B S Raghavan

Evolving an organisational culture

B.S.RAGHAVAN | Updated on January 24, 2013

There is a plethora of writings on organisational behaviour and organisational culture. They are not mutually-exclusive paradigms. They are mutually reinforcing: Organisational culture determines organisational behaviour and vice-versa.

But is there something like an organisation answering to an all-encompassing, readily identifiable culture-cum-behaviour? Or is it something only insiders may know? Can there be a situation in which even insiders may be going their separate ways without being welded by shared norms and values that go to make up the culture-cum-behaviour?

Looking around, certain organisations impact the public mind with personae of their own derived from features long associated with them. For instance, take government organisations: The moment they are mentioned, based on the concatenation of experiences that people have had with them, the picture that arises is one of delays, indifference, insensitivity, shoddiness, callousness, corruption and arrogance. In totality, they seem to make up the bureaucratic culture driving government set-ups.

On the other hand, within government establishments themselves, there are some which are widely perceived to have made a name for themselves for efficiency, quality and quick service.

The examples readily coming to mind are the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), among Central public sector undertakings, and the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) and Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB), among State enterprises.


The success story of AMUL is well-known and has been the subject of any number of studies. It stands out as a well-knit grid of milk cooperative societies, and has become a brand in its own right.

The IIMs and IITs too, with their aura of excellence, have done India proud so much so that the very fact of being their products is a passport to immediate acceptance by reputed companies all over the globe.

How is an organisation infused with, or acquire, a culture of its own?

To answer this question, one will have to go back to the very origin of the organisation itself for, everything depends upon the vision and leadership of those who conceived it and got it going, the traditions and systems they implanted in it, the people they selected or inducted to run it, and the norms and values they inculcated.

One organisation that illustrates this in an ample measure is the IIM, Ahmedabad. I have personal knowledge of the tremendous dedication and commitment to the most stringent criteria of excellence of its first director, Ravi Mathai. He was often in the room of the Home Secretary, L. P. Singh, ICS, who could hold his own before any blue-blooded academic with his erudition; I used to be in on their discussions and watched at close quarters how an institution was being shaped with meticulous attention to standards and methods, helping it to become a shining beacon with its many impressive achievements.

The traditions and the best practices that Ravi Mathai instilled in IIM-A, have endured to this day with all other IIMs heavily drawing on them.


The same applies to Amul which had the good fortune to have Verghese Kurien as its progenitor and path setter, who led it to triumph after triumph for over a generation.

One important reason for the spectacular performance of such organisations was that in the 1960s, the politicians, most of them of Gandhian vintage, were imbued with a sense of public duty and honesty of purpose. But for the encouragement provided by Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Gulzarilal Nanda, IIM-A could not have acquired the world class stature it has.

Likewise, but for the almost clairvoyant discernment shown by C. Subramaniam, in choosing Kurien to head Amul, and giving him a free hand, keeping out the entrenched bureaucrats in the Central Ministries, India would not have fired the world’s imagination with its Milk Revolution.

Can anything be done to turn around and tone up the culture of an organisation which is not up to the mark or has fallen from its once great heights? Difficult, although it can still be done, but not by adopting the policy of gradualism.

One must be willing to go the whole hog and be prepared to resort to a root-and-branch replacement of both systems and personnel in key positions.

The person brought in to spearhead the exercise should involve himself directly in every aspect of the turnaround, so as to make it holistic and time-bound.

Published on January 24, 2013

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