No Turning Back:
An Analysis of the Organisational
Transformation of Business
Change has itself become a characteristic of a changing
world. If there is one thing that is certain it is that things
does not effect an organisation or its culture. The change in paradigm will be an acceptance of the inevitability
of change and the incorporation of the notion of change into the process of organisation and business. The
concept of continual improvement, or what the Japanese refer to as, kaizen, (12) will become the essential
part of corporate culture. In this paradigm, the past will be continually abandoned and innovation and creativity
will be organised and built into the systematic processes of an organisation. Drucker believes that it is the
nature of the task, and not the community, that determines the culture of an organisation. (13) As the task is
redefined and becomes more decentralised and contracted to others, so too, corporate culture will be
redefined. The distribution of power, authority, finance, responsibility and achievement will all move from the
top to the bottom, as it were, as the workforce is empowered and liberated from industrial systems of
command and control.
The society of the imminent future is a knowledge society. As people have more knowledge, they have more
power over their lives and their work. While knowledge workers will not be a majority of people within a
society, and may not the ruling class, they will be leading class. This not to say that manual labour will
disappear, but rather that manual labour in itself will become more highly skilled and require more knowledge
to work in the majority of industries: From hospitals to hotels, from schools to sports, people will approach
their field will more knowledge and more skill. From all this, the knowledge society will be an employee
society. From the agricultural era to the industrial era, the vast majority of people have worked or been
subservient to some other authority or owner of wealth and power. Previous societies have been ‘master’
dominated societies. Both the gemeinschaft (community) and the gesellschaft (society), as Tonnies depicted
German society last century, will change as the employee takes charge of their time, skill, and tools of
production. (14) What alienated the worker in the industrial age, Marx suggested, was their inability to own
their tools of production. But in the knowledge age, knowledge itself is the tool or production and the means
by which work will be redefined.
Still, Toffler and Drucker speak in sweeping terms. They describe a changing world and suggest
characteristics and prospects for the future but are not directly concerned to address the effect such change
will have on organisational culture or, indeed, how organisational culture will respond and even resist change.
This consideration needs special attention.
Geert Hofstede, in his famous survey of the value systems of some 40 nations and while drawing conclusion
about the organisational profile of these single nation states, his analysis aimed to give a clue as to the culture of
organisations with those states. (15)
Hofstede compared organisational culture by four categories: power, uncertainty avoidance, individualism, and
masculinity/femininity. (1) High power distance he defined as the acceptance without question by less
empowered people within a culture of the authority and power of the more empowered. (2) Uncertainty
avoidance the extent to which of a culture try to avoid that which is unclear, uncertain, unstable and untested
and in response try to establish strict codes of procedure and laws of absolute truth. (3) Low individualism
refers to the bonding and cultural expectation of an individual by the group of culture. The interests of the
group have precedent over those of the individual and at the same time the individual is expected to remain
loyal to the group. (4) Masculinity/Femininity refers to the roles of individuals as defined by their gender and
the expectation that the males and females have different functions and relationships of authority and access
within a culture. (16)
The implication from Hofstede’s study is that the culture of an organisation is a power determinant of the
behaviour of the individual within that culture and that the culture, as known to the organisation through
tradition, expectation and procedure, will resist change to behavioural norms. New technology in computing
and communication of itself will probably not effect organisational culture. Fear, power and procedure as
expressed through the values of the members of an organisation can and will remain dominant traits or
organisational culture. While change in technology and even the nature of work may weaken organisational
culture, it may also cause the organisation to close rather than to open: The organisation may (1) restrict
access and privilege - as evident in confidentiality agreements and security passes for organisations (2) avoid
uncertainty - as evident in an ever growing legislative/policy procedure for government and business, (3)
require more of an individual in terms of loyalty and commitment - as evident in the team player philosophy of
contemporary business culture. Given that there are obvious and generally accepted changes in gender role
expectations occurring across the world, the other features of Hofstede’s study indicate that the emergence of
a knowledge era may not necessarily bring the kind of organisational cultural changes they suggest.
The results of another landmark study, but from a different field, by Jackall of business ethics among American
business organisations in the 1980s, tends to support the analysis of Hofstede. Jackall talks of how ethics, as a
decision making process in the context of others and cultural expectation, is a day-to-day experience for
people in the workplace. He says; “But only an understanding of how men and women in business actually
experience their work enables one to grasp its moral salience for them. ... it regulates people’s experiences of
time and indeed routines their lives by engaging them on a daily basis in rational, socially approved, purposive
action.” (17) Jackall’s research of business management and corporate culture in the early 1980s led him to
the conclusion that the ethical culture, or ethos, of managerial circles emerged directly out of social context.
That is to say, “...that the ethical behaviour of people within a company or organisation directly relates to the
social expectations of the corporate culture. And managers are continually tested even as they continually test
others. They turn to each other for moral cues for behaviour and come to fashion specific situational moralities
for significant others in the world.” (18)
Again, the point is that it is the organisation’s culture and not the individual that determines attitudes and values
for that culture. Individuals define there position and interrelationships within the organisation by how they
uphold the expectations of the organisation. Organisations tend to be far more culturally homogeneous than the
societies they exist within. Accordingly, while Toffler and Drucker may describe societal and even global
change, changing a organisation’s culture may be far more cumbersome.
The work of Paul Bates from the University of Bath from a series of studies between 1975 and 1984,
identified six specific aspects of organisation culture that appear linked to dysfunctional predispositions within
organisations and create resistance to change. The six cultural orientations are: (1) unemotionally - where
expressing one’s real feelings about a problem or issue are avoided resulting in problems being internalised and
unresolved; (2) Depersonalisation of problems - where no individual is ever singled out or blamed for a
problem and formal criticism of individuals is considered as unprofessional; (3) Subordination - where
individuals only do tasks assigned to them and when in doubt wait for directions from superiors; (4)
Conservatism - where change is believed to probably make things worse rather than better; (5) Isolationism -
where individuals keep to themselves, do their own job and never trespass into other people’s areas; and (6)
Antipathy - where individuals assume that others in the organisation will always oppose new and creative ideas
and accordingly other are to be mistrusted. (19)
Perhaps more than Hofstede or Jackall, Bates addresses the nature of change-resistance and, as he calls it,
dysfunction within organisations. He identifies the specific values and attitudes that characterise the milieu of
non-change and malaise of bureaucracies. Similarly, Richard Scott says that organisations ; “... employ
buffering techniques - coding, stockpiling, leveling, forecasting, and adjustments in scale - to seal off their
technical core from environmental disturbances.” (20) Organisations are expert in adapting to the threat of
change or even to change in the course of preserving the organisation at any cost. And so the Bates study
indicates how even change and the creativity of individuals is stifled and controlled through both procedural
expectation and cultural values in order that the organisation be preserved.
Accordingly, if change is to occur as rapidly and as radically as Toffler suggests, than the assumption is that the
redefining of the nature of the task (in terms of knowledge driven), or of work, will be powerful enough to
effect the nature of the cultural interrelationships of power, authority, an change resistance.
An example of the difficulties of reforming an organisation is found in the efforts to remodel the New South
Wales Police Service. When John Avery became Police Commissioner in 1984 he joined together the two
arms of NSW policing: the Police Department and the Police Force. The Department consisted mainly of
civilians who carried out bureaucratic and office functions. The Force consisted of the police officers. The
fundamental problem in combining these two arms of policing was that they had vastly different corporate
cultures. While the Department was typical of other government organisations and displayed the characteristics
of organisational culture as described by Hofstede and Bates, the Force was a paramilitary organisation which
was task driven - law enforcement - and far more regimented than the Department. (21)
Bringing the Force and the Department together meant trying to create a new culture and a different model of
policing as service.
Avery sought to bring change by creating the Police Service and to redefine policing in terms of community-
based policing. The Service aimed to focus police on involving the community in the enforcement and
prevention of crime. This change of focus involved a restructuring of the way the police managed their business
but it also involved reappraising the value and the role of police in service delivery. That is, it was recognised
that if police structures and behaviour were to change then the values and attitudes of people who manage and
work within the structure must also be encouraged to change. Yet, once the role of police had begun to be
questioned, any view that police were beyond reproach was discarded.
Some ten years after Avery took office, Aptech Australia was asked to conduct a survey of the organisation
culture of the NSW Police Service. They found that police officers were generally discontent with elements of
the Service. The Report showed that 50% of staff believed they were not valued and 46% believed they could
not express their opinions without fear of reprisal. There was a general belief among police officers that there
was a lack of support for beat police by headquarters and that headquarters was out of touch with the patrols.
The survey indicates that the strongest aspect of the organisational culture was the enjoyment people got from
working in teams. The problem was that in the police context, with so much movement of staff and shift work,
people often found themselves excluded by in-groups or power groups. (22)
If anything, the survey indicates that even with all the best intentions, organisation, computer equipment and
strategies, changing an organisation’s culture is a difficult and time consuming activity. Within the rapidly
changing social environment traditional policing methods have become obsolete as the public demands a
different kind of policing service. Public scrutiny of policing in Queensland as well as NSW in recent years
testifies to the general withdrawal of public support and respect. Still, the Aptech Report indicates that a
change in strategy or model for an organisation is not complete and of limited effect without a change in
organisational culture. This is something that the NSW Police Service is still struggling with. (23)
A different kind of organisational culture change is evident in the experiences of Brunei. This small country
located on the north of Borneo has been thrown from an agrarian age into the ‘knowledge’ age or high-tech
age over the past 40 years because of its oil reserves and new found wealth. It is an interesting case study
because it has seemingly totally missed the industrial age: It has virtually no industry or exports to speak of. It
is experiencing extraordinary infrastructural and housing growth and readily accepting the gadgets of an
electronic age as if it was all part of just being modern. Mobile phones, for example, are as common as home
As a British protectorate from 1906 to 1983, British was involvement in developing the oil fields but also in
developing a British style of government bureaucracy. As one of the wealthiest states in the world, and very
little private sector development, the Brunei Government can afford to employ far more people than is really
requires and the majority of the population. The result is that given the lack of work to maintain a fully
functional bureaucracy and the British legacy of requiring everything in triplicate, nothing gets done in less than
the procedural month. (24)
The combination of Brunei culture and tradition, religious fundamentalism, extensive bureaucracy, Blunt
suggests make for a organisational culture that has a predisposition against hard work or efficiency. (25) The
essential problem for Brunei, and perhaps other parts of Malaysia, is that while it is faced with the
opportunities offered it by the emergence of a ‘knowledge’ era, and the financial resources to embrace it, it is
caught in a crisis between the conflicting government policies of advancement and cultural preservation. While
the tensions within organisational culture as described by Hofstede and Bates probably apply to a greater or
lesser extent, the countries problem with dealing with progress exist predominantly on a macro (national) level
rather than a micro (organisational) level.
With its lack of industrial baggage and antiquated infrastructure along with its natural wealth, Brunei is the envy
of many countries with exactly the opposite predicament. Yet, as a new and emerging nation, it is among the
first to witness the changes in technology and civilization that Toffler speaks about. The question, however,
remains, will greater freedom of movement and increased power and self sufficiency among workers cause
organisations to become more open and trusting or cause them to become more secretive and closed?
In conclusion, Toffler and Drucker may be right; the world may see the emergence of a new civilisation, in the
short term however, organisations are likely to treat change and the threat of change in the usual way, with
suspicion, withdrawal and regulation. The change of a civilisation will bring its conflict as power, authority and
even organisational culture cling to established patterns and traditions.
3. op.cit., p.20.
4. op. cit., p.15.
5. op cit., p.47.
6. Hammer. M. & Champy. J. (1994) Reengineering the Corporation, Nicholas Brealey, London, p.3.
7. op.cit. p.28
8. op. cit p.78
9. Drucker, P. (1995) Management in a Time of Great Change, Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford, p.59.
10. Drucker p.125
11. Drucker p.69.
12. Drucker p.71
13. Drucker p.73
14. Drucker p.125
15 Blunt. P. (1988) “Cultural Consequences for Organisation
Change in A Southeast
16. Blunt. p.237
17. Jackall. R. (1988) Moral Mazes. Oxford University Press, New York, p.5.
18. Jackall. p.193
19. Blunt p.239
20. Scott. W.R. (1992) Organisations: Rational, Natural and Open Systems. Prentice Hall, New York, p.225.
21. Aptech Australia, (1994) Cultural Survey Report for the New South Wales Police Service, Sydney, pp. 1-4.
22. Aptech pp.1-4.
23. Aptech pp.1-4.
24. Doshi, T., (1997) Brunei Economy, The Far East and Australasia, 28th ed. p.164.
25. Blunt p.239