Having understood the type of change you wish to make the second part of charting the ‘territory’ is to understand the lie of the land (the culture and political environment in which you are travelling) which will help you avoid the steep climbs and major obstacles where possible and work with the lines of least resistance.
There are two aspects of the issue of culture and change. Firstly, the importance of working with the existing culture when seeking to effect any change; and secondly, how to go about changing the culture itself. Both require shrewd and effective leadership.
When asked ‘what is culture?’ staff in the sector subscribed almost unanimously to the common definition of culture as being ‘the way we do things around here’. Culture involves both the explicit way of working – the formal systems and processes in place and how they operate, and the tacit level of operation – the informal and semi-formal networks and other activities that people employ to get things done and by-pass, subvert or seek to influence the more formal processes.
Culture provides the context for our working lives and defines the standards by which we expect to be judged and the processes and procedures by which we expect to be involved in the activities which affect us. When dealing with change it’s important to recognise that different institutions have different cultures and that within institutions different areas and different academic subjects also have their own way of doing things – their own cultures. Larger departments will contain their own sub-cultures. Thus it is impossible to talk about a generic culture in post compulsory education.
Culture can be transmitted by:
- The philosophy of the institution – themes like equity and diversity, widening participation, striving for excellence in teaching; research reputation etc.
- The mission statement
- The criteria for evaluating and rewarding performance, job progression etc.
- The approach to change which is adopted
- The way in which leaders act
Culture is also transmitted in the informal history of the organisation that is shared in stories and legends about key people and events that have affected the organisation.