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RMIT: have passion or else!

By Patrick O'Keeffe - posted Monday, 2 April 2012

RMIT University has introduced a ‘Behavioral Capability Framework’ (BCF) to staff work plans, requiring staff to work with “passion” and focus on “the positive, rather than the negative.” On one hand, RMIT appear to be resuming the role of an old-school football coach, demanding that their staff ‘play for the jumper.’ On the other hand, it could be construed that RMIT are attempting to silence dissent within the organisation.

The BCF is outlined in a 12-page document that sets out expectations of employee behavior, according to the level of responsibility of each employee. The BCF covers 6 areas: connectedness, commitment to excellence (continuous improvement), innovation, outcomes focus, opens thinking and resilience. Examples of standards required for the necessary display of ‘resilience,’ ask that the employee “displays passion for the task at hand,” and “maintains optimism and professionalism in challenging situations.” For an executive staff member to demonstrate resilience, the executive “models conviction, provides direction and serves as a source of advice and inspiration.” In other words, they would be winning Victoria Cross medals in World War III.

The requirement that a staff member “Considers and promotes the positive rather than the negative and remains committed and effective in the face of set backs and adversity,” requires some consideration. Surely this document isn’t calling on RMIT staff members to ignore the mistakes and shortcomings of RMIT. Perhaps RMIT management feels that every cloud has a silver lining, that a ten-goal deficit heading into the last quarter can be erased through guts, determination and hard work. Asking staff members to remain committed and effective in the face of adversity is interesting. Committed to RMIT or committed to their own self-preservation? It could be argued that the two commitments are one and the same. Perhaps this refers to a commitment to the students. That might be going a bit far. For the staff members too heavily focused on the negative: it could be the weather, it could be the coffee, and it could be the increasing corporatisation of the university: where do these down in the dumps staff members stand?


Behavior control has been promoted as a means of creating a more docile workplace, though examples of this occurring in a university are rare. In the third edition of ‘Essentials of Contemporary Management,’ published in 2008, Jones and George discuss “behavior control” as a method to be used by management. This involves ‘direct supervision’, ‘management by objectives’ and ‘bureaucratic control.’ Bureaucratic control is most relevant in this case, which, when implemented, sees employees “following the rules,” resulting in standardised behavior. Jones and George explain that behavior control systems “concentrate on controlling the behavior of workers,” with the theory being that well-behaved and obedient workers are good workers.

Turnipseed and Rassuli discuss the promotion of organisational citizenship behaviors (OCB). Examples of such behaviors include punctuality, obedience, not wasting resources and representing the organisation favorably. Studying the connection between the demonstration of OCB by staff, and the assessment of staff performance by managers, Turnipseed and Rassuli found that obedience of subordinates is highly valued by management. Interestingly, Turnipseed and Rassuli found that it was highly plausible that “helping a co-worker may lower one’s own performance, thus proving more wasteful than helpful from a manager’s point of view.”

Essentially, RMIT appear to be demanding the love and affection of their staff members. For a corporation, a good corporate culture is derived from how stakeholders, including staff members, value the corporation. If the attempts of RMIT involve the creation of a corporate brand, then the efforts to control behaviour miss the target. Hatch and Schultz state that corporate branding is about belonging: “when corporate branding works, it is because it expresses the values and/or sources of desire that attract key stakeholders to the organisation and encourage them to feel a sense of belonging to it.” This sense of belonging affects key decisions, which, for a staff member, may include: the decision to work hard, be loyal, seek challenge, resist influence, represent organisation in a positive light. Perhaps RMIT should work on fostering a sense of belonging among staff, which may then reciprocally display the behaviors that RMIT is craving. This could involve providing adequate resources for staff, adequate staffing for departments, the fostering of inclusion and respect.

Whether this move is designed to silence and control staff, or to further develop the corporate brand of RMIT is hard to distinguish. Either way, judging from the backlash created by this move, RMIT appear to have got it wrong.

Patrick O’Keeffe is a member of the NTEU and a staff member at RMIT.

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About the Author

Patrick O'Keeffe is a Melbourne writer who has previously contributed to Dissent, CorpWatch, Multinational Monitor, New Matilda and The Centre for Research on Globalisation. Patrick writes for the blog Off Corporate Coast.

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