ERIC Identifier: ED464521
Publication Date: 2001-00-00
Author: Keup, Jennifer R. - Walker, Arianne A. - Astin, Helen S. -
Lindholm, Jennifer A.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education
Organizational Culture and Institutional Transformation. ERIC Digest.
During the past two decades higher education in America has attempted a
number of reforms. Reform efforts are predicated on the assumption that
proactive, intentional change efforts in colleges and universities can succeed
despite the predilection for tradition and maintaining the existing culture.
Culture proves to be a critical component in understanding the process of
planned change and transformation in colleges and universities today. The
significance of organizational culture becomes particularly clear as we
operationalize institutional transformation. The concept of transformation
described borrows from the work of Eckel, Hill & Green (1998), who make
reference to organizational culture as one of four primary elements of planned
change. They state that institutional transformation: "1) alters the culture of
the institution by changing select underlying assumptions and institutional
behaviors, processes, and products; 2) is deep and pervasive, affecting the
whole institution; 3) is intentional; and 4) occurs over time" (p. 3, underline
The purpose of this digest is to review the research on institutional
transformation as it is relates to organizational culture. The discussion of
organizational culture's importance in institutional transformation will be
organized around three primary aspects of the change process: 1) readiness for,
and responsiveness to, institutional transformation, 2) resistance to planned
change, and 3) the results of the transformation process.
READINESS & RESPONSIVENESS
An organization's culture can be understood as the sum total of the
assumptions, beliefs, and values that its members' share and is expressed
through "what is done, how it is done, and who is doing it" (Farmer, 1990, p.
8). However, members of an organization often take its culture for granted and
do not truly evaluate its impact on decisions, behaviors, and communication or
consider the symbolic and structural boundaries of organizational culture until
external forces test it. Therefore, when initiating transformation efforts it
becomes critical to understand and explicate the values and personal meanings
that define organizational culture. According to Farmer, "failure to understand
the way in which an organization's culture will interact with various
contemplated change strategies thus may mean the failure of the strategies
themselves" (p. 8). Case studies of corporations undergoing change (Wilms, 1996;
Zell 1997) and institutions engaging in transformation efforts (Kezar &
Eckel, 2000) reveal that organizational culture can either facilitate or inhibit
institutional transformation, depending on the fit between existing culture and
the proposed change.
Other research (Kabanoff, Waldersee & Cohen, 1995) found that the type of
institutional culture (e.g., elite, meritocratic, leadership, or collegial)
predicted perceptions of change in the organization. Similar to Farmer,
Kabanoff, Waldersee & Cohen emphasize the importance of understanding
organizational culture in change initiatives. In their study of organizational
values and institutional change, they found that organizations characterized by
collegial values (i.e., teamwork, participation, commitment, and high levels of
affiliation) looked at change enthusiastically and in positive terms as opposed
to organizations characterized by elite, meritocratic, or leadership-style value
structures, which were more likely to view change negatively. Although
characteristics of all four value structures can be found in educational
environments, the researchers found that the majority of colleges and
universities included in their study were classified as collegial organizations
and, therefore, perhaps surprisingly, viewed change positively.
While culture clearly affects how the members of the organization perceive
change, the elements of culture are usually unspoken tenets that are often taken
for granted. Therefore, in order to gain a better understanding of culture
within the organization and as a component of the transformation process, the
question becomes, how can we talk about that which is unspoken? Further, if
culture is to be considered in strategic planning and/or institutional
transformation, which aspects of the culture are most conducive to change, and
which aspects of culture are themselves in need of change?
According to Kashner (1990), "readying an institution to reply to the
conditions that call for change or to innovate on the institution's own
initiative requires a clear understanding of its corporate culture and how to
modify that culture in a desired direction" (p. 20). The W.K. Kellogg Foundation
provides some insight into how to gain a clearer understanding of culture
through assessment in their Evaluation Handbook (1998). Context assessment,
particularly in the form of organizational assessment, provides the most
information regarding organizational culture and proves to be a useful tool for
institutional transformation. Organizational assessment includes questions
regarding the characteristics of institutional leadership, resource allocation,
institutional structure, the flow of decision-making, and ties to external
organizations. When conducted prior to transformation efforts, such an exercise
provides rich information about the environment, the fit between the change
initiative and existing organizational culture, and institutional readiness for
change. Therefore, assessment represents one of the primary means to develop
readiness. Two other ways to develop institutional readiness for transformation
efforts are: 1) developing a culture of trust, and 2) open, participative
planning strategies, which will be discussed next.
Research on institutional transformation indicates that an important cultural
condition for change is the existence of trust among the various members of the
campus community. While trust is most readily achieved through open
communication between individuals and groups on campus, trust is also enhanced
when there is a history of "making decisions in a way that reflects a clear and
sensitive understanding of the culture of a campus" (Farmer, 1990, p. 10). A
second condition that is necessary for an effective change environment is the
use of planning strategies that are open, participative, aligned with campus
culture and goals, and long-term. Strategies characterized by these values also
facilitate the development of trust, can help develop institutional "buy-in,"
and reflect the proper scope for innovative and transformational change efforts
(Farmer, 1990; Rowley, Lujan & Dolence, 1997; Steeples, 1990).
Resistance is an important cultural component of
institutional transformation that is often overlooked. It is especially relevant
to colleges and universities in light of their longstanding tradition of
criticism and a wide variety of sub- or counter-cultures. Sub-cultures--based on
organizational role, institutional position, or disciplinary affiliation--often
flourish within the university environment, supporting their own set of customs,
beliefs, and practices that are frequently incongruent with the larger
university culture, not to mention the goals of most transformation efforts
(Clark, 1984). Sub-cultures can also create symbolic "spheres of ownership"
(i.e., feelings of ownership regarding symbolic territories or "turf") on campus
that create serious stumbling blocks to change, especially when the proposed
innovation appears to threaten these rights of possession (Kashner, 1990).
It is the conflicting priorities and values among sub-cultures that most
often contribute to resistance toward change efforts. Historically, the greatest
clash has occurred between administrators--often the initiators and leaders of
campus transformation efforts--and the faculty--the body frequently charged with
implementing educational changes (Kashner, 1990; Swenk, 1999). Because faculty
members' average tenure with a university far outlasts that of most presidents
and administrators, faculty are often the gatekeepers of culture and traditions
on the campus. When long held cultural beliefs are challenged by change efforts,
faculty naturally perceive the change initiative as threatening. Thus, unless
these cultural elements are directly addressed, resistance will be the usual
response to any transformation effort.
While conflict can be disruptive within any campus environment, resistance is
not always negative. In many ways, resistance is an inevitable part of
institutional transformation. Even planned change in an environment that has
been properly prepared results in a certain amount of disequilibrium, such as
initial cost increases or a short-term decrease in efficiency as individuals
break old habits and become familiar with new processes and structures.
According to the definition of institutional transformation adopted for this
paper, change must be "both deep and pervasive" (Eckel, Hill & Green, 1998,
p. 3). Therefore, resistance can be perceived as an indicator that the change
effort has permeated the outer layers of the institution and is moving beyond a
state of adjustment or isolated change to alter the cultural and structural
elements of the institution on the collective level.
Resistance to change is such a pervasive occurrence in attempts at planned
change that researchers have begun to include resistance, crisis, conflict,
and/or politics as key elements in models of institutional transformation
(Reynolds, 1994; Rowley, Lujan, & Dolence, 1997; Simsek & Louis, 1994;
Steeples, 1990). One example is Reynolds' model for change in the workplace,
which includes four stages of change: denial, resistance, exploration, and
commitment. During the first two stages, employees exhibit anger and tension and
experience greater feelings of chaos at work. As a means of moving beyond
resistance, Reynolds suggests readying the environment for change, including
encouraging open communication, emphasizing the big-picture vision, and
maintaining trust among the employees and management. It appears that
institutional readiness for change is inversely related to the resistance
experienced during the transformation effort. Reynolds also points out that once
individuals move beyond the denial and resistance phases, there is usually a
great burst of energy and activity among institutional members.
If resistance indicates that the innovation has
reached the cultural level of the institution, a significant cultural shift
truly verifies that transformation has occurred. The more an innovation is
integrated into the culture of the organization, the more likely we will be to
see changes in the rewards structure and in decision-making strategies and the
more likely the transformation effect will be sustained (Farmer, 1990).
In his work on the success and failure of innovations in higher education,
Levine (1980) pinpoints incompatibility and lack of profitability as the two
primary barriers to positive transformation results and, therefore, the main
reasons that innovations (i.e., transformation efforts) fail. "Compatibility"
refers to the degree of congruence between the innovation and the "norms,
values, and goals of the institution"--all aspects of institutional culture
(Levine, 1980, p. 19). "Profitability" is defined as "the measure of the
effectiveness of an innovation in satisfying the adopter's needs" (p. 19).
Because needs are an outgrowth of cultural aspects of an institution, such as
the purpose and mission, profitability can also be interpreted as a cultural
element. Levine states that planned changes in colleges and universities may
avoid failure by maximizing profitability and congruence. This is achieved by
expanding the cultural boundaries of the institution to include the innovation
or by completely absorbing the innovation so that the boundaries of the
innovation are enveloped by the cultural boundaries of the institution.
Therefore, the outcomes and results of innovation and change are embedded in the
culture of organizations.
Simsek & Louis (1994) present a model of transformation that builds upon
Levine's notion that the results of innovation and planed change efforts are
related to organizational culture. In their "paradigm-shift" model, the outcome
of successful transformation is an alteration of organizational culture in the
direction of desired change. In order to utilize the idea of organizational
change as a paradigm shift, Simsek & Louis present a dynamic model of
transformation including five phases of change: normalcy, confronting anomalies,
crisis, selection, and renewed normalcy. Similar to Levine, Simsek & Louis
acknowledge the importance of organizational culture and institutional values,
myths, metaphors, and symbolic boundaries throughout the process of
organizational change. The researchers conclude that this model of the change
process is a good fit for institutions of higher education because it
acknowledges aspects of the old paradigm (i.e., prevailing culture) while
incorporating it into the newly adopted world view rather than undergoing a
revolutionary cultural change.
An understanding of organizational culture is
clearly important to the study of institutional transformation, given that
transformation "alters the culture of the institution by changing select
underlying assumptions and institutional behaviors, processes, and products"
(Eckel, Hill & Green, 1998, p. 3). At the same time, organizational culture
and cultural change can be used as a means of preparing an environment for
transformation, a yardstick for assessing whether or not a transformational
change has actually taken place, and a means of achieving the desired results of
an innovation. Finally, the success of any transformational effort may well
depend on the extent to which practitioners are able to address issues of
institutional culture in their strategic planning.
Clark, B.R. (1984). Academic culture. Yale
Higher Education Working Group Paper.
Eckel, P., Hill, B. & Green, M. (1998). On change: En route to
transformation. Washington, D.C.: American Council on Education, An occasional
paper series of the ACE project on leadership and institutional transformation.
Farmer, D.W. (1990). Strategies for change. In D.W. Steeples (Ed.), Managing
change in higher education (pp. 7-18). New directions for higher education, Vol.
71. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Kabanoff, B., Waldersee, R., & Cohen, M. (1995). Espoused values and
organizational change themes. Academy of Management Journal, 38(4), 1075-1104.
Kashner, J.B. (1990). Changing the corporate culture. In D.W. Steeples (Ed.),
Managing change in higher education (pp. 19-28). New directions for higher
education, Vol. 71. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Kezar, A. & Eckel, P. (2000). The Effect of Institutional Culture on
Change Strategies in Higher Education: Universal Principals or Culturally
Responsive Concepts? Manuscript submitted for publication.
Levine, A. (1980). Why innovation fails. Albany, NY: State University of New
Rowley, D.J., Lujan, H.D., & Dolence, M.G. (1997). Strategic change in
colleges and universities. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Reynolds, L. (1994). Understanding employees' resistance to change. HR Focus,
71 (6), 17.
Simsek, H., & Louis, K.S. (1994). Organizational change as a paradigm
shift: Analysis of the change process in a large, public university. The Journal
of Higher Education, 65 (6), 670-695.
Steeples, D.W. (1990). Concluding observations. In D.W. Steeples (Ed.),
Managing change in higher education (pp. 101-108). New directions for higher
education, Vol. 71. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Swenk, J. (1999). Planning failures: Decision cultural clashes. The Review of
Higher Education, 23 (1), 1-21.
Tierney, W.G. (1988). Organizational culture in higher education. Journal of
Higher Education, 59 (1), 2-21.
Wilms, W. W. (1996). Restoring prosperity: how workers and managers are
forging a new culture of cooperation. New York: Times Books.
W.K. Kellogg Foundation (1998). Exploring the three components of project
level evaluation: Context evaluation, implementation evaluation, and outcome
evaluation. W.K. Kellogg Foundation Evaluation Handbook.
Zell, D. (1997). Changing by design: organizational innovation at Hewlett
Packard. Ithaca, New York: ILR Press.