Purpose: To compare and contrast the cultural characteristics of "high" and "low" performing hospitals in the UK National Health Service (NHS).
Design/methodology/approach: A multiple case study design incorporating a purposeful sample of "low" and "high" performing acute hospital Trusts, as assessed by the star performance rating system.
Findings: These case studies suggest that "high" and "low" performing acute hospital organisations may be very different environments in which to work. Although each case possessed its own unique character, significant patternings were observed within cases grouped by performance to suggest considerable cultural divergence. The key points of divergence can be grouped under four main headings: leadership and management orientation; accountability and information systems; human resources policies; and relationships within the local health economy.
Practical implications: As with any study, interpretation of findings should be tempered with a degree of caution because of methodological considerations. First, there are the limitations of case study which proceeds on the basis of theoretical rather than quantitative generalisation. Second, organisational culture was assessed by exploring the views of middle and senior managers. While one should in no way suggest that such an approach can capture all important cultural characteristics of organisations, it is believed that it may be at least partially justified, given the agenda-setting powers and influence of the senior management team. Finally "star" performance measures are far from a perfect measure of organisational performance. Despite such reservations, the findings indicate that organisational culture is associated in a variety of non-trivial ways with the measured performance of hospital organisations.
Originality/value: Highlights considerable cultural divergence within UK NHS hospitals.