How Valuable is University Organizational Culture for Success?

Like any other workplaces or organizations, universities have specific characteristics that make them and their workers different from that of the others. A university possesses a culture that binds its members’ thoughts, emotions, and inquisitions which would be manifested in their behaviors and actions. The values and beliefs they hold would further shape the organizational structure, human resource practices, and organizational culture, all forming important components of an organizational ethos. Hence, a university ethos is related to the character and value of academics, staff, and students who belong to a university, identified as University Organizational Culture (UOC) which could be regarded as the personality of a university.

University Organizational Culture refers to the collective setting of the mind, shared beliefs and values, or common behaviors of academics, management, support system personnel as well as students. The most important identifier of UOC is the same pattern of feeling,  thinking, and behavior among members in that they belong to a university and, thus, have certain missions for them to accomplish. This communality aspect marks the members' grip on the spirit of belonging in attempts to attain their university’s vision and goals.  

When would a set of thinking, feeling, and actions be identified as UOC?  It ensues at the macro-level of a university, across all kinds of job categories. Any feeling, thinking, and behavior will not be considered as a culture if it is not demonstrated by all or at least majority members of the university. For example, a common practice is not considered as UOC if it only involves a specific group of university members (e.g., academics/faculty) and not shared by others (e.g., management & support system personnel). The common practices of academics, such as academic integrity and scholarship, is not regarded as the UOC if it is not embraced by the university's management and support system personnel but only the sub-culture (i.e., academic culture) of the overall culture. The same applies to the common practice of management and support system personnel. The audit culture, for example, is commonly associated with the management staff and not among the academics and support system personnel. Thus, this audit culture is only considered the university’s management culture, instead of UOC. 

UOC creates a distinct and unique characteristic of a university, recognizable by other universities and the general public. It is transmitted in the university community through continuous interaction among other members, which provides a frame of reference that influences an individual member’s perception, feeling, thinking, and behavior. Understanding the institutional ethos is essential for successful leadership and any change management. In this regard, understanding UOC is important in the effort of nurturing meaningful accomplishment of tasks, duties, and responsibilities among members. It is also essential in designing suitable interventions to develop the university community’s readiness and openness to any change initiatives.

University Organizational Culture is manifested at three different levels. The most observable manifestation of UOC is at the behavioral level. Common behaviors demonstrated by all or majority members of the university, such as common actions, practices, norms, traditions, and ceremonies are the UOC. The UOC can be manifested as well at the cognitive level that involves higher mental processes, such as understanding, thinking, mentality, mindset, and strategy. The culture of excellence, for example, is the UOC originated from the members’ mentality that drives academics, management, support system personnel, and students to perform their tasks and duties in the best possible way. UOC, in this instance, is manifested at the cognitive level. At the affective level, UOC involves emotions and feelings which are usually influenced by members’ beliefs and values. Members’ shared feelings towards the university’s reputation, such as the feeling of pride and sense of belonging, are examples of UOC manifested at the affective level. 

Organizational culture is very significant for the survival, development, and wellbeing of the university. UOC is the main contributor to how the university reacts to the challenges and circumstances faced by the university. A strong and positive culture will ensure a university remains steadfast in its values, mission, and identity. On the other hand, weak and negative UOC will make a university complacent and face mounting tasks to change and move forward.

In summary, the UOC will steer university members to decide whether the university will have a sustained competitive advantage or be dominated by the increasingly changing environment.  

Mohd Ferdaus Harun completed his Ph.D. degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology in 2020 from the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). He is currently a freelance research consultant whose research interests include organizational culture in higher education institutions, change and development in higher education, psychometric, applicant reactions, and Islamic psychology.

Shukran Abdul Rahman is a professor at the Department of Psychology, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM); and Dean of the Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences. He teaches and conducts research in the area of Industrial and Organisational Psychology.

Jusmawati Fauzaman is an assistant professor at the Department of Psychology, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). She teaches and conducts research in the area of Industrial and Organisational Psychology as well as Psychology of Personality and Psychological Assessment. 

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