Understanding Organizational Culture

Organizational culture can become a powerful tool for empowering sustainable business improvements and enabling change. But what are the common complaints about changing work culture?

“This is how we have worked for the past 5 years. We did well, so why all these changes?”

“This will not work. We tried something similar last time and the efforts died off. Why waste the time?”

“I know the working culture here needs to be changed but it’s just too hard to do so! Can I just forget about it altogether?”

Were you ever caught in any of the situations above? As an OD and/or HR practitioner, we often face an uphill task when it comes to implementing changes within the organisation; trying to convince the staff that changes are necessary and beneficial. Some may suffer in silence; some may directly challenge the decision or some may murmur behind your back. Truth be told, you might even be feeling the same way that some of them do. Whichever the case, it’s nothing personal. Just inertia, or more likely it’s the corporate culture within the workplace.

In the article 10 Principles of Organizational Culture, Jon Katzenbach et al. described culture as “self-sustaining pattern of behaviour (i.e. feelings, thinking, and beliefs) that determines how things are done.” However, as most practitioners would know, organizational culture isn’t something that can be easily pinned down since it is “constantly self-renewing and slowly evolving”. Nonetheless, as pointed out in the article, “this inherent complexity shouldn’t deter leaders from trying to use culture as a lever” because at its worst, corporate culture can compromise any well-intentioned change efforts. Culture can be a ‘brake’ as much as an ‘enabler’ for change.

It is helpful to get a ‘snapshot’ prior to beginning any change efforts. There are successful tools, strategies and diagnostics that can be applied. For example, to help you understand your own organizational culture; the acclaimed Denison Organisational Culture Survey can be conducted. Priority issues can be identified and changes applied in the most timely and effective manner.

In all likelihood, changing organizational culture takes time and the organisation is in it for the long run. There are no shortcuts! However, if the organisation approaches the change with commitment, you will be able to leverage on organizational culture as an “emotional energizer” to reap sustaining benefits and gain a competitive advantage.



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