Organizational Culture Change

The concept of organizational culture has already been discussed in a pervious subsection. I will therefore keep my introduction to the subject to a minimum, and instead focus almost exclusively on organizational culture change.

Organizational culture represents the way things are done in an organization, encompassing the values, beliefs, and attitude that generate a common framework for interpreting events.

Knowledge sharing, and thus all aspects related to knowledge management (KM), depend upon organizational culture. Trust is a particularly important issue, since workers need to feel secure that they are not jeopardizing themselves by engaging in knowledge sharing. In order for proper cooperation to take place, management must create a culture where knowledge sharing is seen as beneficial for the individual as well as the organization. Managing organizational culture change is therefore at the very core of KM and organizational learning processes.


Defining and Mapping Organizational Culture

Johnson (2001) presents a model called the cultural web (see below), outlining the various components of organizational culture.

various components of organizational culture

The paradigm: The set of assumptions shared and taken for granted by the organization.

Rituals and Routines: These represent "the way we do things around here". They point to what is valued, and include behaviors that are taken for granted as being correct.

Stories and myths: The organization's folklore that passes on the common perception of past events, thus reinforcing beliefs and passing them on to newcomers.

Symbols: All the symbolic elements of the firm, including titles and dress codes.

Control Systems: Systems that are designed to promote certain activities by rewarding correct behavior and monitoring performance.

Org. Structures: The formal structure of the organization, as explained in the subsection on organizational structures (though in this case it is considered solely in regards to its influence on culture).

Power structures: The more powerful groups are also most likely to be involved in shaping the paradigm. A big problem arises when "the main targets for change are also those who hold the power." (Bali et al 2009).

Johnson (2001) advocates culture mapping according to this framework so as to assess the culture as a whole and be able to determine its compatibility with strategy.


Managing Organizational Culture Change

Wellman (2009) presents a series of leadership roles that will help facilitate organizational culture change towards a knowledge friendly culture:

  • Acknowledge the existence and influence of organizational culture: It must be brought into the open so people can see and understand how it affects activities
  • Have a clear and persistent vision of what the culture should be and of what changes need to be applied: This vision must be understood by management at all levels and spread across the organization.
  • Consciously manage culture: Wellman suggests the using health assessments and employee surveys to evaluate progress and direction. Expanding upon this, one might add the use of incentives (whatever is suitable within that particular organization) and of using managers as intermediaries between different cultures within the organization. Management must strive to create a culture where knowledge sharing is perceived as beneficial to the whole and also to the individual. In other words, through shared vision, incentives, etc. they must foster an atmosphere of trust to ensure that individuals have faith in the principle of reciprocity. They must also bridge cultural differences that exist between different communities and power structures within the organization.

Gardner presents a somewhat more concrete approach to organizational culture change. He states that it is dependent on redefining the assumptions that shape the common understanding, or in other words the paradigm. It thus involves introducing "anomalies" that present a reality that cannot be true under the old assumptions. As more and more anomalies are presented, people will eventually abandon old beliefs and frames of understanding and eventually be willing to adopt new ones.

No matter what, organizational culture change is a difficult process that is likely to meet significant resistance. Its stubbornness is due in part to the fact that it is history dependent, woven into everyday practice, and used as socializing mechanism for newcomers (Beitler 2005). However, as Beitler argues, despite all the hurdles, managing culture simply must be done.


Alan Frost M.Sc., 2010

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