Organizational Culture and Organizational Change: How Shared Values, Rituals, and Sagas can Facilitate Change in an Academic Library
Thursday 11 April 2013, 8:00 am – 9:00 am, JW Marriott Grand Ballroom 9-10
Organizational culture is defined as the shared norms, values, and beliefs of an academic library. By understanding the culture of a library, one gains an understanding of the underlying values and assumptions of the organization and what motivates and drives the behavior of those within the library.
Definition of Organizational Culture
Organizations are societies complete with their own values that dictate behavior and norms that provide a frame for members to interpret reality (Morgan 1997). In other words, all organizations, no matter their type, grow and nurture their own culture, an organizational culture.
When an organizational leader speaks of the need to develop a “culture of sustainability” or a “culture of ethics,” this is not the same as the deep, complex concept of organizational culture.
Edgar Schein (2004) defines organizational culture as:
“A pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.”
Value and Use of Organizational Culture
Through shared values, heroes and heroines, rituals and ceremonies, and a cultural network organizational culture creates a sense of identity, community, and sense of belonging amongst its members (Deal and Kennedy 1983 and Jordan 2003). Culture provides meaning to the work of the organization by allowing members to be part of something larger than themselves, ensures members abide by organizational norms, and frames the outside world so its members can more easily interpret reality (Smircich 1983).
Creation and Dissemination of Organizational Culture
Organizational culture emerges from the external environment, history, and day-to-day operations of the organization.
Organizational culture is taught. The teaching of organizational culture begins with the hiring process and is carried on in a plethora of ways, both formal and informal, including training workshops, HR programs, employee stories, and ceremonies (Goffee and Jones 1998 and Schein 1990).
Expression of Organizational Culture
Organizational culture is expressed through cultural artifacts like symbols, rites and rituals, and sagas.
Jordan (2003) defines a symbol as any object that represents another object which holds a deep meaning for the culture’s members.
Jordan (2003) argues symbols are the most important part of any organizational culture as all cultures are composed of symbols.
Rites and Rituals
A rite or ritual has a manifest purpose in the normal day-to-day operations of the organization, but they also fulfill a latent or symbolic role by reinforcing the values of the organization through the active participation of its members.
Sagas often arise from an organization in chaos and tell how the members banded together to save and advance the organization (or failed completely).
Sagas are crucial to understanding an organizational culture as they provide a glimpse into the past.
Efforts to initiate change in organizations are largely unsuccessful (Higgs and Rowland 2010). Change is complex and failure can occur at many levels.
What Change Means
Change in an organization creates uncertainty in an organization. This uncertainty creates fear among those in the organization making change management very difficult.
People organize their lives in such a way so as to maximize their day-to-day consistency. Change makes life seem less safe and orderly, thereby causing those undergoing change to feel threatened.
Resistance to Change
Most change efforts are unsuccessful because of resistance, either active or passive, of those within the organization.
People resist change for a variety of reasons. (Kanter 2012)
- They feel they have no stake in the change process
- They do not want to take on the increased work change creates
- They are concerned about their lack of needed skills to thrive in the organization after the change
- They are worried they might lose their jobs
Common tips to overcome resistamce (Hansen 2012 and Askenas 2011 and Musselwhite and Plouffe 2011)
- Implement change slowly
- Understand the reasons behind employee resistance and address those reasons
- Engage everyone in the organization
- Institute a system of incentives and punishment
- Personnel turnover
Leaders can play an important part in overcoming resistance by acting as role models and communicating openly during change. (Musselwhite and Plouffe 2011 and Merrell 2012)
Two kinds of commitment to change exist: “affective commitment” and “normative commitment.”
The employee’s perception of how beneficial the change will be, usually to the employee.
The “sense of obligation” an employee has to the organization.
Normative commitment is more strongly associated with positive attitudes for change.
Organizational Culture and Organizational Change
When it comes to change, organizational culture can be a fickle mistress. Culture can both help and hinder the change process. Challenges to an organization’s culture are met with strong and immediate resistance. To be successful, therefore, a change agent needs to use organizational culture to his/her advantage.
Building change on and around the core values of the library’s culture makes implementing the change less uncertain and unpredictable thereby making the librarians and library staff less stressed and fearful. Emphasizing an organization’s values, especially how the change will enhance those values, strikes at the very heart of those within the organization and makes them more open to and accepting of change.
An organizational leader and change agent are able to foster higher levels of normative commitment and better fit between employee and organization through organizational culture.
Using Cultural Artifacts to Facilitate Change
- Change should be tied to the organizational values
- Change will make the values the organization holds deeper and stronger
By strengthening the values, the change agent is making the culture more robust. By linking the change to strengthened values, members are more likely to be accepting of the change.
Rites and Rituals
- A ritual provides a consistent event around which people schedule their work lives.
- The knowledge this event will always be at the same time and place gives a person reassurance and comfort.
Allow for Celebration
- During change an organization should celebrate accomplishments and tell success stories (Kanter 2010).
- A ritual is a great time to celebrate these successes.
- Emphasizing how the organization has overcome greater difficulties in the past gives resolve to those in the present situation.
- Those who are still in the organization who helped overcome great difficulties in the past can be held aloft as heroes in the organization who can provide support, comfort, and advice.
Organizational Culture and Organizational Change: An Example
At a large urban academic library, a new director replaced a director who held the position for over 20 years. The library had previously undergone very little change making the library out-of-date, inefficient, and inexperienced with change. The new director needed to bring the library up-to-date in its practices and procedures while also streamlining and combining many job functions and processes. This meant fast and radical change in the library.
- Across all librarians and staff in Public Services, Technical Services, and IT
- Changed work flow in Technical Services
- Emphasis on faster and better service
- Merged several Public Services’ desks to one desk
- Emphasis on higher visibility for better service
Freedom and Professional Autonomy
- Create a bottom-approach to decision making
- Faculty Governance
- Faculty meetings run by librarians
- Librarians review policies and procedures
- People of the library celebrated and respected
- Seen in several rituals
Staff Development Day
- Professional development for staff
- An opportunity to come together
Staff Coffee Break
- Weekly chance to meet with library dean
- Opens communication and trust between staff and dean
- Celebrate the people of the library
- Recognize the great work done over the previous year
These rituals also had the added benefit of being a constant during a time of change; they were also held at the same time each week, month, or year.
The two main sagas of the library:
- The Library’s Beginnings
- The Major Library Renovation
They tell of humble beginnings, enduring hardship, but ultimately rising to prominence through hard work and perseverance, exactly what was needed to successfully complete the changes currently underway in the library.
All of these changes mean more work and uncertainty for the librarians and library staff, and while some pushback to the changes occurred, the vast majority gladly went along with the changes because they realized they would be enriching and strengthening their shared values and culture. While many of the librarians and staff had complaints about the library, overall they felt a strong commitment to see it grow and succeed. This is the power of organizational culture and its shared values, beliefs, and norms.
A bibliography may be found in the full paper.