Study notes

Problems of Changing Organisational Culture

  • Levels: A Level, IB, BTEC Level 3
  • Exam boards: AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB, Eduqas, WJEC

It is one thing identifying the need for and then deciding to attempt to change the organisational culture of a business. However, it is perhaps easier said than done.

The key problem facing management wanting to change organisational culture is that the culture will usually be deeply embedded or engrained in the organisation.

Two key models of how organisational culture is shaped and formed - reproduced below - hint at the challenges management will face:

Johnson & Scholes

Johnson & Scholes point to a variety of features of organisational culture that might prove resistant to attempted change. For example, the power structures and control systems which determine who has authority in a business and how decisions are made are likely to be threatened by culture change. That might suggest that new leadership is required at the same time in order to increase the chance of success.

Similarly, the routines and rituals that are embedded in a culture might also be hard to change. These are the daily actions and behaviours of individuals within the organisation. Routines indicate what is expected of employees on a day-to-day basis - for example how employees deal with customers, communicate with each other etc. As we all know from trying to make New Year resolutions, habits and routines are hard to break!

Schein's famous model of organisational culture also helps explain why culture change is tough. The model (represented above) is often described as an onion model as it has different layers. The outer layer of organisational culture is relative easy to adapt or change. The deeper the layer, the harder it becomes to change.

At the centre of Schein's onion (sorry - model) is the "paradigm". This is the unspoken, generally-accepted way of doing things that is prevalent in a business' culture. It is hard to identify or to describe - except that people in the business recognise it when they see it, or perhaps more likely, know when something is not consistent with the culture.

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