Ways to be distinctive: culture
An organisation's distinctiveness doesn't rest on a single attribute and this complexity can make it hard to pin down exactly what it is that makes an organisation distinctive.
Added by Anna Myers, June 2011.
This is one in a series of articles which bring you ideas from outside the sector that give specific examples of distinctive features. These have worked for other organisations, and they may work for your institution too; or spark off other ideas to explore.
Looking across the range of non-HE organisations that we interviewed for this project, the feature most commonly used as the basis for distinctiveness was the organisational culture. But culture has many facets, from the organisational structure to the shared stories, rituals and routines of an organisation.
For an advertising agency that was about having a sense of fun at work. They achieved this by introducing facilities and practices designed to raise a smile and by choosing a site that provides opportunities for "play" out of the office.
For a location-specific public sector organisation it was about the character of the place. This is based on the physical geography, the history, the uses made of the place and the local businesses and people.
For a hotel chain, too, character was at the heart of their distinctiveness. For them, character is expressed through the way their staff interact with their clientele, the decor of the rooms and the public spaces, the types of promotions they use and the supplier organisations they partner with.
For both a drinks company and a restaurant chain, culture is about outlook: in the one case a positive attitude, in the other, seeking to do things differently and do different things. In both cases it's about the way in which staff approach their jobs and the customers they serve.
For a major retailer, culture is about shared objectives and values: people join the company and people stay with it because they believe in the way in which the company seeks to work.
But in each case, the organisation's distinctiveness doesn't rest on a single attribute. It is a combination of this and other features that makes each of them distinctive. From our review of the literature on organisational identity, it is clear that true distinctiveness arises out of the complex interplay between what an organisation is, what it does and the resources - human and material – that it uses in the pursuit of its objectives.
This complexity can make it hard to pin down exactly what it is that makes an organisation distinctive. But if you can't express it, you can't communicate it, so it is vital to take the time to find out. The growing set of resources on this website aims to help you do that.
Topics: Establishing your distinctiveness.