Changing Organizational Culture

Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn assert that a healthy organizational culture enables companies to better adapt to rapid technological and sociological changes. In their book “Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture: Based on the Competing Values Framework,” they explain that managers who try to initiate process improvements without understanding their operating culture are doomed to fail.

The book provides a clear outline and explanation of the steps needed to transform a company’s organizational culture. After reading about the authors’ theories, diagnostic tools and processes, a reader might not single handedly lead a company’s cultural change, but they will certainly gain insight into the importance a company’s culture plays in day-to-day decisions.

The authors define organizational culture as a group’s values, underlying assumptions and expectations. In short, anytime someone says, “That’s just how things are around here,” they’re talking about organizational culture. Cameron and Quinn believe the key to determining if a company’s culture will assist or hinder success is to get the opinions of employees from all levels.

When the information is gathered, executives and managers must make a firm commitment to change their performances and attitudes before insisting others make the change. Managers who refuse to “buy in” and enhance their own competencies in essential areas may soon be out of a job.

A variety of tools are offered to move an organization through the process of determining their current and preferred culture. For instance, the Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument (OCAI) is a survey that rates attitudes about six current and preferred key dimensions of the organization: dominant characteristics; organizational leadership; employee management; organization “glue” (the underlying current that keeps things the way they are); strategic emphasis; and criteria of success.

The Competing Values Framework represents four types of organizational effectiveness – hierarchy, market, clan and adhocracy.  When the scores from the OCAI are merged with this framework, leaders get a better picture of their weaknesses and strengths. The four major culture types include these characteristics:

  • Hierarchy (Control) – Structured, governed by procedures; effective leaders are good organizers
  • Market (Compete) – Stresses competiveness and productivity; leaders are hard-driving producers and competitors
  • Clan (Collaborate) – Friendly place to work; leaders place a premium on teamwork and consensus
  • Adhocracy (Create) – Fosters adaptability, flexibility and creativity, no organizational charts and temporary physical space.

It’s interesting to note that more than one culture type can be found in a company. A research and design department might be adhocratic, whereas the accounting department could be hierarchical. In addition, many companies go through a pattern of cultural change, starting with adhocracy, moving into the clan and hierarchy phases and evolving into a market culture.

The authors present a case study which makes a good argument for why a company would need to change its culture. The company used in the example decided to form self-managing teams to make decisions and react to the market more quickly. However, there was a concern that the idea of self-management might not be accepted in the current command-and-control atmosphere. By going through the transformation process step-by-step, the company was able to change its organizational culture to one that was more easily able to react to meet market demand.

The authors make a good case as to why applying changes like Total Quality Management, strategic planning and downsizing won’t work unless the company’s culture is attuned to these types of changes. They discuss a manufacturing plant worker who resisted company’s efforts to change until he was included in the effort. This illustrates that serious change must be addressed at all levels.

The charts and diagrams throughout the book are extremely helpful for interpreting data. For instance, the OCAI average profiles for each type of organization can give managers examples of what cultures similar companies possess – cultures they might want to emulate.

At the end of the book, there are interesting hints for implementing change in each of the organizational culture types, such as making sure to schedule regular meetings if you have a clan culture or keeping track of how your competitors are performing if you have a market culture.

However, it would be difficult for one person to start the process alone anywhere but in the smallest company. In addition, some of the “touchy/feely” sessions, where top executives tell each other what they need to do to improve, must be handled by an experienced coach so feelings won’t boil over and fester. Consultants or a team versed in the book’s philosophy will keep the process on course, because some employees might be tempted to take short cuts or to be frustrated by the slow process of change.

Still, this book is an excellent resource for managers who want to gain a better understanding of why things are done the way they are at their company and what steps can be taken to make the necessary changes to become more successful.

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