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Organizational change - The Contribution of Processual and Emergent Perspectives to Strategic Change.

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MSc in Human Resource Management 'Organizational Analysis amd Change' (Dr Annette Davies) ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGE The Contribution of Processual and Emergent Perspectives to Strategic Change Peter J Samuel Cardiff Business School May 2000 (1,985 words) Introduction Change is ubiquitous. Organisational change has become synonymous with managerial effectiveness since the 1980s (Burnes, 1996; Wilson, 1992). However, north American influence over the quest for commitment, efficiency and improved performance, appears to have fallen back upon largely Tayloristic notions of management, with the result that organisational change is widely perceived to be controllable by modern management, with organisations themselves instrumental in their in their hands (Collins, 1997). However, this 'scientific' approach appears to have diffused with scant regard to contextual variables that may serve to modify and constrain contemporary managerial rhetoric for change (Hatch, 1997). One perspective that attempts to refocus the debate on wider issues has come to be known as the processual or emergent approach to organisational change (Collins, 1997), and it is this perspective that this paper seeks to evaluate First, the inevitability of change is briefly considered as the time frame selected for organisational analysis tends to dictate the substance of investigation. This leads into a critique of planned change under the umbrella of strategic choice, with its core assumptions based upon managerial hegemony. This approach is then contrasted with the processual and emergent perspectives that seek to widen management appreciation to include factors beyond the organisation and its immediate environments. The implications of the apparent divergence between theory and practice are briefly outlined before concluding that the subjectivist paradigm of the processual/emergent approach is best seen as a modification to theories of strategic choice, which may add to effective managerial practice in the future. ...read more.


The 'successful' manager comes to be defined as a 'change master' (Kanter, 1993; see Peters and Waterman, 1982). The Emergent, Processual Perspective A common critique of the planned perspective is that the ability of management to rationally plan and implement organisational change ignores the influence of wider, more deterministic forces outside the realms of strategic choice (Wilson, 1992). Largely in opposition to this perspective and generally referred to as 'systemic conflict', the emergent approach, according to Wilson (ibid:22) is constructed upon the following theories of organisation: 1 Contextualism; 2 Population ecology; 3 Life cycles; 4 Power and politics; 5 Social action. While also tending to acknowledge the role of human agency in effecting change, these approaches serve to widen the debate to include the impact of human interaction at micro and macro levels, thus constraining strategic choice (ibid). Contextualism is based upon an open systems (OS) model which views any organisation as being an interdependent component of a much larger whole (Pettigrew, 1985). Serving as a direct intellectual challenge to closed system perspectives, fundamental is the notion that no organisation exists in a vacuum. Emery and Trist (1960, cited in Wilson, 1992) argue that OS reveals the following characteristics: Equifinality - no one best way of achieving the same outcomes; Negative entropy - importing operating environment resources to curtail or reverse natural decay; Steady state - relationship stability between inputs, throughputs, outputs; Cycles and patterns - cash flows, stock-turns and so on. Thus, OS enables the variances between organisations' performances to be explained by external influences, facilitating comparative analysis, the establishment of sectoral norms and the identification of 'supra-normal' practices (Wilson, 1992). ...read more.


In this view, planned models of change, rooted in classical theories of management, may be accused of being an ideological construct of assumed legitimacy and authenticity. On the other hand, a subjectivist systemic tension approach, rejects reductionist 'tool kits' and lays claim to the inclusion of contextual variables at work throughout an organisation, its operating environment and beyond. In this view, while change is clearly not beyond managerial influence, its management is reliant upon wider understanding of the interplay of these variables, of which power relations may be prominent, in order to be able to predict the likely outcomes of managerial actions. However, for something to exist it must be capable of theoretical explanation. That practitioners have opted for voluntarist models of strategic change is not surprising given the elitist ideology of modern management: to control is to manage; short-termism equates to reduced risk and increased control; the institutions of Western corporate governance and finance thus have their goals met by such an approach. Yet, this is to obfuscate the quintessential qualities of the processual, emergent contribution to organisational change. While not refuting planned change, it perhaps serves to modify it - for any change to be understood, explained and sustained, the duality of voluntarism and determinism must be acknowledged and incorporated into the managerial knowledge base. The emergent approach exposes the potential folly of the extremes of positivism as applied to organisations as social entities, thus throwing open the debate to multi-disciplinary perspectives and enriching the field or organisational change. To be of value, such enrichment must be reflected in managerial education itself. ...read more.

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