Organization Change – Academic

These articles on organizational change were published in academic journals or as chapters in management texts, but they are valuable for practicing managers too.

Resistance to Change: A Re-examination and Extension (pdf)

Published in Research on Organization Change and Development, Vol. 17, 211-239, 2009

The cliché, ‘‘The more we learn, the less we know’’ seems applicable to our current understanding of the phenomenon of resistance to organizational change. Although some authors question the value of the concept or resistance and have called for its discontinuation (Dent & Goldberg, 1999), the argument offered here is that new avenues of investigation are available by reconsidering resistance as created (constructed) in the conversations and relationships operating between agent and recipient. Beginning with an exploration of the nature of resistance from three perspectives, mechanistic, social, and conversational, resistance is reconsidered as a conversational product constructed within the relational space of agent and client. Further, just as resistance is constructed, so the change agent can choose to construct change conversations to restore a change dialogue even when it has been suffused with resistance interpretations and interactions.

Resistance to Change: The Rest of the Story (pdf)
Published in Academy of Management Review, 2008

Prevailing views of resistance to change tell a one-sided story favoring change agents, proposing that resistance is an irrational and dysfunctional reaction, and that it is located only “over there” in the change recipients. We tell the rest of the story by:

  1. Proposing that change agents contribute to the occurrence of resistance through their own actions – and inactions – including breaking agreements, violating trust, failing to legitimize change, misrepresentation, failing to call for action, and resisting resistance;
  2. Showing that resistance can actually be useful as a resource for change because it keeps ideas and conversations in existence, engages more people, increases awareness and strengthens the quality of decisions; and
  3. Offering ways resistance might be restructured by considering resistance as a dynamic among three elements:
  • Recipient action – the response to a change proposal on the part of the people who are “recipients” of the change, including the people who must make the change and those who will be affected by it.
  • Agent sense-making – the set of interpretations and meanings the change agent attaches to actual or anticipated recipient behavior and communications.
  • The agent-recipient relationship – the set of interactions that creates the context in which the first two elements occur.

This new view of resistance includes new ideas about what “resistance” really is and how to work with it to support a change process.

 Conversational Profiles: A Tool for Altering the Conversational Patterns of Change Managers (pdf)

Published in Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 2008

Successful implementation of change calls for managers to be aware of the effectiveness of their conversational interactions, and to alter them whenever they need to be more effective.

Change agents must be able to move among four different types of conversations, and if they get stuck in the use of only one or two of these conversations, change implementation can be slowed, delayed, or derailed:

  1. Initiative, to introduce the desired future and outcomes;
  2. Understanding, to engage participants in defining and developing the plans;
  3. Performance, to get everyone into action and producing results; and
  4. Closure, to create the accomplishment and learn the lessons from the change process.

Managers have an identifiable pattern of talk – a conversational profile – that characterizes the interactions they use in order to implement change.  A manager’s conversational pattern is directly related to the progress of the change they are implementing.  This article illustrates ways in which managers can intentionally alter their conversational profiles in order to positively effect the progress of change.

 Resistance and the Background Conversations of Change (pdf)

Published in Journal of Organizational Change Management, 2002

When managers want to win support and “overcome resistance” to change, they usually attempt to influence people’s personal experiences and assessments about either the change or the people responsible for it. But resistance is not an objectively existing thing – it is a socially constructed reality in which people are not responding to the change itself as much as they are responding to the background conversations in which the change is being proposed.

This paper distinguishes three resistance-giving backgrounds: Complacency, Resignation, and Cynicism, and explores the implications of each, including (a) Present-time resistance to past changes; (b) Differences between personal resistance and background resistance; and (c) Ways to change the background conversations that generate resistance.

These background conversations create the context for both the change initiative and the responses to it. As a result, resistance is maintained by the background conversations of the organization. Successfully dealing with this source of resistance requires distinguishing the background conversations and completing the past that gave rise to them.

 Conversations and the Authoring of Change (pdf)

Chapter in “Management and Language: The Manager as a Practical Author”, 2002

There are two basic approaches for producing and managing organization change. One is based in the “objective” tradition that presumes an underlying ordered pattern to reality. In this tradition, the job of a change manager is to understand the fixed reality and align or adapt the organization to it through appropriate interventions. If the change is unsuccessful, it is because the manager did not understand “how things really work”.

The second “constructivist” approach presumes that our knowledge of reality is created in the process of making sense of things. In this tradition, change is not an adaptation to an existing “true” reality, but rather it is a construction of new realities. This suggests that managers must have conversations to create new realities and contexts that will support people taking new actions and conducting new interactions.

Not all conversations are the same: some are committed conversations intended to make something happen. Other conversations are uncommitted, offering commentary and opinion without any intent to take action or move something forward. This paper describes the four types of committed conversations – Initiative, Understanding, Performance, and Closure – and the way they are deployed to produce a change in a network of conversations is summarized.

Organizational Change as Shifting Conversations (pdf)
Published in the Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 12 No. 6, 1999

This article explores producing and managing change within conversationally constructed realities. Conversations are proposed as both the medium and product of reality-construction, within which change is a process of shifting conversations in the network of conversations that constitutes an organization. This posits that change entails bringing new conversations into a sustained existence, and thus the job of change managers is to create the conversational realities that produce effective action rather than to align organizations with some “true” reality”.

The Role of Conversations in Producing Intentional Change in Organizations (pdf)
Published in Academy of Management Review, 1995

Most perspectives on change propose that communication occurs in the context of change. This article inverts that perspective by proposing that the change process unfolds in a dynamic of four distinct types of conversations.

The fundamental nature of speech as performative – producing effects, functions, and actions – suggests that (a) change is language-based and language-driven, and (b) producing intentional change will be facilitated by intentional communication. Five different types of “speech acts” are identified as tools of communication and the foundation of conversation. They are: (1) Assertives, or claims; (2) Directives, or requests; (3) Commissives, or promises; (4) Expressives; and (5) Declarations.

Using these five speech acts, we identify and give examples of four conversations of change:

  1. Initiative conversations to start a change;
  2. Understanding conversations to help people make sense of the change;
  3. Performance conversations to get people into action; and
  4. Closure conversations to complete the change, including addressing breakdowns in a change process, e.g., people not getting on board, not getting into action, or unaware of any accomplishment from the change.

The paper discusses the relationships among the conversations and gives implications for theory, research, and practice. 

The Logics of Change (pdf)
Published in Academy of Management Review, 1994

The literature on organizational change and strategic management emphasize the need for organizations to adapt to changing threats and opportunities in their environments. The ways we manage and produce organizational change are a function of the point of view we take regarding change. This article outlines three different points of view, also called  our underlying assumptions or logics, of change: formal logic, dialectic logic, and trialectic logic.

  1. Formal (Aristotelian) logic tells us that we establish boundaries to separate relatively fixed and permanent characteristics of individual and organizational “identities” such as personality, culture, or structure. Because these identities are fixed, change is, ultimately, not possible. Things are, in their essence, as they are, even though they may appear to change over time.
  2. Dialectical logic views change as the result of oppositional struggles, i.e., change is a product of conflict, and conflict is necessary to produce change. In this view, everything changes all the time due to the tensions of inherent contradictions, until one “side” ultimately wins out and a new, better synthesis arises from the struggle.
  3. Trialectics is a logic of attraction: we live in a world of change, movement, and process, and even relatively stable patterns of movement – people, organizations, and ideas – are  the products of constant motion. No tensions, conflict, or contradictions are required: everything is already always changing. Further, opposites are only a function of the frame or context we apply, which means there are no inherent contradictions. Change requires only specifying a desired result and identifying the active and attractive forces that will produce it. This is a creative process, since each of these elements can be described in many different ways to attract people to take actions that will result in new situations and outcomes.

Each of these three points of view has its own language for the change process. Formal logic gives us the world of things and certainty. Dialectical logic gives us struggle, confrontation, and the rich vocabulary of power. Trialectical logic gives us a world of relationship and possibility.

A table in the final section of the paper shows the different languages of change applied to an actual restructuring of the US Post Office that corresponds to the three logics of change.

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