A case study in organisational change: implications for theory Lindsay Nelson
Organisation theory has developed through major epochs of classical, human relations and contingency approaches, all of which have contributed to the accumulation of knowledge about implementing change. The legacy of these approaches has been to regard organisational change as something of an aberration or a departure from the more usual static position of organisations. Hence, for example, Lewin’ s (1951) depiction of stability before and after a change intervention which, interestingly, assumes change to be endogenous. More recently focus has switched to examining fundamental aspects of change, developing ways of theorising about change and matters relating to its management. These developments in theory recognise the limitations of contingency approaches and the need to see it as a continuing phenomenon within an organisation’s particular circumstances (Dawson,1994; Dunphy and Stace, 1990. One significant point recognised by recent studies is that static models are being displaced by dynamic models, reflecting the discontinuous nature of organisational change (Pettigrew, 1985; Fombrun, 1992; Greenwood and Hinings, 1988). Change cannot be relied upon to occur at a steady state, rather there are periods of incremental change sandwiched between more violent periods of change which have contributed to the illusion of stability once assumed to be the case. Moreover, the language and imagery of organisation theory in the past projected static or at least steady-state models. Strategies for dealing with uncertainty (Thompson, 1967) and the need for at least some bureaucratic uniformity in an organisation’s procedures also provides imagery more reflective of static rather than dynamic organisations. Pettigrew (1992) argues for a processual approach to the study of management and eschews a static view in favour of one which pivots on temporal issues of action and sequences of events. From this viewpoint, even to maintain viability, organisations need to be incrementally changing in what Tushman et al. (1986) term convergent change. Here, convergent change is taken to mean fine tuning (Greenwood and Hinings, 1996; Stace and Dunphy, 1994). In particular, convergence is the ongoing process to achieve fit between strategy, structure, 18
The author Lindsay Nelson is Head of School of Management, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. Keywords Organizational change, Modelling, Management attitudes Abstract Organisational change is typically conceptualised as moving from the status quo to a new, desired, configuration to better match the environment. Change could, therefore, be seen as a departure from the norm, or alternatively as normal and simply a natural response to environmental and internal conditions. Static models of organisations are being displaced by dynamic models, which reflect the discontinuous nature of organisational change. Developments in theory suggest limitations to contingency approaches, which carry the assumptions of static models of change. Analysis of this case at PowerCo in Australia reveals a number of issues related to changes aimed at achieving a more commercial, profit-oriented, focus. Points out that the contextualist approach is holistic, in which these aspects interact with each other as change unfolds temporally. A contextualist framework permits models of change to be visualised as dynamic rather than static, having a temporal setting which has multiple causes acting as loops rather than simple lines. This enables change to be understood as a discontinuous phenomenon having the benefits, without the limitations, of rational contingency models. Electronic access The Emerald Research Register for this journal is available at http://www.emeraldinsight.com/researchregister The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at http://www.emeraldinsight.com/0969-6474.htm...
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