The Role of Organizational Culture in Managing Change

Managing organizational change is a challenging phase in the life of the firm as it entails shifting from a “known” to an “unknown” state, creating uncertainties in an organization. As such, organizational change inevitably faces varying levels of resistance. Corporate culture is cited as one of the critical resistance factors in many cases. The purpose of the present paper is to explore the role of organizational culture in change management and the impact of strategic human resource management (strategic HRM) in managing organizational change and resistance to change. 

Why Organizational Change Meets With Resistance

            Employees’ resistance to adjustment is a natural response to the change process. Cornescu and Adam in a review argue that resistance to change happens because the change process threatens the status quo, increasing the anxiety and fear of the imaginary or real consequences, such as threats to job security and confidence in the capability to perform under the new dynamics (Cornescu & Adam 2016). In the organizational setup, however, employees resist change due to lack of clarity or conversation on what is required, perceived negative consequence to their interests, are attached to corporate culture, uncertainties of the future, because they dislike change or due to other contextual circumstances, corporate goals and personal characteristics (Jones & Van de Ven, 2016).

Resistance to change is grouped into three categories of factors and include organizational, individual, and group. The most common reasons for an individual’s resistance to change include misunderstanding of the transformations, personal interest and low acceptance to change (García‐Cabrera, & García‐Barba Hernández 2014). Group factors that increase resistance to change include peer pressure and organizational politics (Cornescu & Adam 2016), while organizational factors encompass non-reinforcing or poorly aligned reward systems, a climate of mistrust, and threats to power or influence (Jones & Van de Ven, 2016). Resistance to change is a normal phase in the change process and acts as a natural defense mechanism.

The relevance of Organizational Culture to Organizational Change, And Its Dual Role as both an HRM Opportunity and Obstacle

Organizational culture represents the values, beliefs, traditions, and sense-of-self in the organization based on leadership, historical factors, rituals, and established ideas or collective “mind” of the organization (Canning & Found 2015). Organizational culture is developed over time as teams work together to succeed in their objectives, and further from the collaborative learning experience of the units as the firm evolves (García‐Cabrera, & García‐Barba Hernández 2014). In a review of the interplay between organizational culture and organizational change, Canning & Found (2015) assert that some organizations have a culture that requires employees’ behaviors to display a conformist pattern instead of inspiring leadership and individualism is overbearing. Such organizations believe that conformity makes the employees’ everyday operations easier by reducing individuals’ cognitive load (Canning & Found 2015).

The resultant is a patterned-thinking or behavior where the security of the employees and the organization relies on the established practices, including meetings and homogenous, well-ordered decision-making. Eventually, this translates into an organizational culture that is inert, xenophobic to creativity, and resist any form of change. Such culture many not only infuses resistance to creative thinking but can create a scenario where any influencing incentive such as market intelligence that does not adapt to the norms are disregarded (Dahlgaard-Park, Dahlgaard, Canning & Found 2015). Cultures dictate employees’ expressions, and how an organization’s stakeholders express themselves influence the strategic potential of the firm.

Organizational culture, particularly conformity, can offer both opportunity and obstacle to human resource management (HRM) effort to implement change. A change that corresponds to the values of the organization is likely to receive a welcome that is stronger and deeper. The changing agents should strengthen the values first, making the organizational culture more robust before introducing change. Values are the basis of culture, and organization members tend to hold culture-related values, dear (Danışman 2010). Linking change to organizational values offer an opportunity for the HRM to implement change and increase workforce productivity as members effectively will more likely to accept the modifications.

However, organization culture can generate procedural conflicts between the employees and the organization, presenting an obstacle for the HRM to implement changes. Change in the organization, in many cases, shift the goal towards profit maximization, which is essential for survival in the competitive market. As such, the firm’s focus and concentration become self-centered, making it a challenge for the employees to satisfy their personal goals and focus on social life as the new framework of the organization demands more time and effort of the employees (Cornescu & Adam 2016). The goal conflicts can become an obstacle to change.

Value of Strategic HRM in Managing Resistance to Organizational Change

Strategic HRM is the practice of attracting and retaining employees through strategic development and reward systems for the benefits of the employees and the firm as a whole. Strategic HRM helps to find the balance between human resources and the company’s strategic goals and objectives to increase performance and promote an organizational culture that is adoptive to creativity, flexibility, and innovation, which are critical facets of the corporate change process. Strategic HRM is designed to assist firms to best meet the employees’ needs while supporting the organization’s goals (Maheshwari & Vohra 2015). HR deals with any aspect of the corporate that affects the workforce, such as hiring, training, pay and benefits, administration, and even firing.

Strategic HRM is the proactive management of the workforce and entails planning and thinking ahead on strategies that a company can use to meet the employee’s needs better and employees to effectively meet the company’s needs. The practice affects operations in the organization, improving activities right from then hiring practices, training, and development, assessment, and discipline techniques (Maheshwari & Vohra 2015). The primary goal is to develop a flexible organization that is responsive to change.

HRM Best Practices to Help Manage Resistance to Organizational Change

Effectively Engage Employees

Employees are the key stakeholders in the organization and determinant for success or failure, and as such, should be effectively engaged in the change process. Listen to the employees, receiving and responding to their feedback. Employees are the ones ensuring that the clients are satisfied, and the work gets done accordingly, and therefore, keeping then in the loop is essential for the success of the change process (Sonenshein & Dholakia 2012). Ask the workers probing questions such as is the change significant? What can we do to improve it? Do the staff have any concerns? Such will make them feel part of the change process.


Communicate Change Effectively

The best an organization can communicate change is to explain to the employees what is going on explicitly and the expected outcomes. Employing a combination of formal and informal communication ensures that staffs get and comprehend the change in the best way possible (Sonenshein & Dholakia 2012). Adopting different communication methods such as face-to-face, emails, meetings, and company intranets helps to explain vision and objectives, and the potential consequences of the change.

Organizational change inevitably faces varying levels of resistance, culture being the most cited key resistance factor in many cases. Employees’ resistance to change is a natural response to the change process, as change threatens the status quo, such as the culture of conformity. As such, it is the role of strategic HRM to ensure that the modifications conform to the organization’s values, effectively communicate the change, and engage employees to avoid resistance.


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