Cultural Alignment in Response to Strategic Organizational Change: New Considerations for a Change Framework

By Bennett, Robert H.,, III; Fadil, Paul A. et al. | Journal of Managerial Issues, Winter 1994 | Go to article overview

Cultural Alignment in Response to Strategic Organizational Change: New Considerations for a Change Framework


Bennett, Robert H.,, III, Fadil, Paul A., Greenwood, Robin T., Journal of Managerial Issues


Most modern-day managers would quickly agree that the shared values, attitudes, commitments, beliefs, and overall patterns of thinking socially constructed among members of an organization have a tremendous influence on its long-term effectiveness and performance. The impact of an appropriate organizational culture on the well-being of the business organization has been explicitly recognized by many organizational researchers (Dennison, 1984; Camerer and Vespalian, 1988; and Wilkins and Ouchi, 1983). Tunstall (1986) proposes that a company's culture is the amalgam of shared values, behavior patterns, mores, symbols, attitudes, and normative ways of conducting business that, more than its products or services, differentiate it from all other companies. Further, culture may influence what organizational strategies are selected and whether they are successful (Cartwright and Cooper, 1993; Marcoulides and Heck, 1993; Wilkins and Dyer, 1988). Existing cultural orientations may be quite supportive of the mission and success of a firm at a particular point, but not at all appropriate when significant strategic change becomes necessary. This paper addresses the need for cultural evaluation, feedback, and possible change facilitation as needed to successfully align with necessarily imposed strategic change.

Culture has traditionally been recognized as a consideration in the strategy implementation process (Bourgeois and Brodwin, 1984; Nutt, 1986; Galbraith and Kazanjian, 1986). Culture is assumed to explain the success of some organizations (Peters and Waterman, 1982), to represent an essential element in effectiveness of organizations if it fits the strategy (Schwartz and Davis, 1981), to act as a determinant of strategy (Ackerman, 1982), or as an influence on the implementation of strategic decisions (Schwartz and Davis, 1981). Such claims contribute to the recognition that culture plays a large role in the overall implementation of strategy. As such, culture must play a critical role when dramatic, significant strategic change is mandated.

Figure 1 represents a conceptualization of the relationship between management, culture, and strategy. It is proposed that culture change is an imperative element of management's efforts to: 1) influence the overall orientation and collective workplace themes and attitudes of human resources which, in turn, 2) guide necessary human behaviors, which 3) are part of an implementation effort called for by a particular strategy, which 4) is a response to a significant shift in the demands and restrictions of an ever changing company and strategy. This being the case, organizational culture, as it currently exists, must pose a critical contingency upon both the planning and implementation of future strategies (Schneider and De Meyer, 1991). Mintzberg (1987) convincingly argues that strategy evolves in an incremental fashion, in which case planning and implementation are so interwoven through time that they are virtually inseparable. The argument made here is that cultural aspects of the organization can significantly affect the implementation of strategy and thus must be addressed in the planning of strategy. As part of an evolving process in which feedback and evaluation play a recurring role, the culture of an organization can be better used for competitive advantage by either designing strategy to maximize the current organizational culture, or by gently shaping the culture through intervention when needed strategic change creates a misalignment. As described, this model overlays the entire incremental and iterative process of planning, implementation, and evaluation (Mintzberg, 1987).

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Though culture change has been considered broadly as part of an overall implementation effort, little conceptual literature to date has presented an integrative literature review and synthesis of the cultural variables which impact the implementation of sizable strategic change. …

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