (Hall, 1995).  Hall identified two components of behaviour: Assertiveness and responsiveness. The former points to the degree to which an organization is seen decisive, quick, firm, and displays a “multi-track mind” whereas the latter is employee-friendly, relaxed, spontaneous and ‘likeable’ (Hall, 1995). An organization is graded on a continuum from low to high on each one of those behaviours. Combinations of those components result in four types of organization.

There are reservations, however, on the validity of this model as it is based on 211 responses from executives in only seven countries (Senior & Swailes, 2010).

The Cultural Web:

The ‘cultural web is a representation of the taken-for-granted assumptions or paradigms of an organization and the behavioural manifestations of organizational culture’ (Johnson et al, 2005, pp. 201). Johnson et al point out the importance of those paradigms and assumptions in achieving strategic change in organizations.

The model explains how taken-for-granted assumptions relate to and influence almost all aspects of an organization.

(Figure 3.1) The Cultural Web. Taken from Johnson et al, (2005) Exploring Corporate Strategy, Prentice Hall (pp. 202).

The Competing Values Framework:

This framework has been found very useful in distilling and explaining cultural phenomena and thus became popular. Culture covers a great number of elements, and the challenge has always been to create a practical model that is able to capture the most important and influential elements of culture for the purpose of effectiveness and change.

This framework focuses on four main elements proven, according to researches and practitioners, to be extremely useful (Quinn and Cameron, 2004; Duygulu and Ozeren, 2009). The ‘Competing Values Framework has been found to have a high degree of congruence with well-known and well-accepted categorical schemes that organise the way people think, their values and assumptions, and the ways they process information’ (Cameron & Quinn, 2004, pp. 37). Out of thirty nine indicators chosen by specialists to represent organizational effectiveness, Quinn and Rohrbaugh (1983) subjected those indicators to analysis and found two major dimensions that resulted in four main combinations which they arranged on a continuum. ‘The continuum ranges from organizational versatility and pliability on the one end to organizational steadiness and durability on the other end’ Cameron & Quinn, 2004, pp. 38). The framework results in four types of culture: (1) Clan, which is more a family culture; (2) Adhocracy, where there is enough space for innovation and achievement; (3) Market, which is externally focused and highly competitive; and (4) Hierarchical, with great emphasis on hierarchy, control and bureaucracy.

I used this framework to assess the culture of (HTSC). The dynamics of this framework are discussed in more detail in the section of (HTSC) culture.

(Figure 2) Competing Values Framework. Taken from Cameron and Quinn (2011): Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture: Based on the Competing Values Framework, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA

Human Synergistics Model:

As I was trying to apply the previous models to (HTSC), I faced some difficulties. None of the models seemed to capture the spirit of the HTSC’s culture. Then I come across Human Synergistics’ model, which seemed fairly simple, yet could meticulously describe the culture of HTSC and explain a few phenomena which had been a mystery.

Human Synergistics’ model describes three types of culture: (1) constructive; (2) passive/defensive; and (3) aggressive/defensive (Anderson & Anderson, 2010, pp. 192). Applying this model to study HTSC’s culture was an extremely revealing experience. Thus I resolved to use it as the main tool to the description of HTSC’s Culture while elements of other models will still be incorporated in the analysis.

A constructive culture also known as co-creative (Pfeffer and Sutton, 2000) and displays four norms: achievement, self actualizing, humanistic – encouraging, and affiliative. Drawing parallels with the Competing Values Framework, a constructive culture displays a balance of three quadrants: clan (humanistc – encouraging and affiliative), adhocracy (self-actualising and achievement), and market (achievement).

Passive/defensive and aggressive/defensive culture types tend to harbour a great deal of politics and misuse of power, and are thus counterproductive (Pfeffer and Sutton, 2000).

Other Approaches:

Collins and Porras (2002) mention two types of organizations: (1) companies whose core ideology and purpose are profit maximization, and (2) companies that pursue higher goals profitably. Their research led them to the conclusion that visionary companies, which are the most successful and sustainable, belong to the second category (Collins and Porras, 2002). This is definitely not a complete model but lends deep insight into an organization’s core culture.

Rodgers (2007) talks about culture not as shared values but as shared meaning making that arises from and is embodied in the ongoing patterns of conversations and interactions within the organization. These patterns guide members’ perceptions, interpretations, and evaluations of what happens and what meanings are attached to them (Rodgers, 2007, pp. 90).

According to Rodgers, patterns of conversations and interactions create pathways or channels for thought and interpretation that are shared among members. New information is automatically channelled through these existing patterns of meaning; a feature of the strength of the human mind saving it the labour of thinking things afresh every time it encounters them. However, this patterning is also a weakness from the perspective of creativity and innovation which typically require a pattern-breaking thinking process.

(3.6.) National Cultures:

National cultures overlay principles, assumptions and practices that affect managerial and operational processes (Senior & Swailes, 2010, pp. 159). Research confirms the powerful impact national culture has on the organizational one (Hofstede, 2001). This will be particularly clear in the case study presented in this paper.

(3.7.) Organizational Politics and power:

Another covert aspect of organizational life, and usually deemed in a negative sense, is organizational politics (Langton & Robbins, 2007; Senior & Swailes, 2010). Change agents need to be aware of and skilful at politics. However, political tactics could still be used for good reasons and in ethical ways (Senior & Swailes, 2010).

Using one’s authority and connections, forming coalitions, and in general, using informal channels of power to reach a desired outcome are all examples on political behaviour.

(4.) Culture and Change

In the light of the rapid growth in technology and information, the environment has become defiant to organizations that are averse to change (Collins & Porras, 2002; Kotter, 1996; Langton & Robbins, 2007). In a decade (from 1994 to 2004), forty six percent of the Fortune 500 dropped off the list (Cameron & Quinn, 2004, pp. 9). This is why probably the biggest challenge organizations face today has nothing to do with whether or not to change but how to change in order to be more effective and successful. Sometimes it is an issue of survival.

Culture is the point of focus in this context. All strategic and managerial processes will not be successful in sailing the organization to safe shores unless based on and integrated with successful management of corporate culture (Rodgers, 2007). If not managed well, corporate culture could inhibit organizational success, and any change attempt could even seriously jeopardise the survival of the organization (Cameron & Quinn, 2004).

Cameron (1997) stated that three quarters of reengineering, total quality management (TQM), strategic planning, and downsizing efforts have failed entirely or have created problems serious enough that the survival of the organization was at jeopardy (cited in Cameron & Quinn, 2011, pp. 1). Some organizations completely collapsed as a result of change initiatives; Finely Kumble’s collapse in 1988 is a clear case in point (Abrahamson, 2006, pp. 130).

Various surveys have shown that 80 percent of companies who implemented Total Quality Management (TQM) have not achieved their objectives, 74 percent of downsizes initiatives ended up in failure, and 85 percent of the firms who attempted reengineering initiatives achieved no gains from their efforts (Cameron & Quinn, 2004). What all of these initiatives lacked was integrating their initiatives with a plan to change organizational culture (Cameron & Quinn, 2004, pp. 12).

Underestimating the weight of organizational culture lies at the bottom of such failure in change initiatives (Cameron & Quinn, 2011). Apparently, such change attempts are aimed at the more tangible, formal elements of an organization, whereas organizational life is more complicated and thus defies approaches limited only to its visible elements.

On the other hand, the vast majority of the exceptionally successful companies in the U.S. owed their outstanding success in exceptionally highly competitive markets and their ability to surpass the giants in those markets, to their respective organizational culture (Cameron & Quinn, 2004; Sinek, 2009) or what Collins and Porras call core ideology and deep values (Collins & Porras, 2002).

In the light of these facts, ‘it is imperative that the individuals charged with studying or managing organizational culture be able to measure key dimensions of culture, develop strategy for changing it, and begin an implementation process’ (Cameron & Quinn, 2004, pp. 8).

(4.1.) How easy is Culture Change?

French and Bell (1990, 1999) proposed a very helpful metaphor that actually explains such a phenomenon. They argue that we have two realms of organizational life: the formal and informal, with the former constituting structure, strategy, technology, goals and other visible elements. This, they propose, represents merely the tip of the iceberg. The informal aspect of the organization stands for the covert but more powerful phenomena such as values, beliefs, politics and others (Senior & Swailes, 2010; Marshak, 2006).

The metaphor is quite telling in the sense it has immense potential in revealing relevant phenomena. It shows that the informal aspects of organizational life are covert and thus usually unseen. This means they are less likely to undergo scrutiny, planning, and analysis. It also points to the fact that the informal organization constitutes the greater part of the organization (Senior & Swailes, 2010).

The notion that culture can be changed at the behest of management through the use of managerial tactics and training programs is a common reason why culture change initiatives fail (Rodgers, 2007, pp. 90; Alvesson & Sveningsson, 2008). The Present culture has the ability to perpetuate itself and thus challenge attempts to influence it. It is the self-organizing dynamics of this pattern-reinforcing process that make cultural change so challenging. Culture change is about escaping from existing patterns, not reinforcing them (Rodgers, 2007).

This requires a shift in peoples’ perceptions and interpretations of their organizational world, and also in the conversations through which these are formed (Rodgers, 2007, pp. 92). To be successful, a successful change requires a committed and supportive management, and a concerted culture change program (Sanders and Cooke, 2012).

(4.2.) The Nature of Cultural Change:

Culture cannot be imposed by management, or anyone else for that matter. The complexity and dynamism of culture requires an equally sophisticated approach to manage it (Rodgers, 2007, pp. 90). To a certain extent, culture is formed and reformed through everyday conversational exchanges in the organization (Rodgers, 2007). And through changes in the nature and content of these conversational patterns, culture can be influenced and maybe changed (Rodgers, 2007, pp. 90).

Leaders, throughout an organization, are required to stimulate, support and enable this patterning process to develop in its natural environment of organizational daily life (Rodgers, 2007, pp. 107). Daily conversations and leaders’ behaviour are profound tools as they hold profound symbolic value.

Clarity of vision and mission, and excellent communication of both are key to successful change (Collins and Porras, 1994; Kotter, 1996). A great deal of failing change initiatives are due to leaders underestimating the importance of good communication via verbal instructions, systems, and personal example (Jones, 2006; Kotter, 1996).

Studies prove a rise in return-on-investment achieved by organizations that implemented successful culture change initiatives (Sanders and Cooke, 2012).

(5) Culture and Leadership

One cannot talk about culture without bringing leadership onto the table. Managing culture is the backbone of leaders’ mission (Schein, 2004); it could be their greatest asset if they learn how to manage it, or it could herald their demise if it slips out of their hands.

Leaders set the tone for their organization’s culture. This impact is especially more powerful at the early stage of formation. This is clear in cases such as Steve Jobs at Apple, Hewlett and Packard at HP, Bill Gates and Paul Allen at Microsoft, and others.

(5.1.) How Leadership Relates to Culture

Since leadership and culture are closely related concepts, a good understanding of cultural dynamics could lend a great insight into the role of leaders within an organization. Some scholars go as far as viewing both phenomena identical i.e. that ‘leadership and culture are two sides of the same coin’ (Schein, 2004, pp. 1).

This view suggests that creating and managing culture is the essence of leadership role, and the greatest advantage a leader could possibly posses is the ability to understand and work with culture (Schein, 2004).

As explained earlier, the core of culture constitutes the deeper mental patterns people in the organization share; what we called the sense-making patterns. It turns out leadership’s core mission is to manage and influence those patterns by either reinforcing or changing them through pattern-shifting processes (Rodgers, 2007).

Culture has the capacity to predict the level of leadership success. Cameron & Quinn’s (2011, pp. 54) research proves that the highest performing leaders are those who have developed skills and capabilities that allow them to succeed in each of the four quadrants of culture types.

Research also proves that when the leader’s personal culture and his organizations’ dominant culture are congruent, they hold greater likelihood to be more effective (Cameron & Quinn, 2011). This pivotal impact culture has on leadership draws links to the very premise of contingency leadership theory, which suggests that leadership success is dependent on the situation (Glynn & DeJordy, 2010; Lorsch, 2010; Yukl, 2010).

(5.2.) Leadership and Culture Change

Since culture permeates organizational life, then all change is cultural (Rodgers, 2007, pp. 93). Being the change agent, leadership’s critical capacity is ‘the ability to step outside the culture that created the leader and to start evolutionary change processes that are more adaptive’ (Schine, 2004, pp. 2).

Leaders possess powerful tools in their arsenal for culture change. The everyday behaviours of Managers and the sense-making conversations these instigate within the organizations are more powerful tools than formal tactics usually used to change culture; their symbolic value matches the complexity of culture and operates at the same level of influence (Rodgers, 2007).

It is therefore critical for leaders to recognize the symbolic power that their words and actions carry within this continuous sense-making process (Rodgers, 2007. pp. 105; Barsh et al, 2008).

Since culture is resistant to change and owes its power to the fact that it is shared through the organization, leaders must rally a matching momentum for the new culture. Thus, a leader cannot work in isolation to bring about successful culture change; he needs the support of key players i.e. those in leading position within the organization; what Kotter (1996) calls a “guiding coalition” (Jones, 2006; Kim and Mauborgne, 2006).

(5.3.) Culture Change is Lengthy

Culture change is an exhaustively lengthy process which could extend over decades. Even after targets are being met, new changes are fragile and need quite some time to sink into the core of corporate culture (Kotter, 2006). It has become apparent that in the face of a complicated process like culture change, only leaders with high commitment to the change process will be successful. (Sanders and Cooke, 2012)

(6) Culture and Innovation

Ninety four percent of executives say that corporate culture and people are the most important drivers of innovation (Barsh et al, 2008). As a matter of fact, ‘the culture of an organization could help or hinder its innovative efforts’ (Munshi et al, 2005, pp. 16).

Organizational culture and leadership style should be taken together in attempts to analyse innovativeness in an organization. For example analysis of cultural typology explained only 28 percent of innovativeness when analysed independently. When investigated together with leadership, 75 percent of innovativeness could be explained (Duygulu and Ozeren, 2009, pp. 484).

There is no doubt that fostering a culture that supports innovation is the leader’s responsibility. Indeed, ‘there is no innovation without leaders’ (Morris, 2006, pp. 1).

Adhocracy type of culture is consistently found to be the common variable in explaining innovativeness (Cameron & Quinn, 2011; Duygulu and Ozeren, 2009). A co-creative type of culture corresponds with adhocracy culture in the sense of creating a climate that promotes innovativeness and creativity (Pfeffer and Sutton, 2000).

Organizations need to create an intelligent risk-taking culture; this is the only route to sustainable innovativeness (Munshi et al, 2005). This stands on the premise that innovation requires a great deal of experimentation and trial and error, which can only be fostered within a mistake-tolerant culture; both defensive and aggressive culture types (Pfeffer and Sutton, 2000) can never breed creativity and innovativeness (Sloane, 2006).

A co-creative culture breeds mutual trust and therefore, creates the right environment where employees feel emotionally safe to question deeply held assumptions without fear of being judged or stigmatised: what Barsh et al (2008) call an “innovation culture.” A perfect example of this kind of culture is Toyota’s “Respect for people (Liker and Hoseus, 2008).

(7) The Culture of HTSC

To examine the culture of HTSC, I interviewed the COO, heads of departments, a few staff and freelancers. I also relied on my personal observations, having worked with HTSC for over xxx years. Heads of departments sat for the Organizational Cultural Assessment Instrument (OCAI) (Quinn and Cameron, 2004).

(7.1.) The Anatomy of HTSC Culture:


Let us have a look at the artefacts of the HTSC’s culture. HTSC’s Offices are located in xxxxxxxx. Office doors are always closed. Each department has its own office or cluster of offices. This reveals a sense of separation between different departments; it seems as if each department is an island on its own.

The programs department is the hub of activity and team work. The department’s offices are relatively tight and usually crowded with staff, free lancers and even technicians. Obviously, the programs department has its own “subculture” which seems interestingly co-creative (Pfeffer and Sutton, 2000) only to a certain extent due to the influence of the overall culture. This could have helped in introducing new ideas, yet another force interfered negatively at this level, namely the national culture influence, which I will examine shortly.

Other departments are rather formal and uninviting. Staff walking down the corridors every now and then seemed stressed out and signs of frustration could not be missed. It seemed though each department enjoyed autonomy, a notion I will examine further later on.

Informality in terms of dress is apparent among the programs and production departments. Senior managers display extreme formality in dress and manners.

Posters promoting team work and family spirit are hung on the walls. A first encounter with this culture imparts an impression of professionalism and precession. A few employees and middle managers shared this notion with me. They had been all impressed at their first few weeks working at HTSC.

Meetings are usually held at the COO’s office with heads of departments. There hardly any genuine discussion and meetings seemed merely a communication tool. There was no mention of the vision, strategy or goals; however, keeping the budget low was a recurrent theme in most meetings. COO ran the show in all meetings and displayed firm control over operations and decisions. There is a consensus among staff that all orders came from the board of trustees in xxxx xxxx, and COO’s task was to ensure their implementation.

In the field, there is a shocking lack of formality that a few guest speakers expressed their inconvenience. During the operations, quarrels, discussions and disturbances took place in the background. Workers seem as if they are doing their job for the first time. Lack or plans and procedures are evident; work is done at the last minutes.

Technicians in the field share a strong solidarity and cover each others’ back. A camera man could do both his job and his colleague’s who ultimately gets paid for a work he never did. Quality of production is sometimes poor as a result and no one tells on another.

Offices are permeated with a culture of complaint; no one seems satisfied and staff openly express their intentions to consider other job offers had there been any. Some kind of political polarization could easily be felt. COO and head of accounts, are seen by the rest of staff as dictators who run the Organization with an iron grip. Trust has been at all time low on both sides.

A few employees from US, Canada and UK worked with HTSC for a couple of years; all of them are gone now. An observation I believe could tell a lot about HTSC’s culture.

Espoused Beliefs and Values:

As I discussed my observations with HTSC managers and staff, it seemed everyone was aware of the problem of finance. Tight offices, cheap freelance workers, and salaries paid late were common at HTSC .This also explains a permeating sense of frustration among workers and technicians. The COO and head of accounts maintained formal demeanour partly to avoid answering questions about financial issues; finance, a problem so chronic at HTSC that it has secured a spot in the espoused values of the staff.

Heads of departments challenged my observations of autonomy. ‘We have been doing the same type of programs for years; there is nothing new’ said head of production. The departments had no right to improvise doing new things; new decision had to approved and issued by the COO first. Meetings were merely a form of social decoration and were meant only to inform middle managers and guest speakers of some procedures. Heads of department express their discontent with poor top-down communication; information came only in the form of instructions.

The chaotic atmosphere in the field was due to hiring cheap labour and unprofessional technicians as HTSC could not afford highly qualified staff. This chaos was also deliberate; it was a form of complaint, in other words it was a political game.

I tried to get answers about the Organization’s mission, and there seemed to be little agreement on what this particularly was. The organization’s logo reads: “xxxxxx guidance to everyone”. However, there does not seem to be conceptual or operational links between operations and that goal. The feeling shared by middle managers was that HTSC’s goal was just to keep operating as a fair source of income.

Each department acts somewhat like a family, yet some degree of alienation is felt between departments. In general, each department tries to protect its members from the COO’s punishment if something goes wrong. Thus, roles and responsibilities remained ambiguous and undefined.

International employees among staff could not fit within the culture. Actually, eight of them left the organization on bitter terms. I spoke with each one of them and all reported similar observations to mine. Most of them interpreted common practices of COO and staff as manipulative, ill-intentioned, and disrespectful. COO on the other hand accused them of being arrogant and slow-minded; an obvious case of cultural misunderstanding.

Technicians in the field have a strong bond and feel as a family struggling to survive in a jungle. To them, everything is allowed as long as it is in favour of the group, providing no one finds out.

Basic Assumptions:

Having worked in this environment for a few years and discussed these issues with HTSC  management and staff, I have elicited the following basic assumptions that I believe underlie the more obvious levels of culture. I stated at the end of each assumption who it is shared by:

The main objective of HTSC is to survive and continue to function at the present level and remain as a source of decent income for employees. (management and staff)

Programs should be produced at minimum cost as long as the present production standards are met. (management and staff)

Only the board of trustees and COO are able to contribute to strategy and vision. (management)

Employees cannot be entrusted to make decisions; everyone is after money, they lack long-sightedness. (management)

Only nationals of where the Organization’s headquarters are located can produce work and appreciate team work. Other nationalities – mainly Western – are too arrogant, demand high wages, and produce poor results. (management and staff)

Being found out having done something wrong is the worst thing you may face. If no one finds out, mistakes do not really have serious consequences. (field staff)

Employees should care for each other at any cost; management does not really care about employees.

Guest speakers will always perform at their best and a chaotic and noisy field does not affect their performance. (staff )

(7.2.) HTSC’s Culture Type:

Based on the description provided above, HTSC apparently has a passive/defensive and an aggressive/defensive cultures. Trust is at an all time low level, employees’ lower core needs are not met, and behaviours reflect a strong sense of emotional insecurity (Pfeffer and Sutton, 2000).

Search for inclusion and approval, fear of failure and a victim mentality are in action at a deep behavioural level. Covering up mistakes hinders learning and excludes the opportunity to collectively solve them and learn from them.

(OCAI) approved my personal observation and the content of interviews. HTSC’s culture turned out to be highly hierarchical, poorly competitive, and weak on adhocracy and clan (see figure 7.1.). However, the fact that each department displayed a considerable solidarity within, had an impact on the overall assessment of the organization. Although HTSC is a relatively small organization (35 employees) yet discrepancies at the subculture level are quite sharp.

The desired culture among HTSC staff and middle managers drastically defers from its present one. Adhocracy and clan culture types came on the top. Employees wish they could have a co-creative constructive culture where they could excel and try new ideas without fear of consequences. It seemed a sense of one family is highly appreciated among xxxxxxx; in fact, this is a strong element in xxxxxxx national culture. Competitiveness does not seem a priority; everyone felt the organization needed to figure out how to play a constructive role in social and ethical reform, rather than compete with other organizations.

There was nearly a consensus that a hierarchical culture impedes performance and creativity. Presently dominant, this culture has created a toxic political atmosphere and greatly hindered vision and progress.

Figure (7.1.) HTSC’s Present Cultural analysis Using (OCAI)

Values: Clan (25); Adhocracy (20); Market (15); hierarchy (40)

August – September 2012

Figure (7.2.) HTSC’s Desired Culture

Values: Clan (35); Adhocracy (35); Market (20); hierarchy (10)


(7.3.) Leadership and Culture at HTSC:

As Pfeffer and Sutton (2000) pointed out, many equate talking about something with actually doing it, believing that once a decision is made to do something, no additional work is needed to ensure its implementation. I believe HTSC management should turn their focus to creating a clear and specific vision of the future. About 80 percent of the feedback I received suggests that the quality of HTSC’s performance and results is standstill since its inception in 8 years ago.

A sense of urgency (Kotter, 1996; Pfeffer and Sutton, 2000) is definitely needed on a strategic level, rather than the prevalent short-term operational scale. The (xxx field operations) are usually run under an obvious sense of urgency, which does not seem to exist at all among the management team. This has negatively affected presenters’ performance. In other words, a sense of urgency is needed at the planning and strategic, rather than the operational level.

Schein (2004) points out that what leaders pay attention to and what they tend to measure on a consistent are tools through which leaders instil culture within the organization. It is clearly obvious from my personal observation and all people I interviewed that ultimate focus is on cost reduction by any means. You can imagine what kind of culture this has inculcated among staff and even freelancers.

HTSC is still in what Schein (2004) calls the founding and development stage. He indicates that it is at this stage that leaders have the biggest proportional influence on culture. As Organizations move on to more advanced stages, the influence of leaders starts to decline, especially at the maturity and decline stage where norms would have become deeply imbedded. Thus, it is a great investment to create an empowering culture at this stage which would set HTSC on the right path for the rest of its journey.

HTSC lacks good leadership; it has efficient management indeed. To move to the desired culture, HTSC needs to get a leader efficient in four quadrants of the Competing Values framework as Quinn and Cameron (2004) suggest. The leader should device a plan to move the Organization to the desired culture.

Any leader nominated for such a mission must be politically competent. XXXX country in general possesses a very political culture, almost with every human interaction. This is a unanimous observation by the expatriates who worked for HTSC.

(8) Recommendations and Conclusions

Creating change-able cultures:

Organizations that successfully changed their culture possessed an important attribute: they did not mind stepping into the unknown; they were open to new learning experiences; they willingly and proactively dealt with uncertainty, emotional confrontation and turbulence (Jones, 2006) in other words, they were “change-friendly”, or what Kotter (1996) call “adaptive corporate culture.”

The ability to continuously learn and grow was found to be key attribute for achieving long-term organizational sustainability (Jones, 2006).

Learning is continuous change process. Bennis (1989) stressed this meaning with the famous quote: “learning is being”; learning means continuously growing and adapting. Abrahamson (2006) proposes an interesting model for this kind of change that consists of mainly consistent small steps ahead, with some giant leaps on less often occasions. He calls it “tinkering and kludging”.

This is exactly what HTSC needs at this stage, especially in the light of this critical political stage, the Arab Spring.


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November 23, 2014

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