Culture Change

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To determine when or whether an organization's "culture" needs to be changed or is changing, it is necessary to complete the prior task of deciding what "corporate culture", "business culture" and "organizational culture" (should) mean. Broadly, "culture" means, among other things, the ideas, norms, skills, language, customs, traditions, arts and tools that define and perpetuate a society in being transmitted from one generation to another.

One incentive for creating such a corporate or business version of the concept is that it calls attention to the fact that an organization is like a community, in that its various elements mutually influence each other, e.g., norms and skills, people and tools, and that changes in one are likely to trigger changes in many others. Therefore, when allowing or implementing culture change, it is important to consider the "big picture", so as to anticipate and evaluate the likely impact of a given change on other defining elements of the culture.

A culture change within an organization, on analogy with the anthropological concept of culture, is a changing of workplace values, beliefs, skill sets, practices, policies, language, attire, expectations, tools and aesthetics. Because of its scope and its impact on behavior, organizational culture change entails a shift in the way things are done and how employees are expected to behave.

If a manager or executive wishes to change the culture, he or she must begin to exemplify the new values and beliefs by changing his or her own behavior, to the extent that the changes in principle apply to all. Employees must then internalize the new set of beliefs so that their behavior will begin to change.

Organizational culture changes with mergers, when new managers take over, or when problems such as high turnover arise. Culture also changes in response to changes in the global and industry standards.

Changing an organization's culture is sometimes necessary when problems exist. For example, if there is a serious morale issue because employees are treating each other badly, the culture should be made more civil and respectful. If customers are complaining because they get poor service, company service standards and expectation need to be articulated more clearly or changed. Indeed, in some instances, the only change required is in the way existing norms are communicated, rather than introduction of new ones. Maintaining a healthy work culture can be fostered by making employees aware that they are part of a work culture, as well as members of a broader national, ethnic, religious, etc., culture.

Changing a culture requires assessing what kind of culture already exists. This can be done through observing behaviors, conducting interviews or surveys, or any other way that gathers useful information. Employees from all levels should be included. Once the common themes emerge, the organization should decide what kind of culture it wants to develop. After the new values and beliefs are in place, employees from all levels should begin to model the desired cultural behavior.

From the standpoint of culture-change management, it is vital to recognize, monitor and evaluate external influences on workplace culture and to distinguish them from internal drivers of change. For example, the penetration of "soft" drugs, alcohol and iPhones into mainstream culture will, over time, impact workplace culture, either openly or covertly. In instances like these, corporate culture change may mean the introduction or tightening of policies that address such external influences.
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