A critical discourse analysis of the link between professional culture and organisational culture

Publication Date14 February 2020
Date14 February 2020
AuthorToyin Ajibade Adisa,Emeka Smart Oruh,Babatunde Akanji
SubjectHR & organizational behaviour,Industrial/labour relations,Employment law
A critical discourse analysis of the
link between professional culture
and organisational culture
Toyin Ajibade Adisa
School of Business and Law, University of East London, London, UK
Emeka Smart Oruh
Department of Business and Law, University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, UK, and
Babatunde Akanji
Department of Human Resource Management, Elizade University,
Ilara-Mokin, Nigeria
Purpose Despite the fundamental role of culture in an organisational setting, little is known of how
organisational culture can be sometimes determined/influenced by professional culture, particularly in the
global south. Using Nigeria as a research focus, this article uses critical discuss analysis to examine the link
between professional and organisational culture.
Design/methodology/approach This study uses qualitative research approach to establish the
significance of professional culture as a determinant of organisational culture among healthcare organisations.
Findings We found that the medical profession in Nigeria is replete with professional duties and
responsibilities, such as professional values and beliefs, professional rules and regulations, professional ethics,
eagerness to fulfil the Hippocratic Oath, professional language, professional symbols, medicine codes of
practice and societal expectations, all of which conflate to form medical professionalsvalues, beliefs,
assumptions and the shared perceptions and practices upon which the medical professional culture is strongly
built. This makes the medical professional culture stronger and more dominant than the healthcare
organisational culture.
Research limitations/implicationsThe extent to which the findings of this research can be generalised is
constrained by the limited and selected sample of the research.
Practical implications The primacy of professional culture over organisational culture may have
dysfunctional consequences for human resource management (HRM), as medical practitioners are obliged to
stick to medical professional culture over human resources practices. Hence, human resources departments
may struggle to cope with the behavioural issues that arise due to the dominant position taken by the medical
practitioners. This is because the cultural system (professional culture), which is the configuration of beliefs,
perceived values, code of ethics, practices and so forth. shared by medical doctors, subverts the operating
system. Therefore, in the case of healthcare organisations, HRM should support and enhance the cultural
system (the medical professional culture) by offering compatible operating strategies and practices.
Originality/value This article provides valuable insights into the link between professional culture and
organisational culture. It also enriches debates on organisational culture and professional culture. We,
therefore, contend that a strong professional culture can overwhelm and eventually become an organisational
Keywords Organisational culture, Professional culture, Healthcare practitioners, Medical doctors, Cultural
interplay, Critical discourse analysis, CDA
Paper type Research paper
The dominance of organisational culture in management and organisational research over
the past three decades is a recognised fact (Ogbonna and Harris, 2014). The exponential
interest in the concept is perhaps because many successful academic careers have been built
on studies addressing sundry aspects of culture (Hofstede, 1980;Smircich, 1983;Schein, 1984,
1985;Torsello, 2019). Similarly, business and organisation practitionersinterest in research
on organisational culture has remained strong, with many studies highlighting business
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Received 29 August 2019
Revised 29 November 2019
7 January 2020
Accepted 7 January 2020
Employee Relations: The
International Journal
Vol. 42 No. 3, 2020
pp. 698-716
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/ER-08-2019-0344
executivesapproval of the importance and advantages of good and proactive culture
management (see Worrall et al., 2004;Pfister, 2009).
Professionals, however, occupy a vital and powerful role in the society because they have
specialised knowledge that not every member of society has, but which is very important to
the life of the society (Bedzow, 2019;Brien, 1998). This assertion supports the study of Hughes
(1958), in which he argues that one of the unique attributes of a profession is that its members
have specific and distinctive expertise that a non-professional does not have.
However, empirical studies on professional culture do not match the catalogue of research
that has been undertaken on organisational culture over the years, and the dearth of empirical
evidence in the literature about the relationship between professional and organisational
culture is evident (see Smith and Webster, 2009). Specifically, Degeling et al. (2001) note that
there is a dearth of critical scholarly perspectives that corroborate the interplay between
organisational culture and the professional groups working within an organisation.
We, therefore, employ critical discourse analysis (CDA) to analyse the data. CDA deals
with how texts represent organisational and social practices (Fairclough, 1992), emphasising
the understanding of power relations, cultural dynamics (Wodak and Meyer, 2009),
organisational rhetoric (Koca-Helvaci, 2015) and the representation gap(ACAS, 2012, p. 2),
among others. By using CDA, we respond to the call by Bailey et al. (2009, p. 285) to broaden
perspectives on new industrial relationsand organisational behaviour discourse with the
aim of allowing alternative views and voices to be heard (Legge, 1995).
CDA can be instrumental in bringing alternative views to the fore (Fairclough, 2014),
specifically concerning how professional culture can overwhelm organisational culture. This
is because professionals occupy crucial and powerful roles in society by using their
uncommon specialised knowledge for the overall benefit of society (Brien, 1998). Our
approach is consistent with prior studies (Bailey et al., 2009;Koca-Helvaci, 2015;Ford and
Gillan, 2016) that have also used CDA to explore organisational behaviours, albeit in the
context of employment relations and human resource management (HRM) (Vaara and
Tienari, 2008).
This article thus makes two important contributions. First, it contends that a strong
professional culture can overwhelm and eventually become an organisational culture, which
every member of organisation will embrace and hold in high esteem. Second, it contributes to
the extant literature on organisational culture by bringing the relationship between
professional culture and organisational culture to the fore. These contributions add value to
and provide relevant insights on organisational culture for researchers and practitioners.
Therefore, this article provides an opportunity to enhance our understanding of
professional and organisational culture and its attendant implications for employees and
organisations. In pursuing these objectives, we use a qualitative research approach involving
face-to-face semi-structured interviews with 44 health professionals (medical doctors) in
Nigerian health organisations (hospitals).
Nigeria, a country that constitutes an under-researched setting in terms of this subject and
whose healthcare sector is under the shadow of underdevelopment, has been chosen as the
research focus of this article. Additionally, Nigeria arguably represents one of the most
important players in developing countries in terms of discourse and issues on organisational
culture and professionalism due to its population size, which is estimated at over 200 million
people (Worldometers, 2020).
Thus, the main research question that this study aims to answer is as follows: What is the
link between professional culture and organisational culture? The sub-research questions are
as follows: (a) What is the notion of professional culture and organisational culture, and what
differences exist between the two types of culture? (b) What conflicts exist between
professional and organisational culture, and which takes priority when they conflict?
(c) Which of the cultures is dominant in an organisation and why?
culture link

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