A friend asked me to answer some questions to help him write an essay for his MSc in Development Management, “Why should development managers attempt to bring about institutional development?” It’s quite likely I haven’t got a clue about institutional development but my response is below and he seems happy with it. He will combine my reply with others and consider them for part of his essay.
The reason I’m reproducing my reply here is because I think it is relevant to the thread I’m writing about the nature of third sector organisations. Whilst in my answer I refer to large organisations, perhaps it equally applies to small organisations that become bureaucratic. What happens when small young organisations become institutionalised?
The headings are his questions:
1. What is an institution?
An organisation that is designed to be sustainable. This means its continuation is not dependent on its leaders in the sense that when they leave there are always people available to step into their shoes. This implies a high degree of bureaucracy. The continuation of the organisation takes precedence over staff and clients’ needs. Check out HMRC’s telephone helpline service if you don’t know what I mean.
2. What is institutional development?
The big headache in institutional development is changing organisational culture. It will tend to be highly stable and difficult to change. I worked for an institution that had a complete change in top management at the same time. Six managers left (were slung out actually) and were replaced by four new managers with new job descriptions. This made no difference whatsoever to the institution and the new managers soon behaved in similar ways to the old ones.
3. What is the purpose of institutional development?
This rather depends on what you want to achieve. A business may need to respond to its markets and can lose its way if the market changes and the institution can’t change with it. HMV is an example of a business that had difficulty adapting to downloadable music and videos. HMRC on the other hand does not need to change the way it does things as we’ll always need taxes.
4. What activities does ‘doing’ institutional development involve?
Banging your head against a brick wall! You’re not going to see rapid change. Effective actions might take a long time to take effect and if the long time is longer than the lifespan of the person leading the change, then the policy might change before the previous policy had an effect. Any proposed change is likely to be resisted. Superficial changes can go through because they don’t touch the culture of the institution.
5. What management skills does institutional development require?
Listening – to staff and especially junior staff rather than managers. Many junior staff are likely to have been around for a long time and they understand how things work. Many will have been around longer and understand more than the managers.
Listening to customers or clients – complaints and complements can be helpful and where appropriate good complaints procedures can help. But also in-depth interviews with typical customers or clients might help.
Patience – it will be slow work!
So, what do you think? Can small young organisations become institutionalised?