The Oxford dictionary describes culture as the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society. This means that when any group of people live and work together for any length of time, they form and share certain beliefs about what is right and proper. They establish behaviour patterns based on their beliefs, and their actions often become matters of habit that they follow routinely. These beliefs and patterns of behaviour combine to form an organisation's culture.
Culture is reflected in the way in which people in an organisation perform their tasks, set their objectives and apply resources to achieve them. Culture also affects people in their decision-making, thinking, feelings and actions in response to opportunities and threats.
Professionalism is one of the four core values stated in the MINDEF and RBAF Core Values and Leadership Qualities Handbook (from this point on will be known as the Handbook). In the Handbook's context, professionalism means the efficiency, skills, persistence, knowledge, dedication and ethics required in carrying out duties and responsibilities. Being professional enhances a person's skills in displaying efficient, effective and authoritative teamwork.
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The aim of this essay is to discuss how culture affects professionalism in the RBAF personnel. This essay will explain effects of several of the key practices stated in the Handbook, be it good or bad, of culture on professionalism practices in RBAF personnel in general. For ease of understanding this essay will categorise the practices into 4 headings:
work and ethics,
mindset and beliefs,
This essay will also provide with method/s on how an organisation like the RBAF can promote and effectively disseminate its intended culture to its personnel, and also how culture change can affect the RBAF.
A. Work and ethics
A person, according to the Handbook, should always carry out his duties professionally for a team that is efficient, effective and persistent. He should always build teamwork and utilise entrusted resources efficiently.
As the popular saying goes- 'There is no I in TEAM'. Everyone in the military works toward his specific operational roles and in turn, supports the Ministry of Defence's vision and mission. There is an existing trend in the military that a certain number of personnel adopt the 'working 9 to 5' regime. This means that they turn up for work just to receive their salary every month and spend every working day producing the minimum output of work. Little or no dedication as well as no commitment can be observed from these individuals who would prefer to 'sit still' rather than go the extra mile in performing their duties. These individuals would have no 'sense of belonging' to an organisation.
In this case, in any Service in the RBAF, there has to be a program or initiative where personnel are knowledgably exposed to the RBAF core values and leadership qualities and how they merge in sync with the Service's operational vision and mission. Thus in TUDB for example, an airman regardless of any rank would know how TUDB fits in the national defence strategy and how knowledge from air power education can help him contribute effectively to TUDB's cause, thus would improve from the culture that some, if not a great number, of RBAF personnel currently have.
B. Mindset and beliefs
This category revolves around the idea that a person should work diligently, be conscientious, careful and dedicated in everything that he does. He should always strive to achieve in enhancing the mind and knowledge.
Motivation, dedication and commitment go hand in hand. A person may have small amounts of each or may be full of all three. Our organisation strives to instil the fullest sense of motivation, dedication and commitment in every personnel in order to achieve maximum productivity and efficiency.
There are a number of personnel who may think that since they cannot compete with the 'fast track' individuals, they would rather stand back and put their work efficiency to halt. They would start to have a sense of no purpose in working hard and start to become de-motivated. Individuals like these need to know that every ounce of hard work can lead to rewards and recognitions in many forms. De-motivated individuals are mostly ones with low self-esteem and poor values. There should be a number of programmes instilled in helping to grow personal values in RBAF personnel. Departments like the Counselling Centre and the Military Religious Department would be able to contribute greatly in this aspect.
Always on Time
Marked to Standard
On the other end of the spectrum, there are also individuals that seemingly appear to do a lot of work and/or undertaking irrelevant tasks just to get the attention of top management. They do these things just to make a name for themselves and climb quickly up the ladder of career advancement. This can be viewed as doing the right things for the wrong reasons. Some could argue that this should not be taken in a negative light. In layman's terms, we see it as 'ass kissing', but if it does not affect running of the organisation or for the betterment of it, then it should be seen in a positive light. From a successful management's point of view, especially those on a managerial level, those who 'appear to do a lot of work' (presumably getting his inferiors to do work for him) are deemed to have smart management. This culture would be simply termed as 'lazy culture' even though it may presumed to be an effective one.
The United States Air Force Core Values booklet states that "Service before self tells us that professional duties take precedence over personal desires." All personnel have to understand and instil in themselves that doing the right things for the right reasons is what will earn them rewards and recognition. Management at all levels in the military have to understand and appreciate these hard work accomplished by their subordinates and give credit where it is due.
A solution to the motivation, commitment and dedication issue was highlighted by His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Negara Brunei Darussalam in his titah during the RBAF's 48th anniversary celebration. His Majesty 'truly hoped that full attention to be given to efforts in enhancing the level of professionalism and added value in personnel'. For this, he added, 'it would be now the time to review the career development structure and terms of engagement'. This review has been started and will be on the verge of completion for the betterment of all personnel and their careers. With this initiative alone, it may help with improving the current culture affecting the mindset and beliefs in RBAF personnel.
Among the factors which contribute to a healthy organisational climate, high morale and motivation, is the extent to which members of staff have a sense of commitment to the organisation.
C. Physical aspects
The Handbook states that a person should always strive to preserve or maintain basic soldiering skills throughout his service. He should also strive to preserve physical strength.
Developing physical and enhancing physical fitness originated from the day a person enlists in the military. Alongside learning the basic military skills such as discipline, drill and weapons handling, throughout the 6-month training (3 months for females) physical fitness plays an important role whereby a person's natural health and fitness is developed and maintained. This physical part of fitness should naturally be adopted and carried over to when personnel enter their vocations in the Services.
A worrying trend currently observed is the overall health and physical turnout of certain individuals, who do not seem to care about what food they consume and make all sorts of excuses of not having time to exercise. There is also a trend in certain individuals that they only run for the sake of doing their Basic Fitness test (BFT) twice in a year as well as receiving their annual bonuses.
This issue is being handled by the RBAF Performance Optimisation Centre, or POC, where Body Mass Index (BMI) regulations will be put into effect commencing January 2011. Under these regulations, personnel who are officially classed as overweight or obese will be put on probation for a set period of time. They will undergo a conditioning programme formulated by POC. The POC also will be conducting health and nutrition road shows and briefings to generate awareness in striving towards a healthy lifestyle. These initiatives would help improve the current 'unhealthy' culture slowly, but surely.
D. Technology savvy
One practice that is mentioned in the Handbook is that a person should utilise advanced techniques in carrying out responsibilities. The Handbook also mentions that a person should always strive himself with knowledge and skills in enabling usage of Information Technology or IT in the workplace.
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According to the Defence White Paper Update 2007, "capability development of the RBAF in the short to medium term will focus on:
â€¢ command, control, communications, computing and intelligence (C4I);
â€¢ specific capability enhancements maximising operational output for priority strategic
â€¢ a coherent strategy for national support and
â€¢ progressive introduction of a comprehensive training structure".
The Defence White Paper Update 2007 also states "capability enhancement is not simply the acquisition of additional platforms, but also encompasses all aspects of capability including organisational change, personnel and training, and supply and support arrangements". However, the RBAF should be able to know what type of capability that it will acquire to suit the needs as stated in the Defence White Paper and not just buy for the sake of looking good and forget the essential matters such as investment level and the returns of the acquired capability. There are instances where capability has been acquired in haste and issues arose later such as after sales maintenance, credibility of the seller as well as the military-worthiness of the capability or equipment. A strong point was mentioned in the Defence White Paper Update 2007 in that capability development should 'encompass all aspects of capability including organisational change, personnel and training, and supply and support arrangements'.
We are currently living in the modern age in technology where it is evident that a growing number of personnel own laptops and the means to connect to the internet. This is good culture in that it promotes the use of technology and develops a person's typing skills and operating various software applications currently also used in the workplace. It also inculcates a sense of self-help, where a person can just go to websites like Google and find out information for himself. This can also be bad culture where personnel can be distracted from their primary duties by spending too much time browsing the internet and doing things that are not work related. This would also lead to an unhealthy culture of procrastination.
Other than advising all personnel on the proper ways to utilise IT in the workplace, relevant IT authorities must devise a plan to make the healthy utilisation of IT in the RBAF more user friendly. This will promote a healthy working culture where everyone can communicate more efficiently and produce better working productivity within the accepted boundaries in the organisation. The existing intranet needs to be improved and well controlled for more effective communication methods. This would help instil a sense of good communication ties and cohesion. This would also promote and improve from the current culture into a more productive one.
"When the direction of the wind changes, some (people) build walls, some (people) make windmills."
- Chinese Proverb.
Simply explained, the old Chinese proverb above states that when a change is brought about or introduced in an organisation, the normal reaction from its personnel is the either resist the change fully (build walls) or make full use of it to help them and their organisation better themselves. The proverb mentioned above displays a near perfect picture on every personnel's modus operandi in the RBAF.
Solutions to issues raised in this essay have only one obstacle - resistance to change. For culture to even start to change, a serious issue/s or problem/s must happen. A few examples of these issues and problems have been mentioned already. This will invoke a 'wake up call' to the organisation, particularly the top management and realise that necessary steps and actions need to be taken. It is important to note that it takes years for a certain desired culture to form and thus would take just as more time to change culture. The RBAF and its top management have to realise this and understand that the desired culture has to 'sink in' in all personnel before expected output in productivity happens.
The culture of an organisation can be changed, but it may not be easy. Strong leadership and vision is always required to champion the change process. If an organisation is in real difficulty, and the threat to its survival is clearly recognised, behaviour can be changed through fear and necessity. However, people may not feel comfortable and committed to the changes they accept or are coerced into accepting.
Culture change has to start form the top. And it has. The top management has expressed the intent of the organisation to change and improve the RBAF's professionalism. It is assumed that this change will not only be from the top level to the lower level, but also from the bottom level to the top.
Once change has been implemented and embraced by everyone in the RBAF, it has to be maintained by exercising the required behaviour, attitudes and beliefs. Although the required attitudes and beliefs may not change in the RBAF, but that does mean that behaviour will also change. Coming up with a set of organisational beliefs and the relevant attitudes needs the behaviour to make it a reality. Likewise, the Handbook was published not only for casual reading, but to inform all personnel of the attitudes and beliefs that are required of them. This will, in turn, make them develop the appropriate behaviour to adopt these attitudes and beliefs.
"There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction"
This essay has identified traits of culture, both good and bad, that exist in RBAF personnel and how they affect the single individual as well as the overall organisation's professionalism. The good traits of the current culture can be kept and developed whilst the bad traits has to be removed and replaced by better ones.
Culture in the RBAF is reflected by the attitudes, beliefs and behaviour of its personnel. If management effectively disseminates the required attitudes, beliefs and behaviour of its personnel, then the required culture will follow suit.
With the existence of the Handbook, culture will either change or improve for the betterment of the RBAF and in turn, so will the professionalism. In an organisation like the RBAF, the culture of 'how things are done here' should not exist. Instead the RBAF should be an organisation that possesses a culture that includes elements such as beliefs, core values, ethics, and rules of behaviour. Although culture is something we cannot physically see, it evident in how we set about carrying out our primary duties and in turn, displays the true level of professionalism.