Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Education




Viczko, Melody


The current state of contemporary higher education institutions reveals challenges such as changing enrolment patterns (Association of American Colleges and Universities [AACU], 2002; Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada [AUCC], 2007; Levac & Newman, 2009), greater calls for accountability (AACU, 2002; Usher, 2015) and decreased public funding (AACU, 2002; Charbonneau, 2013; Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations [OCUFA], 2016). In addition to the external challenges of the higher education landscape, institutions are confronted with intersecting organizational issues such as the need for increasing productivity, improving communication processes, and motivating workforces (Jackson, 2010). These challenges require action, which often make change a constant in organizational life (Kogetsidis, 2012).

Organizational culture encompasses those beliefs, values and meanings of the organization’s members (Kezar, 2014; Shultz, 1995) and, therefore, should be considered whenever trying to understand the change in an organization. However, due to the implicit nature of an organization’s culture, leaders tend to overlook the role of culture in the change process. In addressing the often neglected understandings of organizational change and culture, this qualitative, interpretivist intrinsic case study in one university department in Canada explored staff members’ understanding of organizational change initiatives and cultural shifts through semi-structured interviews. Using the framework of interpretive communities (Yanow, 2000), the intent was to explore staff members’ perspectives of change initiatives and their understandings of culture changes in the department.

The findings of this exploration revealed that participants identified the practices of leaders, including behaviour, strategy and purpose, and unity, and departmental arrangements, including staffing, structure, and role as the change initiatives that had been the most significant. The participants understood the changes through three interpretive communities including a community of frustration, a community of apprehension, and a community of willingness. The findings from the cultural analysis of the department portrayed a past culture of division and conflict, toxicity, and disrespect. A cultural shift was perceived by participants through their description of a more optimistic culture, although they still questioned a culture of “us” as a result of the artifact of locale which perpetuated the lingering feelings of separation among staff members, and a lack of department-wide traditions.

In response to the study’s findings, three recommendations can be made to build on the already identified improvements to the department. The first recommendation is for leaders to thoroughly consider the implementation and communication plans for future change initiatives in the department as a community of staff members was found to need more information to help them become more accepting of change initiatives. The second recommendation would be for leaders to build on the perceived culture of optimism by emphasizing the identified need to establish department-wide traditions. The last recommendation is for leaders to explore staff members’ understanding of the re-location of the department’s units to one centralized building. The participants provided initial understandings of this change initiative, so once the re-location takes place, it may be in the leaders’ interests to follow-up to see if the initial understandings of the change initiative have shifted in any way. As change initiatives have been perceived to result in cultural shifts, another cultural analysis department may also be informative.

The goal of this study was to provide insight for educational leaders about the importance of recognizing organizational cultures when implementing change initiatives as well as to inform educational leaders of the potential impact of staff members’ understanding of organizational change and cultural shifts.