Organisation Development (OD) is a paradigm combining humanistic philosophy and theories about organisational change. The objective of OD is to design organisations that foster individual growth as well as economic prosperity. OD assumes that organisations must be guided to the desired state by an active intervention supported my management. The managerial effort must therefore be effective in overcoming the inherent opposition to change within organisations. A successful OD project will create a learning organisation that is dynamic instead of rigid.
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The objective of this essay is to use a case study to show how resistance to change can develop in an organisation and what fuels it. The case chosen is a small state run company operating in a stable market. The essay will not speculate how the company would react to specific OD interventions. However, the essay will show how OD theories can explain the organisational dynamics of resistance to change. To address the task the essay will be broken into three parts. The first part introduces the main concepts and ideas of organisational stability and change.
The second part explains the OD change model and the third draws a lesson from the case mentioned. The interaction of individuals confronted by a single task makes organisation necessary in order to put their efforts to effective use. North (1990) describes organisations as “groups of individuals bound by some common purpose to achieve objectives. “1 Organisations are defined by Buchanan and Huczinsky (1997) as the “social arrangements for achieving controlled performance in pursuit of collective goals”. 2 Organisations therefore provide the link between ends and intended outcomes.
A defining feature of an organisation is therefore a unity of purpose in diverse activities. The structuring of relationships within an organisation can be seen as consisting of two processes. The first is that separate functions must be defined for subunits, and secondly, the operation of the diversified units must be coordinated and controlled to work together as a whole towards the aims of the organisation. Organisations develop and change over time as they react to changing external circumstances or in an effort to increase effectiveness.
Mintzberg (1983) points out that although an organisation may start out as a non-elaborated organic structure, it will have the tendency to formalise its behaviour and work processes to a more hierarchical structure with increased size. 6 Technologies, size and the stability of the environment all have a part to play in determining the effectiveness of the organisational structure for any operation. 7 To maintain effectiveness organisations must change with changes in these factors so that day to day operations further the organisations long term objectives.
The smooth incremental change is characterised by an organisation that gradually aligns its operational methods to objectives and external surroundings. The bumpy incremental change describes a situation where periods of change and stability replace one another. The third kind of change, the discontinuous, describes an organisation that is stable for a long period of time but the change entails a sudden revolutionary change of organisational rules and culture. The incremental change assumes that the organisation is flexible and reacts to changing circumstances as they emerge.
The organisation therefore stays on the path of efficiency by constantly reacting to the organisational environment and internal needs. A flexible organisation may however have to resort to revolutionary change in the case of sudden unpredictable changes in the external environment. An external shock is however not necessary to call for a discontinuous change. The formal organisational rules are intended to create stability. They represent “the established forces of habit and tradition, and of power as well. To hamper with these forces is often to invite strong resistance.
“The informal rules create a sense of habit and security about how things are done. If organisational strategy, structure and operating procedures remain unchanged over time, while the organisational environment and internal needs change, the effectiveness will be gradually reduced. That sort of strategic drift “forces organisations into a more conscious deliberate planning of change”. The foundation of the planned change model is the idea that an organisation will not automatically adjust to maintain effectiveness. Kurt Lewin modelled such a situation in the 1950’s.
13 Lewin’s model of change assumed that an organisation was affected by opposing forces, favouring change on one hand and stability on the other. The organisational form at any point of time therefore represents equilibrium. Equilibrium in this sense is a stationary state where there is no endogenous incentive to diverge from the status quo. To implement a change in this setting it is necessary to influence the forces involved. According to Lewin it would be more effective to lower the barriers to change than to enhance the driving forces. 14 If the barriers are lowered the drivers for change will become effective and push the change forward.
In this view organisational change is a three step process. First, it is necessary to unfreeze the status quo to generate any movement. If the forces are effectively influenced then change will occur, but it must be managed and controlled to reach the desired state. Since the theory is based on the idea of equilibrium it is necessary to re-freeze the organisation again after the move to stabilise the change and prevent the system to revert to another equilibrium. According to the planned change model the first step in the change process is a managerial consent for the implementation of change.
The change is made to improve organisational effectiveness, and the values of management determine what point is preferred to the status quo and why. The driving forces are therefore typically managerial objectives and the opposition to change lies with the agents intended to carry it out or employees affected by the change. 15 The different interests within an organisation are captured by the definition of Buchanan and Huczinsky of the organisational dilemma or how an organisation can “reconcile the potential inconsistency between individual needs and aspirations on the one hand and the collective purpose of the organization on the other.
“16 In a similar vein, Beer and Nohria (2000) describe two archetypes of change efforts reflecting different underlying managerial values regarding the objectives of the change and criteria for corporate success. One is the harder version where organisational change has the main objective of increasing economic value. The softer version aims at increasing organisational capability through developing company culture and individual commitment to corporate objectives. There are therefore two basic models of organisational change. The emergent change model and the model of planned change.
11 Planned change can address both incremental change, as in fine tuning a particular task within an organisation or the revolutionary type of change where organisations are altered drastically. The set of rules that govern the relationships are both formal and informal. The formal rules consist of explicit contracts, definitions of work procedures and responsibility. The formal rules and structures of an organisation are subject to explicit decision making by the strategic part of the organisation. 4 The informal rules can be just as prevalent and are reflected by customs, values and ideas of how things are done within the organisation.