Culture Change Through Destruction and Rebirth

Little is known or understood about this process, so little will be said about it here. Suffice it to say that a culture or at least some key elements of a cul­ture can be destroyed by removing the key culture carriers. Some turnaround managers simply fire the top one or two echelons of the organization and bring in new people with new assumptions. To a considerable degree, this happened when Ken Olsen was fired and Robert Palmer, a strong hybrid who had been brought into DEC many years earlier from the semi­conductor industry, took over and began to replace key executives with outsiders. People who left DEC at this point all agreed that Palmer was destroying the culture.

When a company is acquired, a similar process can take place in that the acquiring company can impose its culture by replacing all of the key people in the acquisition with its own people. A third version of such destruction often occurs through bankruptcy proceedings. During such proceedings, a board can bring in entirely new executives, decertify a union, reorganize functions, bring in new technologies, and in other ways force real trans­formation. A new organization then begins to function and begins to build its own new culture. This process is traumatic and therefore not typically used as a deliberate strategy, but it may be relevant if economic survival is at stake. In the recession of 2009, many financial organizations and auto companies went through such destructive proceedings, but it is not always predictable in what form “rebirth” will occur. Historical research on past transformations in industry shows that sometimes even with crises only small changes occur, while at other times, changes are truly transforma­tional (Tushman and Anderson, 1986; Gersick, 1991).

Source: Schein Edgar H. (2010), Organizational Culture and Leadership, Jossey-Bass; 4th edition.

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