Rapid and Continuous Change – a Modern Perspective

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Rapid and Continuous Change – A modern Perspective By Nathan Jennison

As famously held by Charles Darwin, “it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change” (Cope, 2009 p; 26). Hence, in today’s global and dynamic environment marked with hyper-competitive and volatile markets it is widely recognised that an organisation’s ability to manage change quickly, productively and positively is a critical driver of organisational success (Cope, 2009; Gilley, Gilley, & McMillan, 2009; Gilley, Godek & Gilley, 2009; Turner-Parish, Cadwallader &Busch, 2008; Appelbaum, Claude, Nadia & George, 1997). However, despite the overall agreement that change is essential for organisations to gain a competitive edge or even survive, change can be so disruptive it can completely destroy organisations (Abrahamson, 2004). Results from recent research support this by suggesting that up to 75% of organisational change initiatives fail to yield promised outcomes (Stanleigh, 2008; Glor, 2007; Lawler & Worley, 2006; Reger, Mullane, Gustafson & DeMarie, 1994). This in turn has made strategies of organisational change an extremely popular and well-debated topic amongst academics and organisational theorists (Turner-Parish, Cadwallader & Busch, 2008). But despite the vast amount of literature on this topic, the link between change strategies and successful change management remains rather unclear and therefore continues to attract further research (Gilley, Gilley, & McMillan, 2009).

Firstly, this essay will explain and critically evaluate contemporary change strategies such as radical and continuous change in light of relevant research in this area. Secondly, based on the detrimental effects often caused by radical or continuous change initiatives, this essay will demonstrate why organisations would seek to introduce painless change initiatives. Thirdly, based on findings of the extensive research conducted in this area, this essay will show that, organisations successfully implementing radical and continuous change initiatives simultaneously, are more likely to gain a competitive edge in the current high-velocity environment. The essay will conclude with a short summary of the main findings of this critical evaluation as well as an outline of the main implications for contemporary organisations.

As mentioned above, organisations today operate in a highly dynamic and high-velocity environment, hence; as a result of dynamic changes and unpredictable events, many organisations find that their core competencies, values and cultures, are less effective and may as a result become core rigidities (Akgün, Byrne, Lynn & Keski, 2007). General Motor is one recent example of a company that failed to keep pace with dynamic competitive environments (Gilley, Godek & Gilley, 2009). Thus, for organisations to survive it is sometimes necessary to implement radical and discontinuous changes (Gilley, Gilley & McMillan, 2009; Wischnevsky & Damanpour, 2008; Pellettiere, 2006; Reger et al, 1994). Radical change is often a top-down, leadership-driven fundamental shift in the organisation’s current processes, products, strategy and culture and often include drastic measures such as downsizing, restructuring and re-engineering (Gilley, Gilley, & McMillan, 2009). Li and Lin (2008) argue that the clear advantage for organisations pursuing radical change is the ability to adapt itself quickly to meet unforeseen demands such as increased competition. Romanelli and Tushman (1994) add to this by stating that radical change is also necessary as it forces the organisation to break the grip of strong inertia and pursue innovative strategies.

However, although researchers such as Gilley et al. (2009) maintain that successful execution of radical change leads to increased competitiveness, research suggests that organisations which successfully achieve radical change are rare. The...
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