The Organizational Culture (Or: My Organisation – Right or Wrong)


The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse has completed its second “case study” – the YMCA and Jonathan Lord (see previous postings).

The enquiry focused on how he managed to slip past the YMCA’s filter for paedophiles, and whether or not those filters were adequate, or adhered to by its staff. What it did not cover adequately, was the organizational culture of the YMCA.

Business management texts, these days, pay a lot of attention to the concept of organizational culture. This is loosely defined as the sum total of the myths, history and attitudes within the organisation. It very much affects how an organisation reacts to events.

From the evidence at the recent hearings, it is obvious that the YMCA culture has become dysfunctional. Staff are reluctant to talk to superiors about important issues, such as the Lord case, and those superiors, in turn, are reluctant to listen. Staff have indicated that they not only feel unsupported, they even feel intimidated by superiors.

The YMCA is a rather old organisation and has a conservative approach to management. It seems to be run by “insiders”. People join it at a young age, and are promoted over lengthy periods, until they reach senior positions. For example, the CEO, Phillip Hare, joined it at 21 years while another manager had been with the organisation for over 20 years.

Promotion is by length of service. This reflects the old “seniority” system characteristic of the Government jobs of the last century, when it was the formal practice, when two candidates had the same qualifications, to give the job to the one with the greatest number of years in their present job. Many large organisations also adopted this practice, which ignored anything other than formal qualifications and length of service.

Most organisations, and governments, have ceased to use “seniority” as the only criteria for promotion, but the YMCA appears to still use it. All of its top people have “risen through the ranks”.

Another cultural problem is that it promotes from existing employees, in general. Again, this is an old practice, with most modern organisations acknowledging the need to have a proportion of positions filled from outside the organisation.

There is even a hint of cronyism. One staffer, who was shown by the enquiry to be essentially incompetent, still received a later promotion. There was the example of Lord, himself, who was employed despite not having any qualifications. The YMCA is clearly not a meritocracy.

One curious omission in questioning by counsel assisting, Gail “Snow White” Furness, was the matter of the qualifications of YMCA managers. How many had formal child care qualifications, management qualifications etc.? This would have been useful information.

It is often the case, in organisations with a strong cultural influence on staff, with promotion from within, and an ad hoc hiring system, that employees are concerned mostly with impressing superiors and protecting the organisation, than with delivering services to clients. The Catholic Church is clearly in this category, and it would seem that the YMCA (formerly known as the Young Men’s Christian Association) is almost as bad in this regard.

Indeed, after what has been revealed at the Royal Commission, expect some management academic to write the YMCA up as a case study for students, as an example of poor organizational cultural practices.

TOMORROW: Who is Alan Kitchingman?

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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