Two interesting articles about organizational culture in the latest issue of the “Journal of Organizational Change Management.” The first article is a cultural analysis of organizational memory and its role in organizational change while the second article describes how organizational memory can hinder learning a new technology.
In the first article, McCabe gives a more detailed description of organizational culture as a collection of shared memories. These memories can contradict each other or just be ambiguous about past organizational events but, woven together, these memories form a dynamic and conflicting culture for the organization. McCabe disputes the common belief of many management theorists that the past can be erased in favor of the new reality because the past always blocks change. Organizational memory is more complex than that because some memories can help facilitate change while other aspects resist change. McCabe concludes by stating that organizational memory cannot be managed as part of the change process but must be accounted for.
McCabe’s article illuminates the findings in the second article by Becker. The second article deals with the process of acquiring new technology in an organization. As Becker explains, for employees to adopt a new technology they must unlearn the old technology. They do this through releasing mental models of the workings of the old technology and create mental models of how the new technology works. Memories of past change efforts can hinder the process of unlearning if it promotes fear and anxiety among the employees. Becker does not have any specific remedies for dealing with organizational memory and unlearning but she does argue that further research is necessary to fully understand the unlearning process.
The relevance to Gov 2.0 is clear. Many agencies have long and painful memories of past change efforts that have been woven into the current culture. Gov 2.0 advocates must understand and acknowledge the past while developing strategies to alleviate the fear that will prevent government employees from unlearning the current way things are done in favor of making government transparent, open, and engaging. Gov 2.0 advocates must take the positive aspects of the past and use those events to counter the negative past events while realizing that culture cannot be fully controlled.
Becker, K. (2010). Facilitating unlearning during implementation of new technology. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 23:3. 251-268.
McCabe, D. (2010). Taking the long view: A cultural analysis of memory as resisting and facilitating organizational change. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 23:3. 230-250.