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The Importance of culture

Merger experience in the FE sector in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland points to issues of cultural impact being broader than Kavanagh and Ashkanasy's[i] understanding of culture. Conlon[ii] in a major review of recent mergers in Northern Ireland, argued that,


'A common issue brought up by all the college directors interviewed was the challenge of legacy- the pre-existing cultural morals of the previous colleges. Each organisation comes into the merger with its own identity, history, culture and values. Merging these, at times disparate cultures, can be one of the greatest challenges for a new college. The cultural context has the power to change how communication is received and understood. Navigating and understanding this cultural context has proved vital in all colleges studies: where at times it has been ignored problems have occurred'

These findings in the specific case of mergers in the FE sector in Northern Ireland, exactly mirrors wider research[iii]. Broadly speaking, it has been estimated that close to 70% of all major organisational change initiatives fail to meet all of their aims, and the main reasons are failure to take account of cultural issues and related communication needs. Undertaking some form of culture audit as part of the pre- merger preparation will provide a basis for understanding challenges and development future plans. Conlon[iv] details the experience of organisation members and their reactions to change in the following.

'It has been long recognised that undergoing major organisational change is akin to going through the grief cycle: change signifies a loss of what went before. All the directors interviewed for this report identified that dealing with the emotional fall out of the merger was possibly the greatest challenge they faced. There are a number of areas that staff members identified feelings of loss in:

Status; Role; Identity; Quality; Collaboration; Time; Communication; Motivation; Certainty, and Knowledge.

Communicating positively during a time when many are feeling a loss is a real challenge during a merger situation'

In the recent past, City of Glasgow College and the land based colleges have undertaken culture studies prior to merger to assess a range of cultural features. Such studies have the benefit of engaging the whole organisation in thinking about organisational features both positive and negative, and creating yet another engagement opportunity for staff and students.

Where such formal studies do not take place, it will be necessary for leaders to ensure they have processes in place to capture and take account of cultural requirements. It would be best if processes being adopted enabled effective engagement of staff.

When seeking merger or federation, organisations should consider how best to capture and deal with variations in culture.

[i]Kavanagh, M. and Ashkanasy, N. (2006) The Impact of Leadership and Change Management Strategy on Organizational Culture and Individual Acceptance of Change During a Merger. British Journal of Management, Vol.17, S81-S103

[ii]Conlon, R Meeting the Communication Challenge During College Merger,Learning and Skills Development Agency, Northern Ireland , 2009.

[iii]See for example Cameron, K Quinn R. Diagnosing and Changing Organisational Culture. Third Edition. Jossey-Boss (2011). Also Senge, P. The Fifth Discipline Random House 2006.

[iv]Conlon, R Meeting the Communication Challenge During College Merger,Learning and Skills Development Agency, Northern Ireland , 2009.



This guidance was developed in 2012 and will be reviewed.

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