Context-Relativity in Organizational Culture
Organizational culture was originally addressed in the management literature in the late 1970s (e.g. Pettigrew, 1979; Deal & Kennedy, 1982). Scholars have later on extended the discussion to include higher education institutions (e.g. Tierney, 2008). However, the majority of the literature on organizational culture in higher education is based on institutions that follow and are placed within the Western model. Despite the lack of direct evidence, it is fair to suspect that there is a relationship between the culture of an organization and its national/regional context. This study investigates the nature of that relationship and provide real world examples through an in-depth case study on the American University of Madaba (AUM). In evaluating AUM’s organizational culture, this study explores the institution’s organizational identity and its organizational design (the sum of the two, in this study, constitutes the culture of the organization). The data suggests that AUM’s organizational identity holographically (Albert & Whetten, 2004) brings together four different identity pieces: American, Catholic, Jordanian, and not-for-profit. The study concludes that the institution’s focus on its American identity and partial neglect in incorporating its other identity pieces into its organizational design with equal weight lead to a misalignment between its espoused, attributed, shared and aspirational organizational values (Broune & Jenkins, 2013), which ultimately leads to a misalignment between its organizational identity and its organizational design, resulting in what would be generally considered an unhealthy organizational culture (Gulua, 2018). In AUM’s case, this misalignment causes an amended combination of what the literature presents as an expectation gap and a dislocation gap in organizational values (Broune & Jenkins, 2013). However, context-relativity (a crucial concept in this study), with its historical, economic, political, socio-cultural and colonial components, is highly impactful in studying the relationship between AUM’s organizational culture and its national/regional context and impacts our understanding of the initial findings. This study reveals that there is a strong conception in the Middle East that American higher education = good quality (but good quality does not necessarily equal American). Therefore, in the light of context-relativity, AUM’s organizational gaps and the misalignment between its identity and design is not a matter of unauthenticity, but rather lack of options. Being an American institution in the Middle East comes with a market advantage; therefore, such an approach is a way for AUM to survive in a world where global power dynamics carry strong preconceptions about the quality of American higher education. By being American “enough” to maintain its market advantage and being Jordanian “enough” to keep the peace with their students and staff and the surrounding community, AUM, as a young higher education institution, is finding a way to survive and advance its quality in the process.