How leaders use the construct of culture to influence change resistance: A study of a planned change initiative in a combined government and military organization
The construct of organizational culture has been used to interpret various aspects of organizational life, including organizational leadership and organizational change. The literature indicates that leaders can influence organizational change by attending to and modifying an organization's cultural dimensions. Much of this literature, however, is theoretical and speculative, and the empirical work that does exist has focused mostly on business.
The purpose of this case study was to develop an understanding of how leaders in a combined government and military organization used the notion of culture during a two-and-a-half year planned change initiative. The study explored the strategies and mental constructs those in positions of formal authority used to make sense of and influence the change process. The particular focus was on identifying any culture-oriented change strategies leaders use to overcome resistance to change. The study also examined how organizational culture shaped and constrained leaders' actions.
This study employed qualitative methods. Interviews with designated leaders of the planned change initiative were the primary data collection method. Document analysis and participant observation were used to triangulate interview data.
Several findings and conclusions emerged from the study. One of the more interesting findings involved the observation of resistance at the top of the organizational hierarchy, i.e. the level from which the change initiative had been promoted. Normally, resistance is conceptualized as something that occurs at the bottom rungs of an organizational hierarchy. In this initiative, in which middle managers were given considerable authority about what would be done to achieve goals mandated from the top, there was significant resistance coming from above as well as below. Both levels, in other words, were uncomfortable with the specific cultural change being implemented, and both levels attempted to minimize its impact.
This study should be useful to individuals who are charged with leading large-scale change initiatives within their organizations and to scholars who analyze and write about the use of culture as both a facilitating and an inhibiting factor in planned organizational change.