The Influence of Subcultures on Planned Change in a Community College

By Locke, Mary G.; Guglielmino, Lucy | Community College Review, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

The Influence of Subcultures on Planned Change in a Community College


Locke, Mary G., Guglielmino, Lucy, Community College Review


This qualitative case study focusing on a collegewide change initiative was conducted to provide community college leaders with a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the role of subcultures in planned change. Research indicates that institutional culture is a primary factor in the success of change programs; however, little research has been conducted on the influence of organizational subcultures on planned change in community colleges. The results of this study indicate that subcultural groups differently experience, respond to, and influence planned change in a community college, leading to strategies for more effective planned change programs.

Keywords: planned change initiative; institutional culture; cultural perspective

Background

The environment in which today's colleges and universities operate is continuously being reshaped by unpredictable, turbulent forces. Rapid advances in technology, globalization, expanding governmental mandates, diminishing resources, growing enrollment pressures, and changing demographics are creating an unstable environment for institutions more likely to have been built on a culture emphasizing tradition and stability than on the culture of responsiveness, flexibility, and innovation necessary to thrive in a chaotic environment (Balderston, 1995; Peters, 1987; Roueche, Roueche, & Johnson, 2002; Taylor, 2002)

These unrelenting forces of change have prompted community colleges to reexamine their purpose, roles, and efficacy to meet emerging challenges and capitalize on new opportunities. Many community college leaders have identified the need for modifications in the institution's culture, mission, processes, and procedures and have implemented planned change initiatives to enhance institutional effectiveness (O'Banion, 2003). As college leaders seek to integrate and anchor large-scale changes to improve the institution's effectiveness, they are recognizing that the success or failure of planned change often rests predominantly on their ability to understand, manage, and, when necessary, reshape the organization's culture (Cameron & Quinn, 1999; Denison, 2001; Kotter, 2002; Schein, 1985).

The relationship between organizational culture and planned organizational change is well established; change theorists assert that efforts to bring about significant change without addressing the organization's culture will be futile (Kouzes & Posner, 1990; Schein, 1992). Schein (1992) further contended that the creation, management, and, when necessary, destruction of culture is the leader's primary responsibility. Kotter (2002) cautioned that if change is not firmly anchored into the organizational culture, it will not endure; the organization has a strong tendency to revert to its preexisting status.

The influence of organizational subcultures on planned change has also been acknowledged (Carducci, 2002; Deal & Kennedy, 1982; Owens, 2001). According to Schein (1992), it can be assumed that most mature organizations encompass one or more subcultures that have developed their own guiding assumptions and beliefs based on what they have learned through shared past experiences. To the extent that subcultures align with the dominant culture, they can strengthen it. When subcultures significantly deviate from the dominant culture, they can destabilize or create dysfunction within the organization (Owens, 2001). The successful change leader recognizes that strong subcultures have the potential, and often the capability, to generate resistance that can derail a change initiative; conversely, subcultures can facilitate change by injecting diverse perspectives and innovative ideas into the organization.

Community college culture, however, is typically viewed in a monolithic one-size-fits-all sense, rather than as the multidimensional composition of assumptions, beliefs, attitudes, and perspectives of many different subgroups (Carducci, 2002). …

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