Organizational culture and its underlying basic assumptions as a determinant of response to change : a case study of KwaZulu-Natal's conservation sector, South Africa.
This study was concerned with elaborating theory and informing practice about the process of managing change in organizations. It was premised on the implications of organizational culture and its underlying basic assumptions for strategy, particularly in terms of responsiveness and resistance to change. Harmony between the external environment and an organization's culture was postulated as a critical determinant of the rate of uptake and acceptance of new strategic directions in an organization. Drawing from organizational and critical social theories, past conservation efforts in KwaZulu-Natal were reinterpreted in the light of historical and contemporary developments. The theoretical contribution rests on exploring how basic assumptions, as the core of a culture, may be conceptualized and accessed to examine historically and culturally based meanings of conservation. The practical contribution relates to the need for mechanisms to explicitly address basic assumptions as the core of an organizational culture. Data collection and analysis were informed by the ideas of hermeneutic philosophy, Giddens' Theory of Structuration and Schein's framework of organizational culture. The main source of primary data was interviews that were tape-recorded, transcribed and analysed using a multi-stage process in data organization and interpretation. The analysis involved the identification of common themes and differences in opinion amongst the respondents. Data analysis was done with the help of Nvivo - computer software for qualitative research. The software did not effect the analysis, but assisted in organizing the interview transcripts for analysis purposes: facilitating easy storage, retrieval and querying. The findings revealed a temporal variance in the understanding and interpretation of the mission of conservation in KwaZulu-Natal. Respective executive leaders of the two erstwhile conservation agencies in KwaZulu-Natal were historically very influential in shaping the mission. For the present leadership, four basic assumptions emerged from the data: 'public funding defines who we are'; 'we are leaders in conservation'; 'we know our realities are changing' and 'we are conserving a great natural and cultural heritage'. These assumptions reflect the various themes which the respondents discussed in respect of the present-day strategy processes in conservation in KwaZulu-Natal. Within and across these four assumptions, respondents expressed variable and sometimes contradictory meanings and interpretations. Differences were especially noticeable between the conservation sector's historical inclinations towards public service and its emergent commercial activities. Overall, the study demonstrated the variety of perspectives the respondents used to interpret their understanding and meanings of what the fundamental mission of conservation in KwaZulu-Natal ought to be. The findings highlight the need for those involved in strategic processes to base their activities, and their approaches to managing change, on the continual exploration of basic assumptions as the portal for the ideas, perceptions and beliefs that influence change. In matters of strategy, leaders should work with the prevailing organizational culture and its underlying basic assumptions, rather than develop the strategy and then attempt to deal with the basic assumptions and cultural support afterwards. Finally, the findings suggest that in all visioning and strategy development processes, whether in a conservation agency or some other organization, explicit analysis of assumptions is critical for securing support for, and reducing prospects of resistance to change. Among members of an organization, visions, missions and strategies are unlikely to be effectively internalized unless they accord with the assumptions they hold. This process requires explicit mechanisms for doing so, and this study highlights such mechanisms.