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Reflection – David Gui

by on October 31, 2007

The discussion today about the Good Technology video case was very intriguing and instructive as it brought up the point how organizational culture can impact a change management decision. To me, defining culture is never an easy task for any organization; it reflects the history of the organization and core values of the leadership. Ideally, leadership groups should establish the unique aspects of the local culture; however, systemic changes often require a change in local culture to allow new behaviors and attitudes to take hold.

Over time, leadership can create formal and informal rules or standards that become boundaries for acceptable behaviors in the organization. Leaders’ daily actions can clarify, encourage, or discourage the rules by providing signals regarding what is or is not really appreciated in the organization. This is why it is difficult to modify the behaviors consistent with change. In my opinion, because culture is so pervasive and has strong effects, a holistic and honest examination of organizational culture is essential prior to any change initiative. Here, I’m talking about the alignment of organizational culture with the intended change. If the intended change is dissonant with the organizational culture, it can be sabotaged even before it gets off-grounded. Therefore, change leaders need to be aware of any notable dissonance between existing culture and planned change initiative; if they really want the change to take place, they may first need to consider investing effort to modify the culture in order to support the change.
Changing an organization’s culture is not an easy process. Rather, it is a major and critical undertaking because it can affect the fundamental thinking, principles, and values of the organization and those who are in leadership positions. For most people, this is also a difficult personal transition. Here, motivation is a key to the cultural transformation; not only to first line workers but leaders as well. For leaders, they need to find out that in the existing culture, what component is encouraging or preventing the new desired change or mind set, then consider what would motivate people to exhibit that mind set and embrace change in order to deliver the desired performance.

Quite often, leaders will find out that existing behaviors support the old system rather than the new, and conflicts can be discovered between core values and desired mind set. In cases like this, leaders should think about what caused people to continue these behaviors, and what can be the motivator to get people changing them. Again, however, that motivator can be inconsistent with the existing organizational culture; but if leaders run their analysis and determine to let the change get off the ground, they will need to make whatever effort possible to embrace that motivator.

As aforementioned, leadership has a strong impact on organizational behaviors as a whole. When decision is made to modify the culture, an effective strategy is to modify leadership behaviors that would communicate the change and hold each other accountable. Just think about this, how does a manager’s habit of being late to meetings fit in an organization that is trying to encourage on-time delivery?

I also agree with the point that culture cannot save an organization when the situation is bad, since people are rational and self-protective. However, it does not mean that organizational culture plays no role in the change process. Perhaps there is no clear evidence that organizational culture has direct impact on either change success or failure, but I believe a change will not be successful and lasting if the organizational culture is not supportive. We are all aware of the argument that today’s organization must be adaptive to new market environment and open to change, and to me one of the backings behind this statement is an aligning and supportive organizational culture. I also think that it may depend on the characters of the organization; that the way organizations foster and value their culture is different based upon the organizations’ history and size. This would be an interesting area to study and hopefully by further learning, I will get more insightful ideas about it.

References:
To Lead, Align Your Values with Your Organization’s Goals. http://www.cio.com/article/104006/To_Lead_Align_Your_Values_with_Your_Organization_s_Goals

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