A Process Model of Organizational Change in Cultural Context ([OC.Sup.3] Model): The Impact of Organizational Culture on Leading Change

Article excerpt

Change resides at the heart of leadership. Organizational culture is one of many situational variables that have emerged as pivotal in determining the success of leaders' efforts to implement change initiatives. This article introduces a process model of organizational change in cultural context ([OC.sup.3] Model) derived from ethnographic analysis. The model delineates the differential impact of organizational culture at every stage of change implementation. Eight stages of cultural influence are identified and illustrated. Research propositions are stated to encourage refinement of the model. Theoretical and practical implications for leadership are explored; applications for resolving organizational immunity to change are discussed.

Keywords: organizational culture; organizational change; leadership theory; sensemaking; process model; ethnography;

Purpose and Research Questions

The primary objective of this study was to model the interaction between organizational culture and change, delineating the ways in which a leader's knowledge of organizational culture affects the process of implementing change, and identifying the stages of the change process at which the interaction between organizational culture and change implementation holds functional significance. Many existing models of organizational change acknowledge the influence of tacit dimensions of organizational life at one or more stages of the change process (Bate, Khan, & Pye, 2000; Burke, 2008; Demers, 2007; Wilkins & Dyer, 1988). These models reflect differing levels of granularity with respect to the process of effecting organizational change, and each recognizes distinctive stages of change implementation (By, 2005). The Model of Organizational Change in Cultural Context ([OC.sup.3] Model) introduced in this article was developed to reflect critical stages in the process of change implementation where organizational culture exerts differential influence.

The [OC.sup.3] Model was derived from an ethnographic study undertaken to investigate how organizational culture shapes the development and mediates the implementation and impact of change initiatives introduced by newly appointed leaders recruited from outside large, complex organizations. Research questions focused on (a) how knowledge of organizational culture is acquired by newly appointed leaders, (b) how cultural knowledge affects the process of change implementation, and (c) how tacit elements of organizational culture influence efforts to effect change. This article presents theoretical propositions of the [OC.sup.3] Model, positioning it within the context of existing conceptual and process models of organizational change and establishing an agenda for future research. Implications for leadership and organizational studies are explored.

Models of Organizational Change

Leadership scholars have studied organizational change from both conceptual and process perspectives. Conceptual approaches focus on the antecedents and consequences of change (the "what"); process views address roles and strategies required for implementation (the "how") (Burke, 2008, p. 154, emphasis in original).

Conceptual Models

Conceptual models of change concentrate on the content and magnitude of strategic initiatives, with particular emphasis on the cognitive mechanisms implicated in effecting intended outcomes. Golembiewski, Billingsley, and Yeager (1976) conceptualized three levels of change--alpha, beta and gamma--based on the degree to which individuals are required to modify their underlying cognitive mechanisms for assessing the behavioral outcomes of change initiatives. Other conceptual models of change emphasize the mental constructs that mediate sensemaking in organizations. These content theories of change invoke the notion of schemata (Bartunek & Moch, 1987) or theories-in-use (Argyris, 1976) as mental constructs functioning to focus attention, interpret experience, and assign meaning to events. …