Conventional theories on the management of change

Table of Content

1. ‘Energy develops in the organisation to limit…or revise the change`. Are organisations real? Do they have a life of their own? Can organisations do anything, or is it the people… Where do these ideas take you?

The modern preoccupation, even obsession, with technologies of organization and representation in its myriad forms – ‘rationality’, ‘change’, ‘professionalization’, ‘division of labour’, ‘disciplines’, ‘taxonomies’, ‘bureaucracy’, ‘economics of performance’ – have exercised the minds of a range of leading thinkers.

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To maintain itself, modern society must proclaim that things have their rightful and wrongful places whether within the biological organism or in the social, organizational field. The systematic spatial fixing and conceptual location of habits and attitudes became a founding touchstone of modernity and the concept of the disciplined body in an orderly society grew to be a fundamental but largely unconscious imperative of an increasingly industrialized world. This logic of rationality propagated a familiar form of reasoning which holds even today:

Industrialized society rests on order;
order means everything in its place;
dirt is whatever is not where it should be;
the meanings of dirt held most deeply because learned earliest relate to bodily operations;
then a society bent on order should put the body into order by putting order into the body;
society gains order by ‘training’ (Schoenwald 1973, 674 cited in Fox-Wolfgramm et al. 1998, 87).

Nowhere is this ordering of the body more evident than in the process of excretory regulation that a child has to undergo in learning to grow up. In its first efforts towards learning to control bodily outputs-how pressing the need, how suitable the time and place-the child also gains basic conceptions of the disciplinary norms of work. In this way the rationalized control of excretory behaviour became a crucial feature of the systematic modernization of society. Society must arrange both for disciplined retention and scheduled letting go in conformity with the axioms of orderliness. Hence, ‘the water closet and the sewer as bringers of order…underscore and reinforce the restraints and controls necessary to keep an industrialized society producing and consuming’ (Schoenwald 1973, 683 cited ibid.).

‘Methodization’ entailed the spatial and temporal division of all categories of individuals: workers at their bench, pupils at school, prisoners in their cells, and so on. It enabled classification and counting, the rudiments of rational representation, to become key practices in any kind of administration: ‘Books must be kept…Chronological entries will be made daily, methodological entries-products, population tables, stock inventories, health records, moral conduct records, requests’ (Miller 1987,19 cited in Mills 2003, 49) were all to be entered for the purpose of efficient administration. By this process of ‘methodization’ or rationalization, large numbers of people, distributed over a significant area, could be ‘captured’ in the small space of a book and made available ‘at first glance’. This obsession with orderliness and the associated placing of names/things in a tabular and/or hierarchical form, was also noted by Kenner (1987).

It is this generic understanding of organization as a generalized strategy of representation and control involving the stabilizing, classifying and locating of the remote, obdurate and intractable character of the social world. It is through such technologies of organization that discursive regimes of representation are produced which are then subsequently deployed in the accounting and shaping of individual identities and the control of mass behaviour. Representation, through the fixing and placing of fluid, amorphous, social phenomena in space-time, is an organizational process which works to centre, unify and render discrete what would otherwise be an indistinguishable mass of vague interactions and experiences. Such technologies of representation, however, have precipitated dramatic consequences for contemporary life (Day et al. 2004, 103).

This restricted and restrictive view of the science of organizations is, therefore, open to critical questioning. What is needed is an expanded perspective which recognizes the significance of organization as a generic process of ‘world-making’. Within this expanded understanding, the analyses of the organization of vision and representation, of accepted objects of knowledge, of modes of thought, of language and its effects, of meaning and social practices, of geographical space and time as well as of historical traditions and frames of reference, are recognized as being more appropriate theoretical avenues for extending our understanding of the subtle immanence of organizing in all aspects of modernity (Sotto 1998, 201).

In this regard, Rapoport and Horvath’s (1968 cited in Mahoney et al. 2005,  46) helpful distinction between a generalized organization theory and a theory of organizations provides a valuable starting point for conceptually locating these wider organizational concerns. While a theory of organizations as specific economic-administrative systems is what defines the idealized sociological approach to organizational analysis, for Rapoport and Horvath organization theory is better understood as the study of the primary organizational processes underpinning any system exhibiting what they call ‘organized complexity’ (Rapoport and Horvath 1968, 74 cited in Mahoney et al. 2005,  57). In contrast to the theory of organizations which confines itself to the study of formal ‘organizations’ as taken-for-granted social entities with identifiable boundaries and purposes, organization theory, in this expanded understanding, addresses the question of organization as a general logic applicable to the ordering and representation of all forms of social phenomena. In distinguishing this generalized organization theory from the more traditional concerns of a theory of organizations, Rapoport and Horvath provide an approach to those questions that characterizes what we might here call a social theory of organization.

In a similar vein, Kuhn (1982) insists that ‘organization theory ought not to be relegated to the “applied” field of business administration and to such niches as happen to be vouchsafed to it by sociology, political science, economics, social-behavioural psychology, and assorted other fields’. Instead, ‘Organization theory ought to be a basic social science in its own right’ (Kuhn 1982, xiii cited in Simsek & Louis 1994, 670). Organization here must be understood in its broadest sense as denoting systemness rather than specific self-contained, purposeful social structures which are all ready (and already) presented to us. For Kuhn, therefore, organizational analysis should focus on the study of systemness, the logic of information, representation and organization, and the technologies they generate. These are precisely the key themes which are extensively explored both in Robert Cooper’s work in general. Cooper’s (1987, 1989, 1992, 1993) attempts to recover this expanded understanding of the study of information, systemness and representation in organizational analysis has exercised a considerable influence on the direction of contemporary organization theorizing.

Human organizing creates certainty out of uncertainty. It is a continuous reality-constituting and reality-maintaining activity which enables us to act purposefully in response to a flood of competing and attention-seeking stimuli. The simplification of knowledge and the consequent economizing of effort in action are thus among the basic aims of the impulse to organize in modern mass society. Through organization, the various objects of our experience, including our knowledge of self, acquire a sense of immediate and unproblematical identity (Fairholm 1997, 72).

This aspiration towards an economy of effort is not, therefore, motivated by an imperative of efficiency. Rather, it is a necessary feature of the self’s attempt to differentiate and detach from its surroundings in order to attain a measure of autonomy and independence. Human organizing, therefore, comprises an interlocking sequence of ontological acts of differentiation which are central to the self’s process of achieving a sense of stability and identity out of a field of inconstancy and flux. The object of the act of organization is, therefore, never simply a utilitarian product or service. Instead, it is the ‘preparation of objects by means of which the system can (then) distinguish itself from its primary subject and, therefore, be certain of itself’ (Cooper 1987, 408 cited in Chemers 1997, 88). In other words, organization works to construct legitimate objects of knowledge for a knowing subject: ‘dirt’, ‘notes of a musical score’, ‘food’, ‘pupils’, ‘population tables’, ‘individuals’, ‘organizations’ and so on. Through organization, these objects of knowledge or ‘products’ acquire distinctive identities that allow us to treat them as existing independently of our perceptions. It is in this sense that organizing as identity constructing and reality configurating is also primarily an ontological activity of ‘world-making’. Approaching the question of organization from this point of view opens up radically new ways of critical analysis in an expanded realm of organization studies.

2. How would differences of opinion over the need for change be handled if: a) We assumed a `perceived environment? b) We assumed an `enacted environment?

Do organizations exhibit different processes of change in response to a pressing institutional issue, and if so, how and why does this occur? In spite of the ubiquity of research on change, the when, how, and why aspects are not at all clear. Van de Ven and Huff (1992 cited in Avolio & Bass 2002, p. 40)  argued that we know very little about the order and sequence of events or activities that describe how things change over time, how organizations adapt to environmental changes, and whether these events or activities will lead to second-order change, in which the system itself changes, or to more modest first-order change, which occurs within the system itself.

To discuss the question it is important to move our thinking away from static and monolithic views of the environment toward the understanding that “the environment” is perceived and experienced in many different ways, depending on one’s view of the world and position within it. However, it is important that we understand not only the subjective experience of particular individuals and communities, but also the relationships between environmental experience and larger categories, such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and personal capacity. Framing both these levels, but also woven through them, are the “hidden realities” of environment: the intersection of race, class and power with environmental experience, and the understanding that environments are fundamentally expressions of larger social arrangements (Buttner 2006, p. 357).

Constructivist and humanist perspectives on the environment shift our understanding of the environment from unitary conceptions of reality (the “reality,” for example, to which we assume that “sane” people are oriented) toward the awareness that the world contains many realities, and that any environment thus has multiple dimensions. These perspectives also help us to understand the complex relationships between place, collective identity, and self-definition (Sotto 1998, 216). In addition, and of particular importance, they remind us that people are active agents in the environments that they inhabit. For all these reasons, they fit well with social work practice perspectives that emphasize individual and collective agency and empowerment.

Weick (1995, 30 cited in Day et al. 2004, 49) argues that sensemaking is enactive of sensible environments. Once again this is a simple yet complex notion. At its simplest, enactment is another way of referring to the social construction of reality. However, it differs from some understandings of social construction in that enactive sensemaking does not assume that there is an objective reality that is subjectively, and thus, imperfectly, constructed. At its more complex, sensemaking is about the relationship between acting, thinking, bracketing and retention.

In discussing enactment, Weick (1995, 30 cited in Chemers 1997, 11) is concerned with explaining ‘the activity of “making” that which is sensed. Sensemaking is literally about making sense of action. Thus, enactment is first and foremost about action in the world, and not about conceptual pictures of that world. “The concept of an enacted environment is not synonymous with the concept of a perceived environment…. If a perceived environment were the essence of enactment then…the phenomenon would have been called enthinkment, not enactment” (Weick cited ibid.).

As people act they think about their action and, in the process, make sense of it. In particular through their actions and sense of those actions people select (or ‘bracket’) elements to focus on. By focusing on some elements to the exclusion of others a sense of the event is retained and sense is made of it. In the words retention involves relatively straightforward storage of the products of successful sense-making, products that we call enacted environments (Simsek & Louis 1994, 670).

Weick is not arguing that the process of sensemaking is completed independent of the action it purports to make sensible, nor that people are independent of their environments. On the contrary, he contends that people create their own environments and these environments then constrain their actions. People are ‘very much a part of their own environments. They act, and in so doing create the materials that become the constraints and opportunities they face’ (Fairholm 1997, 201). When people act they unrandomize variables, insert vestiges of orderliness, and literally create their own constraints (Fox-Wolfgramm et al. 1998, 90).

While there is some recognition of the role of power in the process of sensemaking, Weick’s cues are ambiguous and his focus on individual sensemaking tends to obfuscate the issue. In one place he concedes that ‘power privileges some meanings over others’. In another place he argues that ‘it is not some impersonal “they” who puts these environments in front of passive people…[It] is people who are more active’. And in yet another place he argues that managers ‘construct reality through authoritative acts’ (cited in Mills 2003, 210).

In summary, a key part of Weick’s notion of sensemaking in organizations is ‘enactment’ which refers to the construction of social reality through action that is then (retrospectively) made sense of by the actor or actors involved. People act in one way or another, and in so doing come to make sense of their actions in ways that constrain and also provide opportunities for future actions. How people come to construct social realities through enactment is influenced by the ‘ongoing’ nature of sensemaking, the ‘enacted cues’ that people use to build a sensible story around the situational and ‘social’ contexts in which ‘retrospective’ understandings occur, the need for ‘plausibility’ in story construction, and the impact of sensemaking activity on ‘identity construction’.

3. How do you decide what activities a leader should undertake?

A definition of leadership that would be widely accepted by the majority of theorists and researchers might say that “leadership is a process of social influence in which one person is able to enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.” The major points of this definition are that leadership is a group activity, is based on social influence, and revolves around a common task. Although this specification seems relatively simple, the reality of leadership is very complex. Intrapersonal factors (i.e., thoughts and emotions) interact with interpersonal processes (i.e., attraction, communication, influence) to have effects on a dynamic external environment. Each of these aspects brings complexity to the leadership process (Mills 2003, 20).

The primary function that an organization must achieve is the regularization of activities to provide a stable base for productive operation. The organization must maintain an internal integrity that allows it to respond to routine events in reliable and predictable ways.

Every organization is faced with a large number of demands that repeatedly require the same response. Universities must enrol students in classes, assign them to dormitories, collect tuition and housing fees, monitor academic progress, clean facilities, and so on. Many of these activities are uniform or routine in their form and occurrence and are dealt with in the same way each time they happen.

The activities become regularized to save time and energy. If the responses to routine events weren’t standardized, every day would be like the first day of organizational life. The names of the buildings, the distribution of classes, the method of computing grade point averages would all have to be invented daily. The organization would never be able to accomplish anything but these “setting up” activities (Avolio ; Bas 2002, 51).

That these activities are properly carried out is essential to the organization’s integrity in the same way that maintaining a state of stable equilibrium is essential to the survival of any living organism. The human body, by analogy, must maintain body temperatures, nervous system activity, blood saline levels, and other systems within narrowly prescribed limits. In order to do this, the organism has sensors to monitor vital systems. When the systemic parameters are outside the prescribed limits, the organism responds with preprogrammed adjustments to restore equilibrium within the limits.

If the sensors detect that blood temperature is above the appropriate level, the body begins to perspire, setting in motion evaporative cooling processes that will restore equilibrium. Blood temperature below normal results in shivering and the burning of stored energy to generate heat.

An organization must maintain similar monitoring and adjustment systems. Rules, regulations, and standard operating procedures must govern everyday activities. The organization is striving for stability so that it may function from one day to the next. The key aspects of this internal maintenance function are reliability, predictability, and accountability (Chemers 1997, 14).

Reliability means that recurrent events are responded to in the same way every time they occur. The reliability of response enhances predictability. Members of the organization know what is likely to occur and when. The fact that responses are supposed to be reliable and predictable makes accountability possible. If a key activity does not occur, knowing when, how, where, and by whom it was supposed to be accomplished makes it possible to identify the cause of the error and correct it.

The achievement of internal maintenance makes it possible for the organization to make productive movement. Without internal maintenance, an organization cannot exist for long. A human being who couldn’t maintain a stable physiological equilibrium would soon perish. However, the importance of the internal maintenance function can sometimes make organizations overly focused on the attainment of order and stability and consequently, they may lose sight of the other essential organizational function, external adaptability (Mahoney et al. 2005, 87).

A person with a normal temperature, excellent nutrition, and a clean set of clothes who steps into traffic in front of a fast-moving truck is not going to be a stable organism for long. When an organization maintains a fixed course in the face of a changing environment, it resembles the old Western movie’s driverless stagecoach flying off the cliff when the road takes a sudden turn.

Organizations must know what is going on around them and adapt to changes in the evironment. The ability to change is the critical element of innovation in organizations and is necessary for adaptability. The key aspects of external adaptability are sensitivity, flexibility, and responsiveness (ibid.).

An organization or system that exists in an environment that is not perfectly static must be sensitive to the changes around it. The organization that does not attend to its environment calls to mind the joke about the airliner that has lost its navigational bearings, but is making “very good time.”

Making good time in the wrong direction is not the hallmark of outstanding organizations. Successful organizations in unstable environments must be sensitive to change and flexible enough to respond. Such organizations have mechanisms for restructuring traditional approaches in light of new conditions. The active ingredient in organizations is people. The vital functions of organizational life are accomplished by women and men working together. Thus, when we speak about coordinating organizational activities, we really mean coordinating the efforts of people. Social groups have developed the role of “leader” to accomplish this coordination function.

Leadership is a process of social influence through which one person is able to enlist the aid of others in reaching a goal (Buttner 2006, 363). A number of activities are included in the leadership role, and it is illuminating to look at these activities in relation to the organizational functions of internal maintenance and external adaptability identified earlier.

When the group or team is functioning in an orderly, structured, and well-understood environment, the leader’s primary responsibilities include guidance and motivation. The leader’s job is to assign people to tasks or responsibilities, to outline what is expected, and to facilitate and encourage goal attainment.

When groups or organizations are operating in less predictable environments that call for an emphasis on external adaptability, the leader’s crucial functions entail problem solving and innovation. The leader must help to create the kind of atmosphere that encourages the sensitivity, flexibility, and creativity that allows the group to deal with the uncertainty of new or complex demands. The leader as change agent must possess a legitimate authority for influencing followers. That legitimacy flows from the leader’s special status.

4. What style of leadership would you prefer from your manager? Why? What does this say about you, the values that shape your actions and experiences you narrate as relevant to leadership?

The idea of spirituality as a prime area of leadership concern makes sense intellectually. However, as leaders attempt to operationalize spiritual leadership they may encounter problems. Prime among these concerns is the fact that spiritual matters have never formed a major component of modern leadership or management theory. The result is that there is little concrete ideology supporting this perception of the leader’s role. Consequently, young professionals are not exposed to spiritual ideas in their professional training. Indeed, they are taught to objectify, not personalize their profession.

Business success is, therefore, defined in much more objective terms. And spiritual satisfaction and professional success are seen as separate goals, not attainable by the same effort. Career and material acquisition, not spiritual peace are the measures in today’s work world. These goals are held out as paramount in the face of individual longings for harmony, satisfaction, and peace; ideals held universally by all people, whether at home, in church, or in the office.

These pervasive human needs are ignored in leadership and management theory. In truth, the theory supporting leadership is based on obsolete philosophy and obsolete science. Based on three hundred-year-old science and an even more ancient philosophy, traditional leadership theory is insufficient to explain and predict contemporary corporate life. it is inadequate to deal with radical change and creativity typical of today’s business world.

Spirit as the core idea in leadership theory is a radical idea. It is Some may suppose that attention to the spiritual side of self discourages education and professionalism (see, for example, Mills 2003). They believe that it is the purpose of professional training to dispel the mists and shadows of religion and free the human mind from so much error and delusion. Like day and night, were either of them to gain the ascendancy the reign of the other must necessarily cease.

In fact, education is the expansion of the soul–the body and the spirit–to the fullness of its capacity. It is a bringing forth and perfecting of all the inherent powers of the individual. Education increases the quality of our faculties. It imparts nothing but discipline and development. Like the work of creation, which is almost synonymous with education, it forms the human mind and spirit, it does not create them (Zaleznik 1986, 110).

In a very real way, education does not happen in school. Life itself is the real school; all human experience is an educational process. Correctly understood, the entire human race is here in life as pupils. Education is the reward of experience and progress written upon all people. Humankind is many-sided. Life involves the education of all sides. A perfect education is the full and uniform development of the mental, physical, moral, and spiritual faculties. Schools offer little toward this education of the mind and spirit, though if done well school is very important. Schools prepare and point the way to learning, but they cannot guarantee the student will reach the goal. Schools provide tools for us to educate ourselves.

If the above is true, education of the spirit; that is, experience with the spiritual side of self, must be a part of the daily work experiences of all people. If all we need is mental and physical discipline, prisons would not be crowded with educated convicts, the savings and loan fiasco would not have happened, banks would not break nearly so often, and war would be irrelevant. An educated man or woman who is devoid of moral principle, is just so much nearer a beast. Such a person is admirably adapted as an instrument of evil for the furtherance of base designs.

We work hard, but we don’t often put work at the emotional and spiritual center of their lives. We may live well, but we no longer live nobly. Workaholism and its handmaidens, careerism and materialism, are not only social issues. They also are spiritual issues–dealing with the central core of the individual, often impoverishing an values but those of material success. In the quest for success, career professionals work an average of 52 hours per week. It is compulsive for some, nothing gets in the way of work.

Business people, however, have begun to question the deeper, underlying methods and motives of their leaders (Chemers 1997, 21). Success has nothing to do with titles. It has everything to do with the faith, the vision, and the love we bring to our work. Sound moral principle is the only sure evidence of strength, the only firm foundation of greatness and perpetuity. Where this is lacking, no man’s character is strong, no nation’s life can be lasting. Spiritual leadership is more than a new leadership ideal, it is a paradigm shift. This shift impacts workers and leaders and redefines their standards of success.

How can people break the false gods of career and free the whole soul for growth? It is, perhaps, the ultimate statement that the world does not own us, that we are made for rest and holiness as surely as we are made for work and ambition. One road to dramatic change in tomorrow’s leading organizations is the move from career dependence to career self-reliance. People need to take ownership of their careers (Fox-Wolfgramm et al. 1998, 44).

Another thing people can do is to place work in the proper context. We don’t have to sacrifice self on the altar of career. We can judge our- selves (and force others to also judge us) on a different measure: not by what we do, but by the way that we do our work. No matter what work we do, it can be done with heart and spirit. For example, a woman who died recently was eulogized as one who brought compassion and sensitivity to mastectomy patients whom she served as a clerk in a store. Similarly, but in a different context, is the position of a house mover, who recognizes that moving is hard for most people, a vulnerable time for them. Therefore he treats his customers with love and makes them feel that he cares about their possessions and their life. He said, “God wants me to help them, make the change smoothly. If I can be happy about it maybe they can be happy too.”

The current leadership famine stems from many people adopting other than suitable leadership styles. It has been deepened by an insufficient number of leaders striving to become orchestrators of their workers’ environment so they (the workers) can realize more of their full self, not just acquire more material goods. To combat this tendency, people must take careful stock of their own lives and help their leaders be true to shared spiritual tendencies (Fairholm 1997, 125). They must monitor the soul of the leadership they receive, not just its outward form.

The greatest problems leaders face are not the surface challenges of work, worker, and product. Most leaders play to their workers’ strengths. The leaders’ greatest challenges lie deep inside their spirit and that of their followers. The spirit contains everything in our character we try to express (everything that makes us feel good) as well as everything we want to suppress (everything that is painful or makes us feel unworthy). Getting in touch with our inner self, our spirit self, lets us inventory and use our best qualities such as:

sharp wit
a sense of infallibility

We also can define our spirit by less than positive traits. There is a hidden part of our spirit, our hidden self, the aspects of our personality that we don’t like to acknowledge or that society discourages us from showing. It too is part of what makes us human. We need to bring this less-attractive self to the fore of the mind for occasional scrutiny or it will turn toxic. Most healthy, well-adjusted people, for example, harbor traits such as:

a sharp wit
false economy
resistance to change
blind faith
narrow focus

Thinking about our negative inclinations and forming strategies to counter them is also part of sensitivity to the spirit. Applying spirit at work lets us consider the organization’s spirit and to catalog its strengths and weaknesses. While assessing the group’s strengths is a part of some organizations, assessment of its spiritual faults is less common. Symptoms we observe to analyze how the dark side of spirit operates in our organizations might include sensitivity to the following factors:

·              We never discuss certain topics.

·              We carefully guard information

·              Rituals serve to exclude rather than include.

·              Politically correct propaganda dominates the culture.

·              Language is characterized by deliberate obfuscation.

·              Leaders openly or covertly scrape for power and turf.

·              Those who dare to call things as they see them are shunted aside.

·              Real dilemmas go unstated, unresolved, and unacknowledged.

·              We don’t promote and protect ethics and aesthetics as important.

David Day said every part of our personality that we do not love will become hostile to us. The longer we persist in disowning the other side of our character, the darker it becomes and the more we fear to see what is there.


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Chemers, Martin M. An Integrative Theory of Leadership. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997.

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Fox-Wolfgramm, Susan J., Kimberly B. Boal, and James G. Hunt. “Organizational Adaptation to Institutional Change: A Comparative Study of First-Order Change in Prospector and Defender Banks.” Administrative Science Quarterly 43, no. 1 (1998): 87.

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Sotto, Richard. The Virtualization of the Organizational Subject. London: Routledge, 1998.

Zaleznik, Abraham. Human Dilemmas of Leadership. New York: Harper ; Row, 1966.

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