15 Feb 2012
An organisation’s culture is more than just the sum of its parts; it is a unique sense of self, of what the organisation embodies and where it is headed. Many people consider an introduction to an organisation’s culture critical for employee retention; unless employees understand the culture and feel a part of the whole, they are more likely to remain disengaged and eventually leave. However, organisations must also be able to effect culture change; as the world around them changes, the company must adjust at some point.
Cultural change has been addressed in great depth by Cummings & Worley, who have identified several steps that need to be taken when an organisation needs to make an adjustment. In most cases, change will take place over time; it will not happen overnight. Most successful cultural changes in organisations include the following steps:
1. Formulate a clear strategic vision. This is the first and most critical step of the process. Without a clear idea of what change is needed, no organisation can move forward. This vision should include what the new values will be and what behaviours will be expected in the workplace. They should be specific and identifiable so they can be easily translated to employees.
2. Display executive commitment. Once a clear vision has been articulated, everyone at the top of the management chain must demonstrate that they are supporters of the new vision. Executives and top management “get the ball rolling”, and their support and excitement will carry through to the rest of the organisation.
3. Model cultural change at the highest levels. Once again, the change has to begin at the top. Top management and executives must model the behaviour they expect from everyone else. No one will buy into the new methods of activity unless they see them demonstrated daily by their leadership.
4. Modify the organisation to support organisational change. This step is actually worked on throughout steps 1-3. Identifying what needs to be changed in the organisation, what that change entails, and how long it will take is a key step. Changes may be required to policies, procedures, operating rules and even company structure, and the earlier this process can be begun, the smoother it often proceeds.
5. Select and socialise newcomers and terminate deviants. Not everyone will be able to accept or believe in the change; those who do can help “spread the word”, while those who do not will undermine the change if they stay, and so should be terminated.
6. Develop ethical and legal sensitivity. Of course, major organisational change will likely involve legal counsel, but even small changes should not ignore the effect that the change will have on employees. While some pre-existing tensions may be relieved by the changes, new tensions may arise and will need to be addressed.
For an organisation to survive and thrive it must change, as argued by Cummings & Worley. The larger the organisation, the more difficult and time-consuming the change can be, and the more important it is to have everyone moving in the same direction.