chapter  4
Attempts to change organizational culture: the paradox of the local and the global
Pages 24

It has become axiomatic that organizations need to change their cultures in order to reform or modernize, or to adapt to a changing world, or to bring about some kind of improvement in performance. Implicit (and sometimes explicit) in this kind of thinking is the idea that certain organizational cultures are more conducive to success than others, and that adopting a particular culture is likely to lead to organizational improvement. I wrote about this in connection with stimulating entrepreneurial leadership in universities in the last chapter. It has become a way of talking as though organizations can ‘have’ a culture which can be identified and changed from one state to another. Culture becomes reified, or ‘thing-like’, and is capable of being shaped and manipulated. Usually there is a close link in the discourse to values which are thought to relate causally and directly to behaviour. Restating the values required of staff, usually ones chosen by the chief executive or the senior team, is supposed to lead to improvements in the workplace. Just as it has become a reflex whenever something goes wrong in an organization to

assume that the culture needs changing, so employees have become used to preparing themselves for enquiries into their commitment and values. The danger is that the endless and invasive activity can lead to cynicism amongst employees and a sense of disappointment or hopelessness amongst managers.What is the strength of the argument that changes in organizational culture lead to improvements in performance? This chapter will explore this contemporary discourse on culture change and

will question how helpful it is to think about culture as arising in one organization and as being manipulable, even in a big organization. Rather, it will suggest that culture is a very rich concept which arises in the paradox of the local and global, and in an iterative and cyclical understanding of time. The past informs us in the present as we anticipate the future: social life is both repetitive and flexible, it changes, yet stays the same. I consider how broader social themes and questions of identity and belonging arise in particular organizations at particular times, and meld together with local practices which have a specific history.