Zhang, 1Di ZhangLIS 580 A27 February 2012 Fostering Change Within an Organization Culture Organizations tend to exhibit a culture and subcultures that can be analyzed onthree levels: artifacts, values, and assumptions. They are also constantly in flux due tocultural shifts, competition, new technologies, and a many other factors. Edgar H. Scheinhas been a leading researcher in both organizational culture and change. In this paper, I useSchein‟s model of culture to analyze the subcultures of Ballard Library, a branch of theSeattle Public Library (SPL). I also use his model of change to analyze an importantchange that is occurring in Ballard Library: the shift away from top-down approach tomanagement. Culture Artifacts are the most visible level of culture and include the constructed physicaland social environment, although their meaning is not always decipherable. To reach adeeper analysis of culture, one must examine the values and underlying assumptionsshared by the participants in the culture and subcultures. In this section of the paper, I willexamine three subcultures at Ballard Library—shelving and clerical staff (I will call themservice staff), reference staff, and managers—and analyze these subcultures according toSchein‟s three levels so of culture. Service staff are concerned with the flow and handlingof materials and direct interaction with library patrons. Reference staff are informationprofessionals that deal with answer questions regarding searches for information.Managers supervise the other staff and oversee the day-to-day operations of local branches.
Zhang, 2Service Staff: One important artifact shared by service staff is stories. One clerk told shelvers astory of when she was a shelver and the Manager was overly critical and demanding of her.She had felt overwhelmed and broke down in tears; eventually the union had to getinvolved to reprimand the Manager.1 The union is therefore a symbol of justice for servicestaff and a check on power of managers. One value that we can discern is that service staffshould seek outside support when they feel that they are being treated unfairly. Some shelvers resent the fact that they cannot “change the rules” of their jobs, oftencomplaining about having to do tasks a certain way. Yet these staff members are oftenafraid or otherwise unwilling to voice their concerns to management. The underlyingassumption here is that you should always do what your boss tells you andyou should dothings the way others have agreed upon (whether by explicit agreement or acquiescencetothe current system of doing things), even when you find a reason to do things differently.Thus, even though you should voice your opinions and suggestions freely is an espousedvalue, it is not an actual value that is in line with the behavior of many shelvers. Thishighlights Schein‟s claim that such espoused values are not congruent with underlyingassumptions, which are actually better predictor of behavior (1996, p. 436). Whenespoused values are congruent with underlying assumptions, it can help unify the grouparound a common philosophy. Thus, there is room for improving unity in Ballard‟sshelving and clerical staff; the latter talk more often to managers and are more comfortablevoicing their opinions than the former.1 The Assistant Manager (who used to be the Manager under the old system of management) at that branchhas been overheard saying that unions get in the way of what she wants her workers to do. Although this wasmost likely said in a joking way, it still reveals tensions between management and the union.
Zhang, 3 However, there are several underlying assumptions that service staff do share: youshould always help coworkers whenever you can, and you should ask for help wheneveryou need. These assumptions have always been reliable in solving problems in theworkplace and are therefore taken for granted. There is alsoa belief among service staffthat staff members are competent, hardworking and well intentioned and that they shouldbe given the benefit of the doubt. For example, if two or more staff members are seenstanding still and engaged in a conversation, the service staff assume that those staffmembers are discussing something that relates to work. Therefore, they are still perceivedas being productive workers, rather than lazy or incompetent, even when they are notperforming any work related tasks.Reference Staff: One important artifact for reference staff is displays, which is a creative artifact thathighlights the library‟s collection and influences the kinds of books and media librarypatrons check out. Displays reinforce the idea that librarians are responsible for thecollection. Therefore, a shared value is that librarians, and only librarians should managethe library collection. However, this valuewas not working well for the Ballard staff;librarians were not coordinating their displays and were too pressed for time to do a goodjob on them. Therefore, this assumption did not represent a “solution to a problem thatworks repeatedly” (Schein, 1996, p. 437). In other words, this value does not represent anunderlying assumption but is merely an espoused value that needed to be reevaluated.22Since the end of 2011, all staff members have been encouraged to create displays. The culture hasshifted to one where everyone shares responsibility for the library collection. Members are able to seetheir influence and their interests reflected in their work environment and in the circulation of
Zhang, 4 Another artifact that is particular to reference staff is their jargon. For example,when referring to magazines, librarians may speak of “current issues” and “back issues.”Jargonisindicative of a subculture because it points to a common way of describing thingsand therefore a common way of perceiving and thinking about things. It creates a sense ofcommunity and culture around reference staff‟s esoteric knowledge of the collection,reinforcing the underlying assumption that reference staff members are the library‟s“professional staff” and are the “go-to” people for information searches.Managers: Jargon is definitely a part of this subculture as well. For example, ifone attendsmanagerial meetings, or even unit meetings with all staff, one will often hear managersspeak of WEDE, which stands for Welcome Engage Deliver and Exceed Expectations,SPL‟s customer service slogan. This is language that is particular to managers, who wishto spell out what customer service is in no uncertain terms.3 Thus, management staff valuewriting out standards and organizational values for the sake ofinspiring and evaluatingstaff performance. In reality, management has fallen behind in evaluating staff and theactual behavior of managers does not truly reflect espoused values. The underlyingassumption is that management does not need to talk to staff unless there is a problem withperformance.4 This contributes to a culture that believes in negative reinforcement5 andmaterials. Thus, the underlying assumption is that all library staff members have a say in how thecollection is managed, especially in terms of highlighting topics and themes of interest.3The rest of the staff rarely use slogans or acronyms, but rather demonstrate customer service through settingand learning from examples.4 I have worked nearly 4 years at SPL and only had one performance evaluation. A manager once told me: “ifwe don‟t have to talk to you, that means you‟re doing a good job.” I call this the negative reinforcementassumption.5 An exception is the occasional generic party that celebrates “a job well done by the wonderful staff”without giving any specifics about performance.
Zhang, 5does not believe in a consistent dialog between management and other staff aboutperformance. Change SPL management is currently transitioningto a more democratic and lesshierarchical model of problem solving called “interest-based problem solving” (IBPS).Myanalysis will focus on how local managers, particularly at Ballard Library, are leading theeffort to change. According to Schein (2002), all planned and managed change begins froma quasi-stationary state and occurs in 3 stages: unfreezing, changing, and refreezing. Inorder for change to happen, the current equilibrium must first be „unfrozen.‟ That is, therehas to be a reason and a motivation to change on the part of the targets. This involvesdisconfirmation of the current state of affairs as well as a psychological safety, supportingthe target in a way that will help them overcome learning anxiety (i.e. learning newbehaviors, attitudes, and roles). Neither requirement for unfreezing has been adequatelyutilized by managers at the Ballard Library. Managers have not provided information aboutwhy the current top-down “dictating” approach to problem solving is unacceptable.6Moreover, there is not enough psychological support offered tostaffto undergo change.Althoughstaff will be required to attend training on interest-based problem solving, there isno set timeframe on when staff will be trained. This creates uncertainty and raises anxiety.One worry is that managers will expect staff to be “more involved” in the meantimewithout having yet had the training; this is already happening at Ballard, where theAssistant Manager is expecting staff to be more vocal and take on a greater role in6 For instance, is it because it is not effective? Is it because it violates our espoused values? Is it because it isinadequate for meeting the organizational goal to “foster an organizational goal of innovation” (goal 5 of theSPL Strategic Plan)?
Zhang, 6facilitating unit meetings without providing training or information on why and how thischange should occur. Only after being unfrozen do the targets become uncomfortable with the currentstate of things and thus motivated to change. Theactual change is the second step in thechange process. According to Schein (2002), change occurs from a combination of rolemodeling and scanning. Role modeling refers to active coaching that demonstrates byexample new ways of thinking, new behaviors, and new skills. Scanning involves trial anderror as targets figure out what solutions will work in their environment. The latter changestrategy is more conducive to lasting change, as is evident at the Ballard Library. Ballardstaff members were recentlyasked to scan their environment to propose standards ofappearance for their work environment. Managers took the service staff and reference staffon a “walking tour” of the library and asked for ideas of how to improve the library‟sappearance for both workers and patrons. With little role modeling7, staffmembers werebroken up into teams that would meet on their own, do their own analysis of a specific areaof their environment, draft up a portion of the appearance standards, and present theirproposals at a unit meeting. Heavy emphasis was put on the proposal of innovativesolutions and “trying things out” to see if they would be effective in the workplace. Scheinsuggests that scanning is the most important part of lasting change, as “[s]uperiorsmust…learn how to force the learners to develop their own solutions to the changedilemma and must make themselves relatively unavailable as role models” (p. 41). Oncestaff realize that the solutions that they discover on their own are actually effective, they7 Staff were given a copy of appearance standards that had been developed at another branch. However, theseappearance standards were only to be used as a starting point to brainstorm ideas for how things should workat Ballard.
Zhang, 7are more likely to internalize the new approach as a basic assumption. The final step in the change process is refreezing. According to Schein (2002), thisinvolves “personal integration” where new behaviors will only last if they fit thepersonality or culture of the staff (p. 39). SPL hopes to facilitate refreezing by having allstaff eventually undergo the same IBPS training. This offers the best chance to change theculture of SPL because it involves “team building” and the acceptance of change by wholesystem, starting with management (all managers have already had the training), not justone subculture (p. 40). However, training a staff that amounts to hundred of members withseveral subcultures and a great deal of diversity within and between those subcultures doespresent its share of challenges. For starters, the goal of training all staff in a timely manneris overly ambitious and unrealistic. At the moment, only managers have had IBPS training,yet they have already begun to expect changes in the rest of the staff without the aid of asystem-wide unfreezing. Secondly, managers must consider the vulnerability of staff tochange. Older staff membersthat are in the “baby boomer” generation often have deep-rooted beliefs that managers should dictate to their subordinates. There are also languageand cultural barriers; for example, many staff members speak English as their second orthird language and may not be comfortable accepting the level of vocality required of thenew model of problem solving. Currently, SPL‟s greatest challenge in changing the systemis to provide the disconfirmation and the psychological safety needed to unfreeze thesystem. Addressing underlying assumptions of staff and providing the training needed tounderstand the rationale behind the new problem solving approach will greatly assist thefacilitation of lasting change.
Zhang, 8 BibliographySchein, E. H., 1990, Organizational culture, American psychologist, 45(2), 109.Schein, E. H., 1996, “Defining Organizational Culture”, in: Shafritz Jay M. and Ott Steven J., Classics of Organization Theory, 4th edition, 430-441Schein, E. H., 2002, “Models and Tools for Stability and Change in Human Systems”, Reflections, Vol. 4(2), pp. 34-46.