Organizational Culture and Institutional Transformation

Topics: Organizational culture, Culture, Sociology Pages: 8 (2385 words) Published: October 18, 2008
Organizational Culture and Institutional Transformation

Jennifer R. Keup, Arianne A. Walker, Helen S. Astin, Jennifer A. Lindholm 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 added).

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.


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...

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