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Social scientists and business planning consultants have long strived to bring in some clarity to the elusive notion of organizational culture. Some describe culture as group norms, others – as rules of the game (Schein, 1987), still others – as formal rituals and celebrations. Indeed, organizational culture is one of those methodologically resistant concepts laden with conflicting views and overlapping theories. Organizational culture is thus often considered something elusive, which is hard to delineate clearly. Nonetheless, studies on culture in the organization should be a useful endeavor since it permeates any organization’s everyday routines and work flow.

Preface

A distinguishing aspect of Dubai Municipality (DM), an organization that will be analyzed in this paper, is the strong presence of central leadership of HRH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who largely shapes the socioeconomic processes in the city. His goal for the future of Dubai is removing all economic barriers and motivating the populace to contribute more at the workplace. Policymakers are guided by the assumption that a profound change in organizational culture can accomplish better levels of job satisfaction and give momentum to the organization necessary for accomplishing its goals. Whether it is possible or not, given the inherent nature of organizational culture, will be investigated on the example of DM.

The paper starts off with an overview of DM and its “hard” characteristics, such as industry, age, size, and location, that will be described in detail. Then, the organizational culture of Dubai Municipality will be looked at through several paradigms of organizational behavior. The paper thoroughly analyses current organizational culture of DM and attempts to connect it to the declared organizational strategic goals and short-term objectives, which can potentially guide policymakers to decisions improving the effectiveness of that government institution in the future. Recommendations on how to accomplish a better culture are also included.

Overview of Dubai Municipality

Dubai Municipality is considered as one of the biggest organizations in the United Arab Emirates. DM is the local government sector responsible for all infrastructural development and maintenance of public facilities, and delivery of services to the residents of the Emirate of Dubai. Its central Head Office is located in Deira district of Dubai, with the functional branches scattered all over the city. HRH Sheikh Saeed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum  established DM in early 1940s with only three staff members. The public institution with three staff team only grew immensely reaching more than 10,000 staff members with more than 34 working departments. They provide various services to the public, including but not limited to waste management, urban planning, irrigation and sewerage network, building safety and control, and other municipal amenities. In addition to these services, DM is accountable for approving and issuing building and engineering permits, as well as other inspecting and licensing rules and regulations. It also promotes Dubai’s cultural heritage through preservation of the historical sites within its jurisdiction. Furthermore, DM plays a vital role in the execution of various development projects in the city that has already become a tourism landmark in the region (Government of Dubai Website, 2012).  

Organizational Structure

DM manifests the features of a mechanistic organizational structure, as compared to organizations with an organic structure. According to the classification by Burns and Stalker (1961), organizational structures can be mechanistic or organic. These two types usually differ in communication style, the flow of information across the organization, and decision making process. For example, the mechanistic structure is perceived to be the best for stable and predictable organizational behavior, while organic structure works better where the environment is  considered unstable. DM has adopted an organizational structure that is highly mechanistic, whereby the control is exercised from the top of the organization. The organizational units in DM are gathered into functional groups in respect to the purpose of each department. Every department is further divided into various divisions depending on the services it provides to the public (Fig. 1). For instance, the planning department is subdivided into four divisions and each division is mandated to provide unique services to the public. The main advantage of the mechanistic structure of DM is that all its employees normally have an explicit job description that makes them more productive and helps them clearly envision their career path.

DM, like any other classical organization, balances out the processes of work division and work coordination. The necessity of work division derives from natural variations among people, who have different competencies, inborn talents, and personalities. The fact that DM has branched out so extensively in the past 50 years is because of the necessity to specialize in different areas of public operations and services and become more efficient. A counterbalance to work division is work coordination, which, according to Gulick, is based on a determined chain of command and the singleness of purpose. Insomuch as the constituting departments of DM are divided, they are subordinated to a determined chain of command and have to collaborate with each other while working on organizational objectives.

Organizational Culture

Before inspecting the organizational culture of DM, it is useful to provide some theoretical background. In the organizational context, organizational culture may mean “the way we do things around here” or “the rules of the game” that help people get along in the organization. Organizational culture thus implies the values, expectations, beliefs, and social glue that holds the organization together for a common objective. In this regard, Killman et al. (1985: 11) made a fascinating observation in saying that “Culture is to the organization what personality is to the individual – a hidden yet unifying theme that provides meaning, direction, and mobilization”.

Unlike Killman et al. (1985), who regarded organizational culture as something existing here and now in the organization, Schein (1987) viewed organizational culture as a longitudinal construct that evolves with time under the influences of leaders, traditional culture of the nation, and organizational advances. Organizational culture formation is a historical process of trial and errors, whereby only the most working and prevalent ways of doing things can survive. It means that positive values spread among employees can become a driver of success for any organization, including DM. In addition, Schein described culture as functioning on three levels – artefacts, values, and assumptions – that range from day-to-day managerial activities to implied rules of the game. He also believed organizational culture may be a roadmap that leads to change (ibid.).

According to Schein’s model, DM presents several artefacts of vertical organizational hierarchy that can be visible, e.g., VIP elevators and suite rooms which are used by high ranking managers only. It is further characterized by the presence of an underground park for managers, offices of different sizes depending on the managerial rank, open parking spaces for employees, and the use of modern technology in enforcing the chain of command. The mentioned physical manifestations of a strict hierarchy at DM ensue from the more subtle level of values and norms prevalent in the organization.

Unlike artefacts, values and norms are invisible and include such organizational aspects as observance of formal rules and regulations, cost cutting measures, and training for employees. On the informal side lie the needs for respect and courtesy among employees, searching of stability, risk taking avoidance, and the desire to advance. Values and norms are apparent in DM organizational statutes and mission statements, as will be seen in the following chapter. For example, ensuring governance of Dubai management performance, mentioned in DM’s strategic plan for 2010-2014, clearly points that the organization values accountability in public management.

The last layer in Schein’s model is basic assumptions, which are the invisible forces behind organizational values, norms, and artefacts. DM is normally assumed to be the core building block for the Dubai government sectors, because most of its projects are prestigious and aim at achieving 100 percent customer satisfaction. This indispensability of DM for Dubai populace and businesses may be seen as a basic assumption of DM’s management and employees that shapes their values and goals.

DM’s organizational culture also fits well in the Cultural Web model developed by Gerry Johnson and Kevan Scholes (2002). The Cultural Web can be applied on three levels of analysis: a) providing the snapshot of current organizational culture, b) outlining the desired organizational change, and c) taking measures necessary to adopt the desired change in organizational culture. In respect to the Cultural Web Model, DM’s organizational culture has several distinct characteristics. For example, around Dubai, this government institution is known for the tendency for frequent promotions and cost-efficiency of operation (stories). On a regular working day, employees use a traditional communication style and often resort to scapegoating in case of complications (rites and rituals). They also comply with a dress code and pursue the zero visit objective (symbols). The organizational structure is functional and hierarchical, meaning that DM exercises principles of both functional division of work and subordination. Control systems at DM include, for example, budget documents and mechanisms for redressing grievances. Finally, DM is subordinated to the supreme leadership of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed (power structures).

Vision, Mission, and Strategic Plan

It is widely acknowledged that His Highness Sheikh Mohammed has developed Dubai and led it to becoming one of the greatest cities all over the world. Furthermore, his goal has been to create a favorable environment that allows every resident of the country to reach self-fulfillment and to have a high living standard. In the year 2007, DM under his auspices launched the Dubai Strategic Plan 2015 with the aim of placing Dubai on the world map as a financially and economically stable region. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed have pursued his strategic plan through establishing Dubai Government Excellence Program Award (DGEP), which emphasizes the quality of each organization across the government sector and internalizes it across all levels in the organization in order to upgrade its performance and results, services and practices to a professional degree. This policy initiative, in addition to the organization’s vision statement, will also serve a useful source for our research in analyzing the organizational vision, missions, goals and strategic plans of DM.

DM’s vision statement emphasizes “Creating an excellent city that provides the essence of success and comfort of sustainable living”.  The mission statement of DM is “working to plan, design, build and manage the municipal infrastructure, facilities and services through the appropriate investment in our human and other resources maintaining the sustainable development” (ibid.) In the attempt to achieve its strategic vision and mission at all levels of the organization, DM acts on the basis of the following core values:

  • Employees: Treating employees as the real assets.

  • Stakeholders: Ensuring commitment to partnership and appreciation of their needs and expectations.

  • Transformation: endeavoring for positive change and development.

  • Performance: Accurately doing what is right.

  • Interdependence: Focusing on teamwork through sharing of ideas and cooperation.

  • Innovation: Adopting initiatives that recognize innovators (ibid.).

In order for Dubai Municipality to achieve its strategic goals captured in vision and mission statements, it has set long-term objectives to be attained in five years. These objectives include, for example, the provision of new jobs to local people, especially fresh graduates and all those striving to improve their social position in Dubai. At the same time, DM works to ensure a clean and sustainable environment by administering respective permits to potentially hazardous industries. DM attends to enhancing public health by building new health care facilities and constantly improving the training for medical staff. It also declares the course at enhancing human resource (HR) management, as seen in the core values above, and sufficiently motivating stakeholders to work towards DM’s objectives and goals.

DM is implementing its strategic plan through setting short-term projects and also through providing the physical needs for their employees and the public outside. DM implements many projects in different areas, such as five-year urban development projects and monitoring land use by keeping user database across the Emirate. In order to ensure that the planned projects meet their specified deadlines and timelines, the results are usually linked to the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which are either strategic or operational. Strategic Key Performance Indicators measure the achievement of the strategic plan, while operational KPIs check the daily routine work and projects to ensure that they achieve the set goals. Furthermore, KPIs are linked to Critical Success Factors (CSFs) are also normally linked with the objectives of each department in order to follow on the strategy, which consequently leads to the realization of the organization’s vision. On the HR side, DM is encouraging teamwork by letting the employees, customers, and partners be part of the team, especially in project implementation. Teamwork produces a more enjoyable environment among DM’s stakeholders and lets them feel that they are responsible, committed, and creative. On the other hand this helps them to develop  their career path.

DM’s Organizational Culture and Goals

In trying to link the peculiarities of DM’s organizational culture and how they affect attainment of the mission, vision, and strategic goals of this organization, it is important to break organizational culture in components and see if they play well together and serve the best interest of the organization. Only then, it will be possible to say with some certainty whether or not organizational culture propels the long-term strategic goals and objectives mentioned in the previous chapter. The most important of these components of organizational culture are historical development of organization, employee motivation, principles of employee enumeration and satisfaction of their basic needs.

Putting Schein’s (1987) theory into practice, the evolution of organizational culture at DM has been an ongoing flow of trials followed by errors. When Sheikh Muhammad established the organization, he blended in his initial vision, strategies, values, and beliefs into the newly born organizational framework. Over time, that initial mix of values gained support in accomplishments and growth and weakened in failures and temporal changes until it eventually formed a host of “hardened” values that have become explicitly or implicitly shared by new and existing members of the organization. Therefore, current organizational culture at DM is still in progress and, if the right stimuli are applied, it could further change in the favored direction.

One major determinant in whether DM employees and partners would contribute positively or negatively to their organizational objectives is their motivation. There are several theories trying to explain why people feel motivated or demotivated. Maslow’s theory of basic needs presents a fascinating account of chief human motivators which come into play in the work place. The scientist asserts that human needs compose a hierarchy with the higher needs like esteem and self-actualization on top and the basic needs like food and security on the bottom. Maslow argues that the organization will be most productive when it gratifies both basic and higher needs of its employees.

DM has thus far been committed to fairly evaluating and remunerating its employees by using the newest HR technology and practicing merit-based promotions. These policies appear to be satisfying employees higher level needs for self-actualization, recognition, and belonging. However, some misbalance in skill levels and work division that can be observed across certain departments within DM may contribute negatively to the stakeholders’ sense of job security and afflict their motivation. Maslow also stresses the importance of interaction in satisfying the higher-level needs of stakeholders. In this vein, DM has opened numerous communication channels internally and externally. Employees and other stakeholders of DM can freely exchange their views in work-related conferences, seminars, meetings, and internet forums. In addition, each department holds meetings with employees and partners on a regular basis in order to incorporate their needs and concerns in the decision making process. In such a way, DM has been trying to reinforce its vision across the entire organization. This ensures that organizational goals resonate in the organization’s daily routines and rituals, which make up organizational culture.

An important role in organizational culture of employees and partners and their motivation is played by job enrichment policies. The respective theory was put forth by Herzberg (1974), who distinguished between motivators and hygiene factors. According to the scholar, motivators ensue from recognition, progress, and greater responsibilities bestowed upon employees for certain contributions. Hygiene factors have to do with remuneration and company administration. For example, participation of DM employees in different projects serves as a motivator and ensures that employees feel committed, responsible, and creative. If these motivating values are constantly present inside DM’s work force, they will move the organization forward.

DM has counted in the hygienic factors by linking its performance to Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that measure the achievement of the strategic plan and check the daily work routine for compliance with the set goals. Based on this methodology, human resources are motivated to go along the organizational objectives. However, the rumors of not sufficiently transparent promotions denigrate the employee’s sense of importance and motivation, which has an adverse impact on DM’s mission accomplishment. Besides, surveys indicate that some stakeholders do not experience job enrichment because they feel their opinions are being ignored.

To answer the question of relationship between DM’s organizational culture and its impact on the accomplishment of organizational goals, more research is needed. It will take time until the Dubai Strategic Plan 2015 yields fruit. At the same time, it will take new studies to gauge more accurately which stakeholder needs are satisfied and which are not. Such measure will help us gain a better snapshot of DM’s organizational culture and devise better policies for its change.

Conclusion

DM is a public institution whose prime purpose is to serve its customers, employees, partners, and the general public. Throughout its history, DM has grown extensively manifesting classical principles of work division and coordination, which ensure organization has been running smoothly and efficiently. DM has adopted a mechanistic organizational structure, which is deemed the most suitable for strictly hierarchical and stable organizations. Its major subdivisions into departments by function and the supreme leadership of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum the Ruler of Dubai speak in favor of the mechanistic organizational structure.

Despite extensive debate, scholars converge on the fact that organizational culture involves a set of shared assumptions and beliefs that compose the more visible routines and artefacts of day-to-day operations. DM also features a host of such underlying assumptions or “rules of the game”, which manifest themselves in artefacts, like VIP only elevators. The finer interplay of different components of organizational culture at DM is captured well by the Cultural Web model, which breaks organizational culture into several distinct variables: stories, routines and rituals, symbols, organizational structure, control systems, and power structures.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed established Dubai Government Excellence Program Award (DGEP) to realize the long-term mission, vision, and strategic plans of DM. DGEP outlined concrete steps to maintain professionalism in government operations and in completion of short-term projects. The Dubai Strategic Plan 2010-2014, also envisioned by the ruler of the Emirate and controlled by DGEP, intends to achieve both strategic goals (sustainable development, better health care, clean environment, etc.) and short-term objectives and projects (building the metro, developing a land use database, etc.), thereby improving performance with the help of Key Performance Indicators and other measurement tools.

Speaking of whether organizational culture contributes to DM’s strategic and short-term goals positively or negatively, it is useful to look at culture as a longitudinal concept. The positive contribution is largely dependent on the organizational culture that promotes team motivation by satisfying people’s lower- and higher-level needs and implementing job enrichment policies, which give stakeholders the strong sense that they are appreciated and that their opinion counts.

Recommendations

Cultural change is not an easy task to be realized overnight, especially in large organizations such as DM. It is also evident that organizational culture change cannot occur without being reinforced and embedded (Schein, 2007). Embedding is measuring and controlling what works in DM on a regular basis by employing a specific group of Key Performance Indicators (KPI) This means that the organizational culture at DM should be measured and controlled on a regular basis with the help of accurate methodological instruments. It is also evident that in order to change the culture and behavior in an organization, one should start from employees whom they are the real assets and managers in order to adjust the norms and values of the organization as stated by Schein that will lead to change. This process should go in pace with the formulating and tweaking of current and future strategic goals of the organization. This will help spot the variation in organizational culture change and track progress on goals.

I recommend in order for DM to achieve its goals and objectives, it has to develop the organizational culture that promotes appropriate division of labor and employee satisfaction. Employees need to be motivated by ensuring their lower- and higher- levels needs are satisfied. It could be done with the help of effective HR policies and the communication channels through which stakeholders could raise concerns to the management. It also includes the provision of proper motivators and hygiene factors, which give employees and partners the sense of security and confidence in what they are doing. They should be granted transparency in employment decisions, proper rotation of managers, and have the ability to influence what central management is doing (Herzberg, 1974). Following Schein’s conception, if employees are treated and encouraged with a productive set of values, they will soon incorporate these values in their professional life and formulate a better organizational culture that will serve the organization’s vision, mission, and customers in improved ways.

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