Managing Organizational Culture Change: The Case of Long-Term Care

Recent research has focused on organizations as continuously confronted by forces for change. These forces may cause organizations to rethink their deeply held cultural values and beliefs in order to survive in the changing landscape. Using the long-term care industry as an exemplar, we argue that effective change requires understanding what organizational culture means, and understanding how organizational change typically occurs. Though some scholars emphasize that change is largely out of the control of organization leaders and primarily the result of evolutionary and revolutionary forces, we argue that culture change can be effectively managed. We conclude with implementation strategies for effective culture change management.

In this article we present the fundamentals of organizational culture and change from an organizational behavior viewpoint. In reviewing these concepts and the associated research, we are making a critical assumption: By understanding the phenomena underlying culture and change processes, managers will be better equipped to implement real and lasting change in their organizations. It is our contention that when organizational change is implemented in a well-intentioned but superficial manner, this leads to needlessly disruptive, even possibly psychologically and institutionally harmful change results (e.g., employees becoming cynical and suspicious of any future change efforts). The superficiality of most change efforts is understandable in the sense that cultural values are difficult to fully identify, let alone control or manage. The very taken-for-granted nature of cultural values makes altering them difficult and threatening–it requires surfacing what the values actually are, before change can be implemented (Garfinkel, 1967). As many have noted, it is difficult for the fish to fully appreciate and understand the water in which they swim. Yet despite this daunting complexity, we are encouraged by the substantial research suggesting that culture change can be managed. The survival, evolution-adaptation, and revolutionary models of change are cautionary models:

  • They all assume that change will happen, even if managers are resolutely standing still.
  • They assume that change is largely out of the strategic control of organizational leaders.

What the management-of-culture-change model suggests, however, is that leaders can, and must “grab hold” of the inevitable change at opportune moments, and strategically implement it. The change process we outline requires attention to a variety of variables, including thoughtful cognitive and affective communication, rewarding behaviors, congruence between rhetoric, structures, and practices, and facilitating active involvement by a wide range of participants. This is a tall order. But if long-term care organizations – as with their counterparts in the corporate environment – wish to survive in their environments on terms that they, rather than the environment dictate, attention to cultural change and its effective implementation are essential. Moreover, if these organizations wish to thrive in meaningful ways for elders, their families and staff, understanding the dynamics of culture change will be essential to implementing a model or amalgam of models described in this volume.

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