Barriers to Cultural Change in Organisations

Essay, 2014

19 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Concept of cultural change
2.1. Definition of organisational culture
2.2. Barriers to Cultural Change
2.3. Measures to overcome cultural change

3. Practical application
3.1. Description of as-is situation
3.2. Analysis and evaluation of the as-is situation
3.3. Handling of actual situation and possible solutions

4. Conclusion

List of abbreviations

List of figures


1. Introduction

The intent of this essay is to describe the concept of cultural change, especially focussing on typical barriers to cultural change in organisations and how they can be overcome! Additionally these barriers and possible solutions will be illustrated using an example from the workplace, company, sports club etc.

Often we hear our culture needs to be changed. But why is cultural change necessary, which difficulties are met and how can it be overcome? Nowadays we live and work in an environment of discontinuous change processes caused by varied reasons like, for example external market influences as in different strategies of competitors, changes of demands and structures of important customers or benchmark results, but also for internal company influences.[1] This means a cultural change is necessary since without cultural change it is not possible to achieve successful strategic change. However a cultural change is always combined with fears and doubts of the individual. People resist change because the work culture drives them or allows them to. Therefore it is crucial and important to know which barriers to cultural change can occur and what has to be considered and carried out to make cultural change successful.

In the first chapter of this essay this topic is introduced, but it is also supposed to rationalise why cultural change affects and how cultural changes can be handled. The second chapter describes what organisational culture and cultural change in organisation means. Furthermore the focus will be on defining the barriers to cultural changes and how they can be solved. The definition of the barriers and success factors will be the base for further discussion in chapter 3 using an example from a company experience. The essay will finish with a conclusion in chapter 4.

2. Concept of cultural change

Frances Hesselbein describes culture in relation to change as follows: „Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organisation is transformed; the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day.”[2]

In order to understand what cultural change in organisation means and which typical barriers can be encountered, the following paragraphs will deal with these terms comprehensively.

2.1. Definition of organisational culture

The basic idea behind each corporate culture is that the employees anywhere in the world identify with their company. This manifests itself very differently depending on the culture.[3]

There are many different definitions of organisational culture, although all of the most widely accepted ones are similar and cover many of the same aspects. Organisational culture refers to the general culture within a company or organisation and means how human beings behave and what their actions mean to them.[4]

Edgar H. Schein, a previous Professor for organisation psychology and management of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, says that the definition of organisational culture has to be general, or else you start to eliminate factors that actually are part of corporate culture. His definition of organisational culture is: “A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems that has worked well enough to be considered valid and is passed on to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.”[5] However, the variety of the definition of organisational culture is numerous, all of them focus on the same elements like collective experience, skills, myths, communication and decision processes, values and goals.[6]

Continuing with Schein’s definition of organisational culture he believes that organisation culture contains three different levels of artefacts, beliefs and values as well as basic underlying assumptions. Each of these three levels are differently perceivable. The core of organisational culture can be described as basic underlying assumptions and this level guides the perception and action of an organisation. The assumptions are mostly invisible as well as unconscious, the members of an organisation take them for granted and do not question them in general as they exist in the organisation for a long time. The second level of organisational culture contains the so-called espoused beliefs and values, which are still invisible to a high degree. Nevertheless, the beliefs and values are shared by all members of the organisation. The values and assumptions find their expression in the highest level of organisational culture. This top level consists of artefacts and builds the visible embodiment of an organisational culture. Artefacts can be described in various forms such as architecture, celebrations and traditions, style of clothes but also corporate language. These three different levels do not stand separate to each other but are independent. In order to understand organisational culture in its entirety, each of these three levels and the relationship between them is necessary.

The three major levels of organisational culture are shown in figure 1 and give a brief description of the respective characteristic:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1: The three levels of culture

Reference: Schein, E.: 2010, p. 24

2.2. Barriers to Cultural Change

Change processes and thus the coincidence of different interests involve potential for conflict, which is accompanied by the risk of developing resistance.[7] According to Doppler and Lauterburg’s first principle, there is no change without resistance.[8] Company internal resistance is one of the main barriers to a successful organisational change. Referring to Reiß, von Rosenstiel and Lanz, the causes for resistance can be divided into barriers of knowledge and barriers of will. The knowledge barriers cause resistance due to the non-familiar by a lack of information. The barriers of will are dominated by feelings of helplessness, which is primarily caused by an organisational deficit. Both barriers resulting in excessive demands on the personnel due to the individuals perceived skill shortages (non-skilled labour), while motivation deficits (personal fear of change) result in a worse perceived position.[9]

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 2: Barriers to culture change

Reference: Own illustration, Ref. Reiß, M./ von Rosenstiel, L./ Lanz, A., 1997, p. 17

Few people have no reservations against upcoming changes or see them more as opportunity. In fact human beings react naturally more negative to changes. Changes appear to the members of an organisation as surprising, inconvenient and even alarming, therefore causing resistance against the cultural change.

There are three different types of resistance:[10]

1. Rational resistance:

The rational resistance refers to logical arguments against the change. It represents the form of resistance that the company can handle the simplest:

If you educate the employees to understand why the changes in the company play an important role, the trust and support of the employees is soon gained.


[1] Ref. Jochum, E.: 2009, p. 47f.

[2] Hesselbein, F.: 1999, p. 6

[3] Ref. Rothlauf, J.: 2012, p. 90.

[4] Ref. Jochum, E.: 2009, p.7.

[5] Schein, E.: 1992, p. 12

[6] Ref. Jochum, E.: 2012, p. 7.

[7] Ref. Reiß, M./ von Rosenstiel, L./ Lanz, A.: 1997, p. 114.

[8] Ref. Doppler, K./ Lauterburg, C.: 1995, p. 302.

[9] Ref. Reiß, M./ von Rosenstiel, L./ Lanz, A.: 1997, p. 17f.

[10] Ref. Vahs, D.: 2009, p. 351.

Excerpt out of 19 pages


Barriers to Cultural Change in Organisations
University of Applied Sciences Riedlingen
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BWL, Organisational Culture, Change Management, Culture and Behaviour, International Management, Betriebswirtschaftslehre
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Claudia Wohlatz (Author), 2014, Barriers to Cultural Change in Organisations, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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