The Effects of Organizational Culture on Organizational Change


Organizational change is a complex, three step process. Kurt Lewin, an early pioneer in the discipline of organizational change, described organizational change using the metaphor of frozen water; in order to take a square block of ice and move it into a container shaped like a cylinder, the ice first needs to be thawed. The liquid, pliable organization can then move easily and refreeze into a new form. The key to organizational change is identifying the power brokers and supporting them through the unfreeze and movement phases.

Academy Culture

In an academy style organization employees are highly skilled and they tend to stay within the organization. Membership is stable because individual members place a high priority on working their way up through the company. The organization provides a stable environment and is resistant to change throughout the organization. Questions such as “how will this change affect my job?” and “what does this mean for the organization's future?” need to be addressed in order to get the membership to buy into the change process.

Competitive Team Culture

Employees in this kind of organization are “free agents” who each have highly prized skills and run key parts of the organization. These employees look at their personal skills, not the life of the organization, and the key to their future career growth; they compete with each other just as much as they compete for the benefit of the company. In order to facilitate change in this culture, the free agents need to understand how the change will affect them personally, and present greater opportunity in the future. Without this confidence, key individuals may choose to leave the company rather than process through an organizational overhaul.

Collaborative Club Culture

The most important factors which shape this organization's culture is the status held by those the highest positions, and those who have worked their way into middle positions, who are waiting for their opportunity to move up. Much of the company's intellectual property is held by the middle and senior members. Loosing them would create a significant crisis. Therefore, during a change process, connecting with this group is essential. The senior members have to see how their positions will not be threatened; middle members can be used to catalyze the change by allowing them to take key roles in the change process.

Authoritarian Hierarchy Culture

Some organizations have a strong authoritarian culture, held in place by those at the top. The company owners who have built the company, and have weathered many prior storms are often the last to commit to an organizational change. Lower level employees look to these leaders for cues and only commit after they see the actions of the authority figures in the company. Company owners must be sold in the change process in terms that they understand. They must understand the threats of conditioning on the same path and the benefits of change in terms of the profitability and future stability of the company, and the ability of the company to provide meaningful employment.

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