The ambivalence paradox in cultural change

Authored by: Richard Badham , Richard Claydon , Simon Down

The Routledge Companion to Organizational Change

Print publication date:  October  2011
Online publication date:  October  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415556453
eBook ISBN: 9780203810279
Adobe ISBN: 9781136680908


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Managerial culture change programmes are expected to integrate employees into the organizational ‘family’, align their performance with organizational expectations and improve competitiveness. To achieve these aims, current programmes identify a set of organizational practices contributing to poor performance and, in a sense, conceptually ‘freeze’ them into a ‘bad/irrational’ conceptualization of organization (Weick and Quinn, 1999). In classic Enlightenment terms, this conceptually frozen ‘irrational’ past (Age of Unreason – Position 1) is then contrasted with an alternative concept: a ‘good/rational’ organizational future (Age of Reason – Position 2) (Badham, 1986). To enable Position 1 to become Position 2, change programmes often initiate a series of processes designed to ‘un-freeze’ current ‘bad’ practices, ‘move’ the organization through the change, and ‘re-freeze’ them into new ‘good’ ones (Brown, 1998). In a dangerous caricature of Kurt Lewin’s original, considered and provocative three-stage model of change (Burnes, 2004), planned cultural change is presented in one-dimensional terms as a rigid, sequenced and autocratic process. Many such programmes attempt to whip up enthusiasm for the ‘good/rational’ organizational future, seek to restrict and direct reflection, yet inevitably fails in this task. As illustrated in Barker’s (1993) description of the early stages of change in ISE, such programmes inevitably create discomforting and energizing ‘betwixt and between’ experiences of liminality that awaken critical reflection upon all aspects of such processes.

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