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Corporate Culture And Change

September 25 2007 - Research by Jennifer A. Howard-Grenville, a University of Oregon management professor in the Lundquist College of Business published in Organization Science and in "Corporate Culture and Environmental Practice: Making Change at a High-Technology Manufacturer" (Edward Elgar Publishing Inc.) considers the "tug of war" that can occur over innovation and argues that knowledge about past initiatives and the business culture of a target group are essential when promoting organizational change.

The findings are based on a nine-month study of a major U.S. semiconductor manufacturer (given the pseudonym Chipco) undertaken while the author was a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Located within a group targeting reduction of the organization's detrimental environmental impact, she observed interactions with a larger technology-development group, studied core organizational culture and change and conducted 26 interviews with employees who had been involved in previous issue-selling initiatives with varying degrees of success.

Jennifer Howard-Grenville explained:

"Research in the last 20 years had been based on interviews with successful issue sellers, focusing solely on what they did right. The studies hadn't given the arguments much context. Failures often were overlooked. I found that people who are looking to advance issues in an organization can do so by learning from failures of past efforts and of running up against core organizational culture. If group members learn from earlier experiences, they'll realize how to better craft their argument and portray an issue so that others in the dominant culture will understand what's at stake."

She continued:

"Issue-sellers must understand other people in an organization's various groups, in particular those being targeted to affect change. The way to get savvy is to build alliances, befriend those who know the culture. They may not share your passion or interest, but they may be able to help you understand another group's culture and levels of resistance."

The study found that the environmental group demonstrated a distinctive change in approach in order to get the attention of the technology-development group and gradually began to influence the design of new processes to incorporate concerns about environmental impact.

Jennifer Howard-Grenville commented:

"The issue-selling group wasn't successful until its members recognized that they needed to adapt their arguments to fit the cultural expectations of the technology group by showing and interpreting data in the language of development engineers. Environmental group members demonstrated their confidence by adopting an approach that said: 'You do measurements; we do measurements. Here's our data.' They portrayed their data in the language of the technology group, for example, in terms of equipment efficiency. They didn't just say that we need to pay attention to the environment."

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