Organizational Culture

All too often, strategists will introduce a new direction and seek to change the organizational culture without attending to the question of the impact of cultural artifacts on the desired change. Cultural artifacts are the stories, rituals, and symbols that influence employees’ attitudes and beliefs; they are important because they help to define and give life to the culture. If change agents continue to tie themselves to those artifacts, they may reinforce the old culture they wish to change. However, being dismissive of the past can also be problematic because it may signal that things done in the past are no longer valued. The challenge is: how do you value the past and its positive attributes without trapping yourself in the past? In 1994, Bethune and Brenneman faced this challenge when they tackled the turnaround of Continental Airlines, taking the firm from near bankruptcy and the worst customer service ratings in the industry to success on all fronts over the next decade.64 One of the major reasons that they were successful in implementing a turnaround was their introduction of new cultural artifacts that highlighted customer service as a key corporate value.

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