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The City of San Diego upgraded and expanded its sewerage infrastructure during the past decade in response to large regional population growth. With this infrastructure revitalization, the City's Operations and Maintenance Division (O&M Team) needed to adapt its organizational culture for two significant reasons:

its infrastructure rapidly had grown to a point where its own organizational structure was stressed and could not continue to effectively operate facilities in the same manner; and

it faced new competition from private sector service providers eager to bring their own operations to San Diego.

Two important processes occur simultaneously in organizations undergoing effective cultural change. A complexity theory-based process involves a group's short-term response to uncontrollable issues and events imposed upon it. The other process, an evolutionary theory-based process, depicts a group's gradual change through time based upon behavioral variation, selection, and retention. Both of these processes impact an organization's culture. When understood and combined in a symbiotic manner, these two processes form a comprehensive system that allows an organization to rapidly renew itself in response to rapid externally-imposed change yet maintain its identity and important ties to its past.

The O&M Team embarked upon establishment of an ISO 14001-style Environmental Management System (EMS) in mid-1997. The group was overwhelmed with issues and events that complexity theory-based strategies alone could not address. The O&M Team utilized its ISO 14001 EMS as a tool to implement the evolutionary theory component of effective organizational culture change. In implementing its new EMS, the O&M Team developed an evolutionary theory-based system that complements its complexity theory-based management programs.

Through the EMS' continual improvement process element, the O&M Team retains important organizational structures, procedures, and practices that add value to its culture. Healthy organizational cultures create competitive organizations. These revitalized organizations then can manage efficiently their infrastructure to provide consistent, positive economic results.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2000-01-01

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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