Organizational Culture Change: Is It Really Worth the Effort?

Much has been written about changing organizational culture. It’s an exciting topic because of the enormous potential benefits derived from changing an organization’s culture. While exciting because of its enormous potential, attempting to change organizational culture can lead to enormous frustration.

It is important to understand how deeply the roots of organizational culture go. Organizational culture is rooted in the shared tacit assumptions of the organization. These tacit beliefs drive behavior throughout the organization.

Edgar Schein believes organizational culture provides members of the organization “stability, consistency, and meaning.” The change agent who threatens those three things will surely meet strong resistance.

Schreyoegg, Oechsler, and Waechter (three German researchers) believe organizational culture provides members with a worldview: how to perceive, how to conceptualize, and how to make decisions.

In my book, “Strategic Organizational Change,” I offered six reasons for organizational culture’s stubborn resistance to change:

1. it is implicit rather than explicit

2. it is woven into everyday practice

3. it leads to uniform thinking and behavior

4. it is historically rooted

5. it guides all decision making

6. it is used to socialize newcomers

The main reason changing organizational culture is so difficult is that it resides in the dark, unexamined recesses of the corporate mind. The unexamined assumptions that make up the organizational culture have not been questioned in years.

We know that most organizational culture change efforts fail. We know that organizational culture changes that succeed only do so after a frustrating uphill-battle against the status quo. We know that powerful organizational members have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

So, my question to you is this: Should an organization spend its limited resources (time, energy, and money) to change the organization’s culture? My answer is “yes.” Let me explain.

Organizational culture change is necessary to support almost all organizational change efforts (strategic, structural, or process). Organizational change efforts will fail if organizational culture remains fundamentally the same. The effectiveness of organizational change efforts requires embedding improvement strategies in the organizational culture.

Changes in procedures remain superficial and short-lived unless there are fundamental changes in values, ways of thinking, and approaches to problem solving. The resisting forces will simply renew their efforts to re-establish the old status quo.

Cameron and Quinn bluntly state, “The status quo will prevail. We repeat! Without culture change, there is little hope of enduring improvement in organizational performance.”

Cameron and Quinn offer the following hints for change agents:

1. Find something easy to change first.

2. Build coalitions of supporters.

3. Set targets for incremental completions.

4. Share information/reduce rumors.

5. Define how results will be measured.

6. Reward desired behaviors.

Organizational cultural change can be slow and frustrating, but the benefits can include dramatically improved organizational performance.

Previous post 10 Facts About Hang Gliding You Didn’t Know
Next post Introducing Stellenbosch