The Platonic ‘Death of Socrates Dialogues’, are a quartet of important and influential conversations written by Plato, but told through the eyes of his mentor Socrates. Written in 386BC, they….
Critically Examine the Arguments for and Against Deliberately Trying to Change Organizations
Assessed Essay OC4 “Critically examine the arguments for and against deliberately trying to change organizations” Introduction Before we begin to explore whether it is a worthwhile exercise to seek to change an organisation through a planned approach we must first begin with a definition of our terms. What might we mean by “deliberate”, “change” and an “organisation” To do so will help us explore under what circumstances planned change may be worthwhile or even possible. Huczynski & Buchanan (1991) define organizations as “social arrangements for the controlled performance of collective goals”.
This definition fits well those who would propose a deliberate change approach as it suggests an element of control of the organisation is possible. It also pictures the organisation as a separate entity whose goal is to control and that there is agreement by the members on what these goals should be. The fits with the roots of Organisational Development that the performance of the organisation can be enhanced by exerting control in some way over the structures, processes and individuals that make up the organisation.
Some would take issue however with the concept of the organisation as a seperate entity: Morgan (1986) “organizations are complex and paradoxical phenomena that can be understood in different ways” thus change of the organisation is a much more complex issue. In Morgans view, the idea that we can identify the elements that make up the organisation, in the same way that you might dismantle a machine, does not allow for the complexity that exists. As our view of the organisation affects our perspective our definition of the type of change we are examining will also affect the scope of our investigation.
Schein (1969) defines change as “the initiation of new patterns of action, belief and attitudes among substantial segments of the population”. Change is something that is started by someone (a change agent), but does not necessarily need to involve everyone. For Schein, change is deep rooted in that it goes beyond the surface level change of process and goes to the core of behaviour: beliefs and attitudes. Lippett (1973) uses a broader definition: “any planned or unplanned alteration to the status quo”.
We will explore whether, using such a broad definition, the planned approach might be more suitable to particular contexts. Our final term in need of definition is “deliberate change”. Ford & Ford (1995) define this as “when a change agent deliberately and consciously sets out to establish conditions and circumstances that are different from what they are now and then accomplishes that through some set or series of actions and interventions either singularly or in collaboration with other people”.
Thus deliberate change involves intent that distinguishes it from change which is not consciously produced and instead occurs as a series of side effects, accidents or unanticipated consequences of actions. The Arguments for Deliberate Change 1. Performance is enhanced by the controlled introduction of change rather than allowing it to happen haphazardly. It is worth noting that the classical approach, from which this argument derives, was developed during a period when the management approach was fairly reactive and adhoc.
The scientific approach to management was an attempt to create order and efficiency. Fayol (1949), suggested the role of mangers is to plan, organise, command, co-ordinate and control. Critics of the approach would attack the concept of leadership portrayed by Fayol and others e. g. Collins who speaks of “Level 5” leaders who are more servants than charismatic controllers; those who would look in the mirror when performance dips and praise their team for the successes achieved. Those who would act more as facilitators than controllers.
There is also wider criticism of the notion that planned change is good for organisations per se. This seems to be a notion that permeates much of OD literature, that individuals need to be controlled for change to be effective.. Croch et al challenges the view that because leaders see unprecedented turbulence they act as a buffer to the organisation to minimise this by resistance, denial or inaction. Leaders are inherently obstructionist in their stance. Burnes & Stalker (1961) found that rather than act as a blocker to change; leaders seized the opportunity to initiate action.
Thus one could argue that rather than needing to control individual action it may be more appropriate to allow individuals the freedom to seize the opportunities that prevail around them. One could also question the view that planned change is more effective than “unplanned” change. Studies examining the success of transformations have suggested that 66% of organisations fail in their change efforts (Sturdy 7 Grey (2003) 2. Change now takes place at an ever accelerating rate, if managers do not plan how to deal with change there is a danger that the organisation will be driven by vagaries of its environment.
Some critics would question the notion that change is as rapid and all pervasive as some writers would suggest. Weick (1985) would argue that the turbulence is only created in the perception of those who create the turbulence rather than by the events themselves. One could argue that rather than planned change perhaps there is a call for planned stability. Individuals may be getting tired of the changes that are imposed upon them and instead seek stability in their environment.
Some would argue change has always been with us, others would argue that stability is equally as prevalent. The notion that change is a given is built on Darwinian concept that all things evolve in a common way to attain improved circumstances. 3. Planned change is the most effective way to deliver the performance as organisations need long term strategic plans to enable them to attain the results they require. This build from a top down view of the organisation guided by a group of rational individuals who make decisions for the good of the organsiation and its members.
Taylor (1911) and his scientific view of management “the work of everyman is fully planned out by management” supported the concept of leaders as rational decision makers, fully able to plan every task of the workers who in turn simply carried out the tasks assigned to them. John Harvey-Jones and would support this managerialist position by building a picture of the “hero” manager fully capable of implementing any change they see fit. The argument also portrays the change process itself as rational capable of being controlled e. g.
Leighs (1988) who identifies a list of internal and external triggers to change that can enable the control to take place. Pettigrew (1985) criticises the approach for taking an acontextual, atheoretical and aprocessual stance: organisations are not this independent entity that the writers suggest. Clegg (1990) suggests organisations are embedded in a network of wider social relationships. Organisations don’t just reside in an environment; they are part of its fabric. Thus even if the leaders have the skills the control of the complexity would be beyond them.
There is also criticism aimed at the assumption that planned change results in the intended outcomes. Grevenhoest et al (2003) “The outcome of the change process is often different from what was planned and new projects are often started before previous ones have finished properly” Other studies have questioned the success rate of planned change in achieving their initial goals. What would be the “success rate” of unplanned change? How much change takes place as a reaction of internal and external forces rather than through some strategic planning process? 3.
Planned change enables the change agent and those implementing the change to take into account a range of issues that would not otherwise be included. Although this may be true it does not necessarily follow that this means they are able to influence or control these factors. The argument, by adopting a scientific approach assumes that by identifying the issues the individuals then have the skills and ability to manipulate the “issues” to make the change more effective. Such capacity, even if it is possible, presumes highly sophisticated skills. Would the individuals possess such skills? . Planned change enables leaders of the change to ensure that the changes are introduced in such a way that they are accepted by the individuals within the organisation. Ford & Ford (1995) point to the power of communication in driving change. “everything, including prevailing conditions and circumstances, is seen as created by and in communication… in the absence of communication there is no intentional change. ” Such communications follow fairly simple patterns and the drivers of change can use different types of conversation to make the changes happen.
At a more macro Level Lewin (1951) placed the individual in the group to which they belong which forms the individuals perceptions, feelings and actions. He maintained the status quo is held together by various field forces which, when identified could be strengthened or diminished to bring about the necessary change. By “unfreezing” the status quo, then “moving” to the new state and finally “re freezing” the changes become effective. These concepts seem to adopt a rather simplified view of individual behaviour and of the change process itself. They imply change can be mapped as a set of stages hat individuals go through and which can then be planned and controlled, e. g. by the use of communication techniques. Bandura (1986) questions this simplistic approach to individual behaviour and instead proposes a social cognitive view “ people are neither driven by inner forces nor automatically shaped and controlled by external stimuli…behaviour, cognitive and other personal forces and environmental events all operate as interacting determinants of each other. Arguments against Planned Change Burnes and Salauroo (1995) aim four criticisms at the planned change approach: 1.
Much of OD on which it is based was designed for top-down, autocratic; rule based organisations, which operated in a predictable and stable environment. Such a picture of the organisation is one that the management Guru’s of the 1980’s and 1990’s fought against (Peters & Waterman, Kanter) arguing instead for an organisation that was bottom up, that was built around team working rather than hierarchy. Involving matrix management and extended ps of control rather than vast hierarchical structures to exercises control over the workers.
Handy (2001) now argues that such vast hierarchical organisations will be few in numbers and instead the workforce will be epitomised by “fleas” living in some symbiotic relationship but over whom the large organisations have little control. Thus one should not attempt to apply the principles to a business environment that undergoes constant change and whose watchwords are consultation and facilitation rather than authority and control. However to suggest that all organisations have moved away from a top down, autocratic stance is perhaps a little naive.
Many may advocate a consultative approach but it is still the board of directors who make the strategic decisions. There is also the argument highlighted previously that the notion of rapid continual change is one of perception rather than concrete reality. 2. The focus of planned change tends to be on incremental change, taking place through a series of defined and controllable phases (Lewin) and so it is unable to incorporate radical transformational change (Schein) Planned change involves detailed diagnosis of the issues, action and then evaluation before further action and evaluation in an iterative cycle.
It recognises change needs to be self-sustaining. Quinn (1980) draws a picture of the executive who seeks out, through various channels, a range of data before proactively taking steps to “implant support”, form coalitions, and constantly re evaluate the direction of the organisation as he moved it gradually in the direction he seeks. Such planned change, could be very costly and labour intensive. Payne & Reddin’s study of a major change at a tobacco factory calculated the cost as 25-person manager years of OD.
Is such a cost justified in light of the research that suggests much of the changes would prove ineffective? In the case of rapid, radical change a coercive approach might be more appropriate than the planned approach. Does change really take place in such a controlled, phased way? Are change agents able to introduce change in such a controlled way? What about the role of power and politics? Buchanan & Badham suggested that politics is a reality and by necessity change agents have to get involved otherwise the changes are likely to fail.
However, would the change agent have the skills to engage in such behaviour successfully? If the change involves culture change, difficulties start at the analysis stage as culture is difficult to define therefore how can you then plan to make changes? Where would the start and end point be and how would you evaluate the differences? 3. Planned change makes the assumption that there is common agreement between all parties and that they all have a willingness and interest in making the changes.
It seems to adopt a unitarist approach to change that suggests organisations are essentially co operative, that little conflict exists amongst the members on the overall aims of the organisation. Both the pluralist and radical schools would argue much conflict exists in reality. The radical school might go as far as to suggest that the workers need protection from management, as the drivers of the two groups are completely different. Certainly the planned approach seems to view the managers as rational, altruistic individuals who always act for the good of the organisation and its members.
Bowman C. (1999) suggests that changes to the status quo tend to emerge from action and rarely come from strategic analysis. It is far better then for changes to take place as a stream of decisions over time than agreeing some common vision of the outcomes intended by the changes. The Marxist view would challenge this by suggesting that as their focus is on increasing profits, by necessity that involves the exploitation of the members of the organisation. 4.
The planned approach assumes the approach is suitable for all organisations. Pettigrew & Whipp (1991) instead suggest that no such universal rules exist and leading change actually involves a flow of actions that need to be appropriate to the context rather then working through some recipe for success as is suggested by some texts e. g. Leighs (1988) “Effective change: twenty ways to make it happen” Pettigrew (1985) criticises the approach for concentrating on change episodes rather than the “processual dynamics of changing”.
Few have undertaken longitudinal studies to explore the process of change which would enable you to place the changes in the context within which they occur: For Pettigrew it is these structures and contexts which give the changes “form, meaning and dynamic”. He also criticises planned change for assuming managers work to achieve an end state that is knowable and achievable whereas change is a complex process that doesn’t occur in bite size chunks. You need to explore the process of changing and not just the change itself.
This is perhaps rather a harsh criticism, as it was not suggested that the approach would suit all situations at all times. In fact the focus is very much on incremental change however even here critics question the basic tenets of the approach built on the idea that change takes place as a steady flow of incremental changes towards a common goal. Gersick (1991) suggests a “punctuated equilibrium paradigm” through which to view change to challenge the view that individual systems develop along the same path.
Gersick proposes the notion of periods of equilibrium punctuated by revolutionary periods that cause upheaval in the change process rather than some gradual incremental step to the end goal. Van de Van & Poole (1995) suggest that rather than take the “one shoe fits all approach” we need to look at the different perspectives through which writers view change and explore where they are inter related. One could also argue that the planned approach to change suggests that conflict needs to be eliminated and organisations need to strive for a smooth transition from one state to another.
The notion goes back to the notion that change occurs in phases and the concept that individuals reaction hen faced with change is to attempt to block it. There has also been much criticism of the planned approach in that, although it attempts to tackle “how to implement change” when it comes to specific guidance the writers provide little substance. Recipes for success do exist however they are very general in their approach e. g.
The planned approach seems to view change as episodic, the result being that it takes the view that the organisation exists in a stable environment which is interrupted by periods of change which need to be controlled to ensure a smooth transition from one state to another and recreate the stability. The role of the change agent is to create the change by focusing on leverage points that will help ensure any conflict is resolved. It is possible however to take a different perspective: Weick & Quinn (1999) Organisations are not specific entities but social processes, which are emergent and constantly changing rather than inert.
Change instead of punctuated equilibrium is a pattern of endless incremental modifications that is driven by a range of internal and external forces. As such rather than using a set recipe for success the individuals involved in the change need a vast range of skills to enable them to adapt to the forces affecting them. Change is not an end state but a process that is cyclical. The role of the change agent is to facilitate rather than create, to redirect the change that already takes place rather than create change.
However Weick and Quinn argue that because episodic change examines change at the macro level and continuous change at the micro level it is possible to reconcile the two approaches. “ Change is a mixture of reactive and proactive modifications, guided by purposes at hand, rather than an intermittent interruption of periods of convergence”. Collins (1998) “change and continuity are not alternative objective states…. Because they are typically coexistent…what constitutes change or continuity is perspective dependent”
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