Osborne & Plastrik (1997) suggest that changing the culture of an organization is not a science as the culture is very extensive and complicated and does not have structures from cognitive and behavioral science which can be utilized for implementing the changes. Cultures are based on unconscious mental contexts held by the group at varying levels of bonding. Within every culture there are established assumptions which tend to become unconscious (Carter n.d.). Whatever we believe with absolute certainty is generally taken for granted. We lose sight of the fact that alternatives to our stable presuppositions can even be entertained.
Organizational change is generally difficult to achieve as it is the accepted style of doing things and those inside the organization regard the change-over with discomposure, nervousness, and suspicion. This is especially true in mergers and acquisitions where one needs to integrate two different cultures into one culture. In 2000, Time Warner and American Online (AOL) announced their merger. These companies have drastically different organizational cultures, one being a media organization and the other being an information technology organization. The two cultures clashed as the Time Warner employees thought that the AOL employees were aggressive while the AOL employees thought that the Time Warner people were pretty inactive. Another point where two merging cultures can clash is the perception of being a "winner" or a "loser", the winner is, of course, the bigger company. To overcome this situation, people from both organizations have to let go of this belief as it posses a hindrance in the path of an effective and efficient workplace. It also makes the employees from the smaller organization feel unsecured from their fellow workers. Very often, two cultures clash because people from different organization view things differently. They blame their counterpart for failure and consider them as incompetent (Peter 2007).
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Irrespective of all the hurdles, I strongly believe that it is possible to understand, manage and also change the culture of an organization, at-least a significant part if not completely. Also, it is a tangible concept of an organization. These changes are essential to build a new culture supporting the new mission, aims, and plans and routine that will increase the chances of success. Cultural change is neither easy nor foolproof. It can take time and it takes effort and vigilance. A great deal of patience and long-term support is needed (Zatz 1994).
Schein in 1992 (cited in Bolman & Deal 2003) defined culture as "a pattern of shared basic assumptions that a group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to hose problems". On the other hand, Deal and Kennedy's definition (1982, cited in cited in Bolman & Deal 2003) says that culture is "the way we do things here". Paul Bate (1994 p20) believes that culture is a strategy or a way of dealing with the problems to make life easier. It is a mean of finding a way to resolve the differences and help people work together. It is the outcome of the processes taking place wherever humans try to achieve a collective understanding of their world by making it meaningful (Linstead, Fulop & Lilley 2004). This definition can lead us to describe organizational culture as a system of shared meaning held by the members of an organization that distinguishes them from members of other organization. It can be taken as the bridging gap between "the need to adapt the organization to the changing environment" and "the need to integrate members of the organization internally", or "the need for periodic changes" and "the need to preserve key continuities" (Linstead 2004). The organizational culture is the outcome of the processes going on in an organization. The organizational culture grows within the organization and emphasizes the creativity of its members. It is a complex phenomenon related to shared values and meanings in an organization and is also related to common ways of dealing with various commonly experienced problems. The organizational culture emphasizes importance of meanings, communication and learning and how others perceive us (Linstead et al. 2004). Another important fact is that every culture has its own heroes, symbols and rituals (The Journal of Psychology, 135(5), 501-517). These are the tangible aspects of the culture. However, to view them one has to first understand the culture of that organization. Once the vision is developed, the observer can observe these tangible aspects easily and distinguish them from the similar aspects of other organizations.
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After the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima during the World War II, Japan was is a dire state. However, they overcame the setback and are now one of the most advanced countries in the world. Their work culture helped them to over the shock they faced and this culture is now being adopted by my multinational companies as well as developed nations to achieve new heights. Japanese strongly believe in "permanent employment". A management trainee, who successfully survives the probationary period, is generally retained by that organization for his entire career unless there is some serious breach of code of conduct by him. Moreover, Japanese hire people as generalists instead of hiring them as specialists. The new recruitments are then given training over a period of time to help them specialize in certain fields. They also have an uncommon system of rewarding and promoting employees. They try to provide uniform increment and promotions to the employees to maintain healthy relationship and avoid jealousy among the team members. However, the individual performances are also rewarded at different stages of the career and those not performing are forced to retire at an early age (Japanese Management Culture, n.d.).
Multinational organizations like General Electronics (GE) also have a distinctive culture which every employee of the company is well equipped with and expected to follow as long as he is associated with the organization. They consider their culture as one of their innovations. Their culture is supposed to be the unifying force for many of their offices around the globe and emphasizes "high-integrity business practices as well as work / life balance". For them, learning is much more than the activity that goes on in a classroom. Those associated with GE come together to accept the change and develop the skills required to change the environment for better (GE Culture: Workplace, Community Outreach, Leadership Development, n.d.). They have developed their culture to a place to create, develop and bring big ideas to life.
Smaller organizations like ZenSar Technologies also have a culture of their own. It is based on their "5-F framework", where 5F stands for fast actions in their work, friendly relationship with workers, customers & vendors, flexible rules and environment to meet the changes in the business world, fun at the work and focused to meet its objectives. To ensure that these cultures are followed by the employees, the firm follows a unit-wise reward system as well as excellence awards to keep them motivated. Based upon the customer feed back, they give reward to the best unit of their organization. Similar concept is followed to give other awards like employee of the year award, best delivery person of the year, best sales manager of the year, ubharta sitara award (given to the new recruitment) and outstanding manager of the year (The 5F culture at Zensar, n.d.).
According to Smiricich's research (1983a, cited in British Journal of Management, Vol. 9, 1998) cultural management can be classified into three groups. One group says that culture can be managed as it is variable. Members of this group believe that culture is an organizational variable and thus can be changed. A significant aspect of cultural research by them has been the management's attempts to control and change the culture. Bate, 1994; Bowman and Faulkner, 1997; Brown, 1995; Dawson, 1994; Silverweig and Allen, 1976 are some useful references to cultural change models.
Another group believes that culture cannot be managed directly. They stress on the point that culture is not something that organization has but it is something which organization is. Thus Martin (1985, cited in British Journal of Management, Vol. 9, 1998) says that the culture can be manipulated under certain specific happenings, like change in leadership, during serious financial or some other crisis, during formation, merger, or take-over or other similar instances. They stress on the point that culture is a variable that can be managed indirectly.
The third group rejects the view that culture can be managed or it can be manipulated. They emphasizes that the culture cannot be altered consciously but natural changes will take place frequently. Researchers like Ackroyd & Crowdy, 1990; Anthony, 1990; Knights & Willmont, 1987; Ogbonna, 1993; Legge, 1994; Willmont, 1993 have given the results of their researches which supports their view. They stress on the ides that the efforts to make any such change sink into the idea of changing behavior. As such, analysis of cultural change will yield different result depending on the level of culture examined. Examples of such researches are Anthiny, 1990; and Ogbona & Wilkinson 1990.
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Changing the culture of an organization is one of the toughest tasks one will ever take on (Heathfield n.d.). These cultures were formed over years of interaction between the participants of an organization and its activities. Organizational cultures are formed for a reason and perhaps they match the style and comfort zone of the workers. Culture reflects the existing management style and since managers generally hire people like themselves, the established culture is strengthened by the new hires. Over a period of time, the culture grows and people get used to the prevailing culture. For them, considering a cultural change is a challenging task and a significant development has to occur to change their mindset. These can be developments like reaching the edge of bankruptcy, significant fall in sales and loss of customers, modification in line of business, takeover, or something similar. There are useful ideas that can help the organization transform its culture and grow. When people in an organization accept that their existing culture needs to be revamped, they might accept to change themselves.
There are three major steps involved in changing an organization's culture (Heathfield n.d.).
Firstly, one must first understand the existing culture and the way things are currently working. With a clear picture of the current status of the organization, the management can plan where it wants the organization to be next. This can be done by evaluating the leaders' and employees' opinion on the existing practices, values, customs, and beliefs using T. Galpin's (1996) "Ten Cultural Components". It is equally important to assess the employee's expectations from the desired culture. This overall "gap" between the current and desired culture reflects the necessity for change.
Next, the managers need to decide how the new culture should look like. They are required to plan where they want to take the organization before trying to make any cultural change. These can be related to issues like mission, vision and values. In his article "Connecting Culture to Organizational Change", Galpin (1996) suggested that since changing the basic assumptions and values that formulate a cultural is very difficult, the best approach it to target only the most critical components required in the new culture. These can be the rules and policies, goals and objectives, customs and beliefs, ceremonies and events, managerial behaviors, rewards and appraisals, working environment and organizational structure.
Finally, the participants should agree to change their behavior to develop the new desired organizational culture. This step is the toughest one in the process of cultural change. This becomes a lot easier if the difference between the existing and the desired culture is significant and the shift over is critical for the organization as well as the employees.
Many businesses have turned themselves from the verge of bankruptcy to highest prosperity. Some did it through financial game plans and aids, but those who became an example to the world did it by reinventing their culture. Companies like British Air and Volvo once had a poor reputation. They restructured their culture to manage drastic changes in customer and employee satisfaction, quality, and profits.
In the early 1990s, Chrysler had terrible customer service and press relations, with a history of innovation but a present of outdated products (Zatz 1994). It was experiencing a falling market share and rising fixed costs and losses. Bob Lutz, then the president, set a clear and distinct goal of making the business a technology and quality leader in cars and trucks. All the parties agreed upon the core objectives because "Everybody agrees up front and we stick to the plan," (Bernard Robertson, Jeep/Truck team). The last minute changes were avoided as they could have resulted in expensive disasters. Since every member of the business was involved in goal setting, they took extra care to live up to the expectations and achieve the goals.
A program of cultural change was built around it. Not to be missed is the fact that quite a bit of the cultural change came in from American Motors Corporation (AMC), a much smaller company acquired from Renault. The AMC executives and engineers brought the "do more with less," cross-functional methods they had at the unfortunate smaller automaker. These ideas and values were to play a major role in Chrysler's revival. The results were impressive as the overhead costs fell by $4.2 billion in under four years and the stock price rose to four times its earlier value (Zatz 1994). A completely new and competitive line of cars or trucks has appeared each year since. They achieved this result with the same people working in different style.
The firm gave significant importance to the involvement of people related to it. Customers were invited during the development of new models, to provide suggestions. The management also listened to the customers who wrote to the company; with sometimes, the designers even responding to some letters by phone. Designers were sent to photograph the interiors of the pickups, to see where the cups, maps, etc. were being stored, so that they could tailor the interior of the new trucks to meet the requirements of the drivers. Months before the production of Ram trucks started, assembly line workers were involved with the engineers to give their suggestions. Ideas from mechanics were taken to prepare cars and trucks easy for on-road maintenance.
Cultural changes take time, and the process is generally difficult. Some get accustomed to it quickly, while others take time. At Chrysler, the management started with engineering, then moved on to customer service, and down to the dealers, and so on and so forth (Zatz 1994). This made for some strange experiences for those who dealt with the company during the change-over times. The media wondered why Chrysler, in the middle of heavy losses, was spending billions on new buildings and assets and research and development. They got their answers years later, when Chrysler got its returns on the investments. Later, the pace of change was slowed due to structural problems, like, independently owned dealership and contradictory viewpoints of many industry insiders. Another problem that came up was the onset of complacency, as winning products, record profits, and high sales erased the sense of urgency that played significant role in maintaining the speed of change.
We thus find that culture is a proper tangible concept. If the observer has the vision for it, he can view the basic culture of the organizations around him. These cultures can be seen in their goals and objectives, their working style and the way they respond to the changing environment. Once he can see the culture, he can also understand the reason behind the culture being followed. Also, he can use skill and knowledge to change the culture to take the organization from one level to the other. The power of cultural change is strong enough to turn an "aging dinosaur into a state-of-the-art profit-maker". It may do wonders in your business or institution, as well (Zatz 1994).