The role of university organizational culture to successfully make change stick

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Every organization has a culture. And organizational culture is an important variable to consider in the institutionalization of change. In this blog a brief overview of organizational culture is provided before discussion of the importance in thinking about how culture can influence the success at making change stick.

 

There are numerous definitions of organizational culture and among the most famous is the classic meaning proposed by Professor Edgar Schein from the MIT Sloan School of Management:

 

“… the pattern of basic assumptions that a given group has invented, discovered, or developed in learning to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, and that have worked well enough to be considered valid, and, therefore to be taught to new members.”

Schein, E.H. (1992). Organizational culture and leadership: A dynamic view, (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

 

The way we do things around here

While this definition is often cited in books and research, I’ve always liked the brief description of Dean and Kennedy (1982) who simply defined organizational culture as: “the way we do things around here”. So, an organizational culture is an explanation of the “pattern of behavior, values, beliefs, language, and rules that is communicated and maintained in workplace” (Deal & Kennedy).

Deal, T., & Kennedy, A. (1982). Corporate cultures: The rites and rituals of corporate life. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

 

The big influencer

In higher education institutions, organizational culture can be considered from different levels – the entire university as well as at sub-unit levels such as the department. Each part of the university will have its own unique organizational culture. These unique cultures can result in difference in the types of change process adopted, how change is implemented, and even the outcomes from planned change initiatives. But each department, college, or faculty group can also have difference approaches to change as a result of their own organizational culture. Therefore, thinking about the characteristics of the organizational culture are important when planning how to successfully implement permanent change.

 

“…each department, …or faculty group can also have difference approaches to change as a result of their own organizational culture.”

 

Unique approaches to change

Organizational culture is a key variable that impacts the process of institutionalization of change. It is vital that organizational culture be made a priority to consider when making a change and dedicating focus, effort, and resources to make the change stick.

 

“It is vital that organizational culture be made a priority to consider when making a change.”

 

Each institution in the MS2W Network has thought about how they will design, develop, and deploy practices to help embed the new methods of instruction. The process to implement these changes includes an institutionalization map, feedback, and the institutional engagement and ownership so the MS2W model is made a lasting change.

 

The success of efforts to embed the changes with innovative instruction to prepare workplace ready students can be detailed and measured with the elements of institutionalization:

  • Commitment, involvement, and support for the innovation;
  • Clarity of the vision of the fully applied model in the institution;
  • Time allocated to work on the model and the level of effort made;
  • Alignment of the interest of the MS2W innovation with the goals and the strategy of the institution;
  • The practice of recognizing the performance through incentive, reward and award in the institution.

 

There is no “one best way” to make change stick

Each institution in the MS2W Network is unique, with their own unique organizational culture. Therefore, each institution should make sure that the way they plan to help support the institutionalization of change is in alignment with their organizational culture.

 

As an example, if the university organizational culture could be described as highly collaborative and team based, then a program to provide an incentive, reward, and awards to recognize performance of one individual making changes to their teaching would not be aligned with the “the way we do things around here”. Rather, to help make the changes stick and to align with the organizational culture, this example university would want a team incentive, reward, or award. In this way, the efforts, practices, and policies to help make change stick are supported by and aligned with the university culture. So, when designing ways to make change stick – think of your organizational culture.