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Develop a Culture of Change

In the last two years with the pandemic and COVID-19 and the new outbreak of Omicron, it has been terrible times. It has led to lockdowns around the world that have shaken education and society. Young children and students, in particular, have had to and continue to bear the burden of private isolation, school closures, and lack of social contact. During this time, the entire education system was questioned. Questions have been raised about the role of education and the values and promises on which our current education system is based. There are urgent calls for transformation and cultural change as already existing problems in the education system became visible and surfaced due to the pandemic. Quality in universities has been practiced around the world for a long time. In the face of COVID -19, they are faced with being seen as outdated, obsolete, or irrelevant as the entire role of universities is questioned. There is therefore also an urgent need to rethink what a university might mean by quality of impact, outcomes, satisfaction, sustainability, resilience, changing core values, and digital transformation. Issues of health and wellbeing have become an indicator of quality. So it's time to drive sustainable improvement in organizational performance and health. Organizational change at the institutional level is necessary because education must respond to an ever-changing environment. It is time to develop a future-proof organization with a culture that can sustain superior performance.

Change is often best achieved through the convergence of bottom-up (grassroots initiatives; likely faculty in higher education) and top-down (individuals in positions of power; administration). This model outlines three phases of culture change that are not necessarily linear (Kezar, 2013):

  • Mobilize - developing initial awareness of the need for change (data); creating a vision; mobilizing support for change through discussion; mobilizing leadership and collective action.
  • Implement - selecting strategies; piloting projects; changing policies, processes, and structures; professional development; evaluating and refocusing results; celebrating successes; scaling up or down
  • Institutionalize - disseminate results; review; commit; follow-through

Kezar (2013) further argued that culture change generated by these phases requires sensemaking, organizational learning, and leadership at multiple levels. Culture change is a term used in public policy that emphasizes the influence of cultural capital on individual and community behavior. Previously, cultural change was defined as the transformation of society through innovation, invention, discovery, or contact with other societies. To facilitate change, one needs to change the underlying assumptions with a credible plan. List what assumptions need to be changed. Include a strategy for overcoming resistance to change for each stakeholder group. The strategy should address the gaps. Resistance can be overcome, at least in part, through the use of organizational culture. If the change reinforces the underlying values of a culture, members of the culture are more likely to accept the change. The use of cultural rituals and sayings also helps to make change more tangible for an organization. A long-lasting change is made by culture and people.

The Winds of Change 2009, details these 10 key steps to creating meaningful change in your organization:

  1. Foster a sense of urgency
  2. Create and communicate your vision
  3. Involve employees in the change process
  4. Remove roadblocks
  5. Promote teamwork
  6. Empower employees
  7. Stay externally focused
  8. Create short-term wins
  9. Take care of your workforce
  10. Keep a positive attitude

Friberg (2016) and also Ossiannilsson, Williams, Camilleri, and Brown (2015) advocate the 4M framework, i.e. the different levels in an organization, and encourage thinking beyond the boundaries of a particular context. It is important that there be no gaps between these levels.

Mega level
Development outside the institution. The influence of this level may come from legislation or other forms of policy, or from discursive pressures through debates instigated by different stakeholders, or from other institutions, league tables, and many other sources. It is important to keep in mind that the institution also influences the mega-level.
Macro-development at the institutional level
Changes at this level often involve formal leaders with specific responsibilities or deans and vice-chancellors who are responsible for an entire organization.
Meso-development at the departmental level.
This may involve the development of a department, but also teaching and learning systems, disciplinary communities, micro-cultures, or networks of people who care about each other.
Micro-development at the individual level
Individuals can develop for many reasons: through experience, by observing students, by consulting a developer, by participating in projects, by responding to a policy or legislation, by exploring new technologies, and many others.

Kezar (2018) argued for scaling change and recognized that internal and external conditions shape and mold change processes. She presents an overarching set of practical tools-a framework for analyzing change and a set of theoretical perspectives for applying that framework to adapting a change process, regardless of the organizational challenge or context. 

It may also be useful to differentiate between the following concepts 

Change theory (Reinholz et al., 2020): A framework of ideas supported by evidence that explains some aspect of change beyond a single initiative.

Theory of change (Reinholz et al., 2020) A particular approach to making explicit the underlying assumptions of a change project and using the desired outcomes of the project to guide project planning, implementation, and evaluation.

Principle for change (Quinn Patton, 2018): Imperative statements that guide actions that are assumed to be in the desired direction.


Friberg, J. (2016). Might the 4M Framework Support SoTL Advocacy? 

Kezar, A. (2013). How colleges change: Understanding, leading, and enacting change. Routledge.

Kezar, A. (2018). How Colleges Change. Understanding, leading and enacting change. (2nd edition). London: Routledge.

Ossiannilsson, E., Williams, K., Camilleri, A., & Brown, M. (2015). Quality mod-els in online and open education around the globe: State of the art and recommendations. Oslo: International Council for Open and Distance Education.

Quinn Patton, M. (2018). Principles-Focused Evaluation. The guide. New York: The Guilford Press.

Reinholz, D., & Andrews, T. (2020). Change theory and theory of change: what’s the difference anyway? International Journal of STEM Education, 7(2), 1 - 12.


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