Organisational culture and efficiency in the civil service

A recent survey on Hungarian ministries shows that a goals and production oriented organisational culture has no great impact on efficiency levels in the civil service. In addition, it highlights that individual satisfaction with the workplace does not increase efficiency either.

Results of a survey conducted among civil servants in six Hungarian ministries were published recently. The survey aimed to examine to what extent the type of organisational culture influences efficiency levels in the public administration sector. It also aimed to test a hypothesis – based on the theory of ‘new public management’ (NPM) – that claims that the level of efficiency in goal and innovation-oriented organisations is usually higher than in hierarchical and bureaucratic institutions.

Methodology

In June 2003, questionnaires were sent to a random sample of 904 civil servants in six Hungarian ministries out of a total of 15 ministries in existence at the time of the survey. The results of the survey were published in 2006. The six participating institutions were: the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (Földmuvelésügyi- és Vidékfejlesztési Minisztérium, FVM); the former Ministry of Health, Social and Family Affairs (Egészségügyi, Családügyi és Szociális Minisztérium, ESZCSM); the Ministry of Informatics and Communications (Informatikai és Hírközlési Minisztérium, IHM); the Office of the Prime Minister (Miniszterelnöki Hivatal, MeH); the Ministry of Cultural Heritage (Nemzeti Kulturális Örökség Minisztériuma, NKÖM); and the Ministry of Finance (Pénzügyminisztérium, PM).

A total of 276 questionnaires (30.5%) were returned, and these questionnaires formed the basis of the analysis. The composition of the sample of respondents was largely the same as that of the total sample (i.e. according to status (leader/non-leader), the period spent in the present occupation and the respondent’s sex).

Organisational culture

In the first part of the questionnaire, the employees were asked to classify the organisational culture of their workplace according to four main types: ‘group culture’ (based on a human resource (HR) model); ‘innovative culture’ (based on an open system model); ‘hierarchical culture’ (based on a bureaucratic model); and ‘rational culture’ (based on a rational model).

Table 1: Presence of organisational culture types in the ministries surveyed (%)
Presence of organisational culture types in the ministries surveyed (%)
  FVM PM NKÖM ESZCSM MeH IHM Overall average Range
Culture type                
Group 13.4 13.9 16.2 17.5 18.1 19.7 16.5 6.3
Innovative 9.5 9.0 12.9 12.5 15.4 16.0 12.6 7.0
Hierarchical 52.9 47.1 43.5 42.8 37.5 34.5 43.1 18.4
Rational 24.2 29.9 27.3 27.3 28.9 30.0 27.9 7.8
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 -

Source: György, 2006

The survey results illustrate two characteristic features of the organisational culture in these six Hungarian ministries. First, a ‘hierarchical culture’ prevails in all of the ministries, according to the survey respondents. This means that on a scale showing the dominant values of an organisational culture (ranging from ‘control’ at one end to ‘flexibility’ at the other), Hungarian ministries are closer to the ‘control’ (bureaucracy and rationality) end of the scale. In other words, innovation and a group culture, as features of the structural preferences, appear to be missing from the culture of these organisations. Second, the organisational culture of the six ministries seems quite homogenous. Furthermore, this homogeneity includes a rather inward-oriented, rigid structure.

Organisational efficiency

The second part of the survey questionnaire looked at the efficiency of the institutions, by asking the employees how they perceive efficiency in their organisation. The correlation of perceived efficiency and the strength of the organisational culture types was then examined.

Table 2: Correlation between organisational culture and perceptions of organisational efficiency, at individual level (Pearson’s coefficient (p))
Correlation between organisational culture and perceptions of organisational efficiency, at individual level (Pearson’s coefficient (p))
  I’m satisfied with my workplace Quality of the superior’s work Perceived organisational efficiency Quality of the group work
Strength of group culture 0.138** 0.223*** 0.128*** 0.275***
Strength of innovative culture 0.047 0.167** 0.229*** 0.195***
Strength of hierarchical culture - 0.095 - 0.234*** - 0.237*** - 0.219***
Strength of rational culture - 0.019 0.020 - 0.020 - 0.071

Note: ** p < 0.01 *** p < 0.005

Source: György, 2006

The results show that organisational culture and organisational efficiency are interrelated. The higher the figure (regardless of the minus/plus signs), the stronger the correlation. Therefore, it can be concluded that the dominance of the group or the hierarchical culture strongly influences the quality of work of both the superior and the working groups. Importantly, the hierarchical type of culture influences all efficiency indexes negatively, while the group-centred and open cultures always influence them in a positive way: in other words, the more hierarchical the organisation, the more unfavourable the indices of efficiency will be.

Notably, there are very few visible links between the employee satisfaction index and the type of organisational culture.

Commentary

The survey results appear to contradict the hypothesis of the NPM, as they demonstrate that the predominantly hierarchical culture of the civil service institutions surveyed has a greater impact on organisational efficiency than the goal and results-oriented or innovative culture present in these institutions.

These results also suggest that the link between individual satisfaction and organisational efficiency is not as strong as is implied in the teachings of human resources theories.

The survey findings should prove useful when considering the need for a ‘culture change’ in the public administratiion sector. Introducing a goal, efficiency and consumer-oriented culture in public administration thus requires careful consideration.

Reference

György, H., ‘Kultúra és teljesítmény a közigazgatásban’ [Culture and efficiency in the civil service], in Vezetéstudomány (XXXVII), 4, 2006.

Katalin Balogh and Zsuzsa Kiss, Institute for Political Science, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

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