Organisational Culture

Later today the Faculty Executive Team will meet for another ‘away-day’ to discuss further how we can meet the aspirations defined in Vision 2021. In my first blog I noted that our first away-day was focussed on ‘Strategy into Action’ – looking in detail at the grand statements in Vision 20121, clarifying what these mean exactly,  and determining the actions required to achieve them. Hopefully everyone will know what the resulting actions are, either from your School or Unit Management Team or from this blog.

This is all well and good, but there is another actor on the stage that has the potential to accelerate our progress, or indeed to spoil the party. I’m talking about organisational culture. Without wishing to delve too much into ‘management speak’, I can illustrate this with an example. Consider Federal Express (FedEx) – most people would use this company for deliveries that are absolutely critical. Why? – because customers widely believe that FedEx will “absolutely, positively get it there overnight”. Clearly reliability is a key competitive advantage to FedEx.  So what are the critical tasks that ensure it maintains the advantage? These will include the need to invest in the latest technology, scheduling, logistics etc – but critically, employees believe the absolute importance of customer service. The ‘norms and values’ of the organisation encompass speed, a sense of urgency, teamwork, initiative, flexibility. Organisational culture is an important part of the package that creates the competitive advantage for FedEx. While the original vision of FedEx might have been  an aspiration to be the world-leader in courier services, they could not have achieved this without the appropriate culture throughout the organisation.

Surely the same rules must apply in our sector.  After all, given the recent upheaval as a result of the Browne review (amongst other things), we find ourselves in a much more competitive environment where we need to maintain an advantage. Thus, today we will be looking at our current culture – what is really important to us? – how do things really get done in SAgE? – what is at the top of the agenda? – what gets forgotten?. We will then ask whether this culture is appropriate to achieve the critical tasks necessary to achieve our vision. Where there are gaps, we will need to look at our values, such as appropriate reward and recognition, in order to close them. I’ll report on the outcome through these pages in a couple of weeks.


About stevehomans

Professor Steve Homans is a structural biologist with an international reputation in the study of biomolecular interactions. He obtained his first degree and DPhil in Biochemistry at Oxford University, and secured his first academic position as Lecturer at the University of Dundee. In 1998 he received the Zeneca award from the Biochemical Society and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Prior to his current appointment he was Dean of the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds. Professor Homans brings extensive expertise of academic leadership and management, with a particular emphasis on organisational change.
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One Response to Organisational Culture

  1. Joanne Middleton says:

    Coming from the IT side, I see that cultural change is something that is desperately needed within this organisation. There are development methodologies that are designed to instigate rapid change both within the software product and within the organisation itself, creating a low risk, high customer satisfaction, high success rate of the project. Yet these methodologies for various reasons aren’t always being used. Then there is the fact that IT is not always in alignment with the business: multiple visions often drive projects rather than the one clear vision which makes it harder to identify how your product and service can fit in to the big picture. I’m interested in the implementation side of change.

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