Thursday, March 26, 2009

Cutting Jobs to Change Culture?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has announced that it will cut 180 managers, following on from similar level cuts last year. As I have mentioned previously the "efficiency dividend" is challenging many government organisations but in this case it has been startling to hear the cuts are driven, in part, by the opinions of younger staff in the organisation.

The Acting Australian Statistician explained that his decision was guided, in part, by a repeated complaint from younger staff that the "management culture" was a key barrier to innovation and adaptation.

The issue of organisational culture is, to say the least, a controversial one in the academic literature and also in management practice. In practice culture is often cited as a key to organisational success or as a reason why organisations struggle to perform or achieve goals. But what do even mean by culture? Definitions abound, of course, but one of the most interesting debates in the literature on culture (well, from my view anyway) is whether culture is something an organisation has which means management can change it or use it as some form of lever; on the other hand are those that conceive of culture as something an organisation is. Here culture is a more anthropological concept which implies managers cannot do much "to" it. In practice, when we hear of attempts to change culture we often hear about how hard this is, how organisations fail at it, or how "if only we can change the culture" we would be able to do what we really want to.

Whether removing 180 managers will allow for profound cultural change, let's wait and see!

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