According to Atkinson (2005),
90 per cent of culture change attempts fail to achieve their objectives, and
research indicates that there are barriers that make organizational change
difficult, or often impossible.  Schein (2010)
referred to organizational culture as an invisible, and to some degree
unconscious yet powerful “phenomena that are below the surface” (p.14).  Organizational culture is demonstrated through
the behavior of its employees and their interactions with each other and the organization
and there is evidence to suggest that an organization’s performance and
efficiency are affected by its culture (Ogbonna & Harris, 2002; Kotrba, et
al., 2012).  Change in an organization’s
culture is often implemented as a means of enhancing business performance, or as
a response to changes outside of the business that demand change within the
organization in order to maintain a competitive edge. Change initiatives also
consider employee productivity, wellbeing and psychosocial work environment. A
negative psychosocial environment leads to a dysfunctional culture, high
employee turnover and a counterproductive workforce.  The concept of organizational
culture can be understood through Schein’s (1985) subculture theory, which
identified three levels of culture, Artifacts, Espoused Values and Basic
Assumptions and Values. Artifacts refer to the easily discernable aspects of
culture such as dress code or office design. Beneath the artifacts are the
values which are espoused by the leaders of the organization and which indicate
why the artifacts have been established and, further beneath the values lie the
essence of culture, the basic assumptions held by members of the organization,
which are unconscious and hard to discern but which govern their perceptions,
beliefs and comportment.  If these values
do not correspond with the basic assumptions of the general organizational
culture, it can lead to cultural dissonance.Quinn
& Rohrbaugh (1983) proposed that there various different types of organizational
culture and created the Competing Values Framework, which looks at the tangents
between flexibility and
stability, and internal facing and external facing organizations. Within these
four tangents, four quadrants, or culture types, have been identified which are defined as Clan, Adhocracy, Hierarchy and Market
cultures (Cameron & Quinn, 2006).  Organizations may not always fall entirely
under one quadrant but often predominately lean towards one type of culture and
this model provides a framework for diagnosing culture. Through their research,
Cameron and Quinn (2006) found that the “most frequently cited reason given for
failure was a neglect of the organization’s culture” (para. 2) and that “failure
to change the organization’s culture doomed the other kinds of organizational changes
that were initiated” (para. 2) indicating that organizational culture and
organizational change are closely interlinked. Lewin (1947) viewed culture
as a dynamic equilibrium and stated that in order “to bring about any
change, the balance between the forces which maintain the social
self-regulation at a given level has to be upset” (Lewin, 1948, p.

47).  According to his three-step, unfreeze-move-freeze
model, the existing equilibrium can be unfrozen in three ways, increasing the driving
force to move the behavior away from its current status quo, decreasing the
restraining force, or a combination of both. 
This can be accomplished by actively engaging employees in the change
process and seeking their input in order to build their trust and help them
recognize the necessity for change. The following transitional stage, an
often-difficult process for employees due to the internal and external changes
that are required, stimulates essential movement towards the goal. Once the
changes have been made and stability has been established the balance must be frozen
at the new level.  Lewin further specifies
that change is often short lived and states that “after a shot in the arm,
group life soon returns to the previous level” (p.34) and therefore,
“permanency of the new level, or permanency for a desired period should be
included in the objective” (p.35) indicating that change may not be stable or
sustainable. According to Pettigrew &
Whipp (1991), strategic change is the result of an interaction between three
dimensions, ‘content’, which are the objectives, purpose and goals, ‘process’, which
is the implementation, and ‘context’, the internal and external environment of
the strategy. They identified five interconnected factors that contribute
towards effective strategic change. Environmental assessment, the monitoring of
internal and external environment of the organization using open learning
systems; Human resources as assets and liabilities stresses that employees must
be made aware of their value to the organization; Linking strategic and
operational change implements and transforms intentions leading to new
strategic change; Leading change steers the organization forward and in the
intended direction of the goals and values and; Overall coherence combines the
previous four factors and emphasizes that the change strategy be consistent,
compatible with the environment, feasible and provide a competitive edge.  Together these theories
suggest that if culture is manifested through the behavior, attitude and
interaction of organizational members, any type of change within the
organization that requires change in one or all of these manifestations, will require
a change in the organization’s culture, irrespective of whether or not culture
was the main objective of the change strategy. Any organizational change
initiative is therefore also a culture change initiative and, as culture can
determine the success or ‘doom’ of a change strategy, it must be carefully
considered. However, the definition of culture as a powerful but invisible phenomenon
(Schein, 2010) is ominous and must be given a more precise definition in order
to determine why is it so difficult to change.  If, as according to Schein’s model, culture
has three levels, of which the artifacts and espoused values are discernable, it
is only the essence of culture, which refers to the basic assumptions and
values held by employees that are invisible and hard to discern. Therefore, if assumptions
and values are manifested through behavior, this is both obvious and perceivable.

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It could then be argued that organizational culture is an umbrella term for
manifestations that are observable, and these include dress code, office design
and leadership and employee behaviors. The theories also suggest that culture
type is distinct to each organization and may sit on a spectrum between
flexibility and stability and internal and external focus and, therefore, a
strategy for change must be able to identify culture type, content, process and
context of the organization.  It is
further indicated that difficulties in changing organizational culture can arise
if employees do not recognize the need for change, or are not actively included
in the change process, and also indicate that if culture type is not correctly
diagnosed, there may an incorrect fit between the change strategy and the organization,
and change could ultimately be unsustainable or altogether unsuccessful. An analysis of an unsuccessful attempt to change the culture at a U.S.

Military Academy by Ruvolom & Bullis (2003) found five main factors that
contributed to its failure.  Firstly, the
leader put in place to implement the change was new to the organisation and had
no insider knowledge of the organisation’s culture, history or mission.  He based his strategy on past successes and,
rather than reassessing his approach when it appeared to be failing, he
continued on without any adaptation. 
Secondly, rather than iterating to the current members that a change in
culture was needed in order for the organisation to successfully continue they
were assured that no major changes were necessary or would take place.  This led to later resistance when the leader
tried to implement changes, as the current members viewed the changes as
unnecessary. Another failing factor was a lack of communication with other
senior members of staff.  Rather than
including members who had previously been responsible for making decisions and
utilising their expertise, they were excluded from having any input whatsoever.

This also led to resistance, which was further met with an instruction to stay
silent and obey which disempowered them completely.  In addition, the importance of the support of
the stakeholders within the organisation was ignored. Their opinions and
concerns of how their departments should function were not taken into
consideration and, instead, the leader created an imbalance between departments
by continuing with his set agenda. Further, it was found that the
organisation’s seniors had not monitored the new leader or the situation in any
way and he had received no mentoring or coaching to help him develop the skills
that were relevant to the organisation.  When
comparing these results to the theories, this analysis confirms that
implementing change is difficult, if not impossible, when strategy and culture
do not correspond, and further confirms that not engaging and empowering
employees to acknowledge that change is necessary, or providing them with the
knowledge to enable them to embrace and initiate change, is detrimental to the
change initiative and culminates in resistance.   As Ruvolom & Bullis’ (2003) analysis confirms, most aspects of
organisational change rely on the cooperation and collective behaviour of employees
and, therefore, the progress and success of implementing change is directly impacted
by their beliefs and attitude towards the need and effect of the change. Employee
openness to change is vital (Armenakis, Harris, & Mossholder, 1993) and a
lack of openness to change has an adverse effect on the change initiative
(Kotter, 1995; Kotter & Schlesinger, 2008).  A lack of openness indicates insufficient
readiness at both an individual and organizational level and it has been
suggested that half of all unsuccessful change initiatives can be attributed to
failure to ensure sufficient readiness (Kotter, 1996). Achilles, Armenakis
& Harris (1993) referred to the concept of readiness as similar to Lewin’s
unfreezing stage, and state that it includes employees’ “beliefs, attitudes,
and intentions regarding the extent to which changes are needed and the
organization’s capacity to successfully make those changes” (p.681). While individual readiness refers to dispositional characteristics, organizational
readiness refers to the collective psychological state “in which organizational
members feel committed to implementing an organizational change and confident
in their collective abilities to do so” (Weiner, 2009, “Summary” para. 1).  Therefore, employees must not only be
personally ready, but must also have full confidence in both their colleagues
and the organization’s commitment and ability. An individual’s attitude towards
change can be affected by their perception of their organization’s readiness (Eby, Adams, Russell, & Gaby, 2000), which implies
that if individual and organizational readiness are not aligned, difficulties
can arise during change implementation.  Insufficient employee readiness can result in resistance
to change and this is said to be “one of the most baffling and recalcitrant of the problems” (Lawrence, 2000,
p.4) in organizational change. Herscovitch
(2003) defined resistance to change as an “employee action or inaction that is
intended to avoid a change and/or interfere with the successful implementation
of a change in its current form” (p.14).   Resistance
to change, comprised of three dimensions, emotional, cognitive and intentional (Piderit, 2000), has
been found to be partly due to employee’s identities becoming dislodged (Carr,
1999).  If culture is, as Schein (1990) states,
a behavioral, cognitive, and emotional process that a group learns over time,
then, as van Maanen and Kunda (1989, p. 46) state, any “attempt to manage
culture is therefore also an attempt to manage emotions”.  This implies that culture is learned and is
intertwined with “sense of identity” (Ryan, 2005, p.432). A change in culture therefore
demands a change in identity, and as Smollan & Sayers’ (2009) study confirms,
culture “has emotive elements and change is frequently emotional” (p.24). This
may explain the ‘baffling’ difficulty that change leaders encounter when
dealing with employee resistance, as what they are faced with are the
complexities of each individual’s emotional response to their identities being threatened
with a demand for change. A study by McDonald 
(2005) took the view of changing culture as a process of changing
employee identity and, therefore, created an initiative that attempted to
empower employees in order to motivate them to change. The results showed that
whilst some employees became actively engaged in the change process, others
resisted attempts to change their identity, indicating that both readiness and
resistance to change are subject to individual differences. If a proactive
attempt  at increasing cannot
ensure readiness or eliminate resistance   Holt, Armenakis, Harris, & Feild (2007) found four constructs that affect
individual readiness for change, which were their beliefs in their capability
to implement the change, the appropriateness of the change for the
organisation, management support or leadership commitment to the change, and
the personal benefit to themselves. In a prior study, Armenakis and Bedeian’s (1999) stated that the
content of the change communication is critical to its success, the message
should stress the necessity and appropriateness of the change for the
organization, show confidence in the employees’ and the organization’s ability
to achieve the change, indicate the benefits associated with the change, and
should clearly indicate that top management is fully supportive. As the content
of this change message corresponds with the readiness constructs, these
findings indicate that if the content of the change message does not satisfy
the constructs that affect individual readiness for change, then readiness will
not be achieved.  Kotter (1995) also confirms the importance of the
content of the change message, although he believes that the error is in not
establishing a great enough sense of urgency. 
He states that “when the urgency rate is not pumped up enough, the
transformation process cannot succeed” (pp. 60 & 62).  The content of change
communication therefore affects readiness and has also been found to increase
employee change receptivity (Kanter, 1999; Koter & Schlesinger, 1979). Employee receptivity and change
communication have been further linked in a case study by Frahm & Brown (2007)
which found that employees that may have been initially positive about a change
movement became resistant to the change as it was implemented because they were
not close enough to management to be well informed or involved in the process.

Due to the lack of information being passed to them, they began to create their
own change realities based on rumors and this caused them to become frustrated,
cynical, contemptuous and unreceptive to the change process. Therefore, failing
to provide proper communication during all stages of the implementation process
results in a withdrawal of support from employees and causes frustration,
ambiguity and the creation of false information. A lack of proper communication
directly affects openness to change as it undermines employee trust in
leadership.  Trust in leadership is found
to positively moderate and facilitate successful change, and openness
to change decreases dramatically when trust in executive management is low (Devos,
Buelens & Bouckenooghe, 2007). These
findings are indirectly supported by the Ruvolom & Bullis’ (2003) study
in which the lack of communication factored into the failure of the change
attempt.  When the results of these
studies are taken together, they indicate that if there is any insufficiency in
the content of the change message or change communication at each stage, to not
only senior members of staff and stakeholders, but also to employees at all
levels, employee support is not attained.  Therefore,
these studies indicate that if the change message does not contain adequate
information to appease the constructs that affect readiness, or generate enough
urgency to motivate change, then readiness is not achieved. If employees are
not sufficiently ready for change, the result can be resistance, which makes
change implementation difficult and often causes its failure. An organization’s culture is ingrained in the
identity of its members, and resistance is an emotional reaction to the demand
for identity change that culture change requires. Ensuring
that employees understand why the change is necessary and involving them in all
stages of the change can reduce resistance and encourage a positive attitude
towards the change, but due to individual differences, it is difficult to
ensure consistency among employees. According to Beer, Eisenstat,
& Spector (1990), attempting to change employees’ attitudes in order to stimulate
change in their behavior is a “fundamentally flawed” (p.159) strategy and is
the reason why most change programs do not work.  They believe that employee behavior is shaped
by the roles they play within the organization and state that “The most
effective way to change behavior, therefore, is to put people into a new
organizational context, which imposes new roles, responsibilities, and
relationships on them. This creates a situation that, in a sense, “forces” new
attitudes and behaviors on people” (p. 159). 
This simplifies

 

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