Managing Change
eBook - ePub

Managing Change

A Critical Perspective

Mark Hughes

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  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Managing Change

A Critical Perspective

Mark Hughes

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About This Book

Managing Change: A Critical Perspective explores how and why change occurs in organizations and how the change process can be managed effectively. Complete with an appendix featuring twenty popular change management techniques, it is an ideal core textbook for change modules on HR and business degree programmes at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. It offers a critical perspective, challenging the main assumptions and ensuring that the complexity of the subject is understood and appreciated.This fully updated 2nd edition of Managing Change: A Critical Perspective includes new chapters on perspectives, power and politics, ethics, agents and agency, HRM and evaluation. Its revised structure reflects strategic, group and individual change, and a revised final chapter evaluates the practice and theory of change management. Online supporting resources include annotated weblinks for students, an instructor's manual complete with commentary on questions and cases in the book and lecture slides and additional case studies for tutors.

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The managing change conundrums


The theory and practice of managing change is simultaneously fascinating and frustrating, with many riddles or conundrums evident about how organisational change is managed and studied. Myths and assumptions about managing change are well documented (Binney and Williams 1995; Conner 1998; Crom and Bertels 1999; Jarrett 2003). In response to the prevalence of these myths and assumptions, academic research and scholarship into organisational change has strived to inform understanding about managing change. However, despite considerable ongoing interest in studying managing change evident within many academic disciplines, a consensus does not exist and is unlikely to ever exist. What quickly becomes apparent is the centrality of the conundrums managing change raises and their role in the development of understanding about managing change. In this chapter, 11 major managing change conundrums are identified and discussed, by way of introducing major debates featured in this textbook. These conundrums are not the only conundrums, but they are believed to be significant conundrums. The origin of each conundrum is traced back to the practice of managing change, before explaining how the conundrum relates to the study of managing change. The goal is not to solve these conundrums, although readers will have their own preferred position on each conundrum; instead the goal is to demonstrate how ongoing debates, grounded in practice, inform the study of managing change. In the summary section of this chapter the question that each conundrum seeks to address is concisely stated and the chapters in which a particular conundrum features prominently are indicated.



What does managing change mean?
The topicality of terminology such as ‘managing change’, ‘change management’ and ‘organisational change’ ensures that most readers possess working definitions of these terms. However, this does not mean that in terms of the practice of managing change a consensus definition exists. Invariably managers in organisations will not define key terms, and ambiguous references to ‘managing change’ may even be beneficial; changes in organisations are believed to be never clearly defined (Dawson 1994). In studying managing change, good practice emphasises the need to define key terms. However, the conundrum relates to the lack of any universal definition of managing change. Two textbook definitions of change management help to illustrate this point:
Definition of change management: ‘the leadership and direction of the process of organisational transformation – especially with regard to human aspects and overcoming resistance to change’ (Fincham and Rhodes 2005, p525).
Definition of change management: ‘the process of achieving the smooth implementation of change by planning and introducing it systematically, taking into account the likelihood of it being resisted’ (Armstrong 2009, p424).
In reviewing the two definitions of change management there are similarities and differences. Both authors depict change management as seeking to overcome resistance to change: in the case of Fincham and Rhodes through leadership and direction, and in the case of Armstrong through planning and systematic implementation. However, these apparently neutral definitions of change management are informed by significant assumptions shaping the study of managing change, which are discussed in Chapter 4.
The terminology of organisational change is never neutral and even the term ‘change management’ may be challenged. For example, Clegg and Walsh (2004) believe that the term change management is inappropriate and misleading because of its implementation focus and managerial focus. The waters are further muddied by the many guises that change takes: ‘transformation, development, metamorphosis, transmutation, evolution, regeneration, innovation, revolution and transition to list but a few’ (Stickland 1998, p14). While the definition of managing change remains a conundrum, in the context of this textbook the following definition of managing change is used: attending to organisational change transition processes at organisational, group and individual levels. This definition acknowledges the potential involvement of all employees in ongoing processes of changing, rather than necessarily a single heroic manager, although the amount of involvement may vary considerably at different hierarchical levels. Also, the definition acknowledges that change may be planned or emergent, and the terminology of ‘attending to’ seeks to avoid prescribing a ‘one best way’ approach to organisational change. In summary, a conundrum exists about the meaning of managing change.


Is organisational change the only constant?
Peters’ (1988, p2) assertion that ‘excellent firms don’t believe in excellence – only in constant improvement and constant change’ became an often repeated mantra within organisations. This goal of constantly changing is evident in the following quotation from Kotter (1996, p144): ‘. . . without sufficient leadership, change stalls, and excelling in a rapidly changing world becomes problematic’. As Child (2005, p277) warned, ‘change, paradoxically, has become an organisational norm’. While not grounded in any empirical evidence, this evangelical rhetoric to constantly change proved popular (gauged by book sales) with managers. This practical view of organisational change as a constant suggests the need for managing change and leading change.
However, academics have been far more suspicious about such exhortations. The conundrum is concerned with debates relating to both the natural appeal of constant change and academic scepticism about both the reality and desirability of constantly changing. The danger in overemphasising organisations as constantly changing is that organisational continuities and stability may be discounted. The most troubling manifestation of constant-change thinking is the notion that all change is beneficial. As Alvesson and Sveningsson (2008, p32) warn, ‘there is a myth about the inherent good in changes just because they are changes’.
While constant-change rhetoric initially appealed to managers as a means of legitimising managerial activities, they became suspicious of such exhortations. A survey of management practices found that ‘managers are rightly sceptical of the evangelical exhortations to change radically, and often show a much greater understanding of the complex implications than do the experts and consultants’ (Ezzamel et al 1995, p8). Also, there has been a growing recognition of phenomena such as change fatigue, or what Abrahamson (2004a) has referred to as ‘repetitive-change syndrome’. In summary, a conundrum exists around the claims made for organisational change as a constant.


Does history play a role in managing change?
On one level history appears to have very little relevance to the forward-looking practice of managing change. For example, Kotter (1996, p142) advocated purging history: ‘cleaning up historical artifacts does create an even longer change agenda, which an exhausted organisation will not like. But the purging of unnecessary interconnections can ultimately make transformation much easier.’
The practical dilemma is how realistic it is to purge ‘unnecessary interconnections’. This line of reasoning suggests practical merit in engaging with history as part of a forward-looking process of managing change. Organisational histories and traditions are an important component of organisations suggesting that it can be more fruitful to work with rather than against the past (Cummings 2002). Equally, previous experiences of change initiatives inform the subsequent reception (positive or negative) of subsequent change initiatives.
What has been written previously about managing change informs what is being written today about managing change. Cooke (1999) criticised the ahistorical and acontextual study of managing change and, more generally, Pettigrew et al (2002) stated that history is well placed to ask big questions over long time spans as a counterpoint to the largely ahistorical field of strategic management. New academic journals such as Management and Organizational History (launched in 2006) are encouraging far greater appreciation of history and how history is written, which is discussed further in Chapter 3. In summary, a conundrum exists about the degree of emphasis to be placed upon history as part of understanding organisational change.


Is it possible to reconcile the multiple perceptions of organisational change?
Perception with its emphasis upon how information from our senses is interpreted is relevant to management in general. In terms of managing change, practitioners may work from the position that there is a common understanding of a specific change or that competing understandings of a specific change exist. The perception conundrum offers an antidote to unitarist approaches to managing change and universal explanations of managing change. Perceptions tend to lack reliability, which has implications for organisations (Thompson and McHugh 2009).
While unitarists view organisations as essentially co-operative, integrated and harmonious wholes (Collins 1998), acknowledging the multiplicity of perceptions that exist begins a process of questioning this harmony. Is it really realistic to assume that within a large organisation everyone shares a common perception of an organisational change? Beginning to engage with different perceptions of organisational change encourages an appreciation of important debates relating to ethics, diversity, power and politics. In summary, this conundrum is concerned with the merits of understanding organisational change in terms of either a common perception or a diversity of perceptions.


Is there one best way to manage and study change?
Managing change practitioners understandably look for the one best way to manage change. Publishers have responded with an extensive amount of literature that appears to offer the one best way to manage change. A good example of this approach was evident in the writings of Peters and Waterman (1982), which were very influential in encouraging managers to attempt to manage cultural change in the 1980s. Their key message was: ‘“My way or the highway” – that is, there is “one best way” to business excellence via cultural management’ (Brewis 2007, p356). This approach encouraged later management gurus to offer their own one-best-way recipes for managing change. While these prescriptions are often greeted with academic scepticism, they remain influential: ‘. . . modern gurus of management tend to be looked upon as the state of the art, or the highest evolutionary stage of management’s development’ (Collins 1998, p21).
The study of managing in general and managing change in particular reveals the many contingent variables that potentially impact upon processes of managing. For example, managing change in a large global bank will be very different from managing change in a small social enterprise. This line of reasoning questions the one-best-way approach to managing change; inevitably the recipes for managing change are unlikely to be transferrable to the very different organisational contexts evident in a diverse world. This is further compounded by the ambiguities that characterise managing change and tensions ‘. . . between change management that puts employees’ well-being first and change management that serves only business needs’ (Walton and Russell 2004, p143).
A far more subtle form of the one-best-way approach is apparent within the academic managing change literature, which either implicitly or explicitly prescribes how best to study managing change. Competing perspectives have an important role to play in advancing understanding about managing change, but equally there can be merit in adopting a pluralist approach that draws upon many competing perspectives. Dunphy (1996) noted that in studying organisational change, there...

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