Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Organizational Culture and Change: What Impact Will the United States Marine Corps' Culture Have on the Implementation of the Don't Ask Don't Tell Repeal?

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Organizational Culture and Change: What Impact Will the United States Marine Corps' Culture Have on the Implementation of the Don't Ask Don't Tell Repeal?

Article excerpt


This article examines the U.S. Marine Corps' implantation of Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) repeal and what it can tell us about organizational culture and change beyond this one branch of military service. Major organizational change, especially emotionally significant ones involving a highly sensitive subject, is important to public administration. To accomplish this purpose, this article explains the pattern of past U.S. Marine Corps major changes involving acceptance of women and Blacks into the ranks of the Corps plus the acceptance of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals (LGB) under the repeal of DADT.

In addition the Cameron and Quinn (2006) "competing values" framework is discussed in relation to the DADT repeal change. Their research on organizational culture, change, and transformation is particularly useful for understanding how the Corps confronts its own organizational culture, change, and transformation for the DADT repeal. Finally, some thoughts on the likely success of the DADT repeal are offered.


Louis defines organizational culture, "as the character of an organization, its climate, ideology, and image. It encompasses notions of informal organization, norms, and emergent systems" (1985:27). If an outsider is considering joining an organization, that person can observe the organization's informal behaviors, norms, and attitudes. Such an examination would identify the character of that organization and therefore its culture.

Schein notes, understanding an organization's culture helps individuals to become, "less likely to be puzzled, irritated, and anxious when they encounter the unfamiliar and seemingly irrational behavior of people in the organizations" (1992: 5). He defines organizational culture using a more succinct and technical definition "the culture of a group can be defined as a pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group earned as it solved its problems of external adaption and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore to be taught to new members as the current way to perceive, think, and feel in relationships to those problems" (Schein, 1992:13).

Thus, organizational culture is the group-shared character that arises out of common experiences and hardships that have occurred during the organization's life cycle. New organization members must assimilate into the group culture or they will encounter small and sometimes major difficulties working in their new environment.


Schein also points out that with a comprehension of group dynamics comes a "deeper understanding not only of why various groups of people or organizations can be so different but also why it is so hard to change them" (1992:5). Organization change is normally met by internal opposition and thus makes change challenging to manage and achieve. Organizational change can occur quickly-revolutionary-and slowly over time-evolutionary. The key question is: Which type of change is superior under the various circumstances? (Burke, 2008).

For Burke, revolutionary change is, "a major overhaul of the organization resulting in a modified or entirely new mission, a change in strategy, leadership, and culture" (2008:1). Revolutionary change is fast and a significant departure from past organizational culture. Typically this change is met with heavy resistance. Therefore, managing such a change requires precise planning and forethought on the expected resistance to the change.

In contrast, evolutionary change is not radical; rather, it is more methodical. Burke describes it as, "improvements that arise out of incremental steps to fix a problem or change part of a larger system" (2008: 69). Because this change occurs over a length of time, fundamental major change is unlikely. Burke observes, "overcoming inertia and equilibrium, as Pascale, Milleman, and Gioja emphasized, is difficult, if not impossible, without a discontinuous jolt to the system. …

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