According to Edgar Schein, culture is “a pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way you perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems” (Schein, 2005, p.17). Culture, leadership, and external circumstances (customer demands, competition, etc) all promote and enable change in an organization (Smith, 2019). This is because, although leadership may say that the company is doing something or believes in something, the people in the organization are the ones that actually do it. Corporate leaders can draft values, mission, vision, and goals, but it is just paper unless the people of the company actually stand for them. Culture is the reality of the company and the perception of the people within it (Mallinger, Goodwin & O’Hara, 2009). The transformational ability of culture can be harnessed when a company uses the energy and emotional commitment of culture into driving organizational change (Aguirre, 2013).
Organizational cultures at companies have varying abilities to influence change, varying levels of comfort with ambiguity, and varying amounts of individualism or collectivism (Mallinger, Goodwin & O’Hara, 2009). Influenced by beliefs and assumptions based on individuals’ observations and learning experience (Denison Consulting, 2016), many cultures may have a lot of fear of uncertainty and can oppose change. Some companies have an openness to feedback and change, which allows them to make change more readily (Mallinger, Goodwin & O’Hara, 2009). According to Schein, most change is not successful because the ideals behind the change never actually confront the realities of the organization (it’s climate and culture), and that there are deep layers of understandings and assumptions in an organization that will “make or break” an organizational change (Cebula, 2012, p.4).
Therefore, if an organization wants to make a change, it needs to transform the culture first. It needs to gain buy in from the people and do battle with any fears of change, any assumptions, or anything in opposition to the change at a cultural level.
Aguirre, DeAnne. (2013, December 5). Culture’s Critical Role in Change Management. https://www.strategy-business.com/blog/Cultures-Critical-Role-in-Change-Management
Cebula, N. (2012, April). Culture and Change Management. Retrieved from https://info.nicic.gov/nicrp/system/files/025300.pdf
Denison Consulting. (2016, August 15). What is organizational culture? [Video]. YouTube.
Mallinger, M., Goodwin, D., & O’Hara, T. (2009). Recognizing organizational culture in managing change. Graziadio Business Review, 12(1). https://gbr.pepperdine.edu/2010/08/recognizing-organizational-culture-in-managing-change/
Schein, E.H. 2005. Organizational Culture and Leadership, 3d ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Smith, C. (2019, September 16). How Does Organizational Culture Affect Change? https://change.walkme.com/how-does-organizational-culture-affect-change/