In an ever evolving and developing world, organisational change is becoming inevitable. In order to be successful an organisation must adapt to the constantly changing and highly competitive environment in which it operates. This suggests that an understanding of the concepts of organisational change is crucial. But before trying to understand change in relation to organisations, one must understand the concept of change in general. Tsoukas and chia (2002567) define change as the reweaving of actors webs of beliefs and habits of action to accommodate new experiences obtained through interactions.
This means that people/animals alter the way they think and behave in order to adapt to new situations. For organisational purposes, change can be defined as the process of continually renewing organisations direction, structure and capabilities to serve the ever changing needs of external and internal customers (Moran and Brightman 2001111). Due to the increase in Globalisation and the advances in technology, organisations are being forced to change in ways that were never anticipated.
Graetz (2000) believes that due to these factors, as well as deregulation and a more intelligent workforce, the key role of managers today is the leadership of organisational change. Because change in the environment surrounding companies is often unpredictable, it is difficult to prepare for and organisational change therefore tends to be reactive. As a result of this, the skills required to manage change are becoming increasingly sought after by organisations (Balogun and Hailey 2004).
Due to an increase in the need for organisational change, many researchers have come up with frameworks to help organisations implement change programmes. Until the 1980s Kurt Lewins planned approach to change dominated the theory and practice of organisational change (Burnes 2005). Lewin believed that in times of crisis, be it personal, organisational or societal, established routines and behaviours break down. In reaction to this, new forms of activity rapidly emerge to regain stability (Lewin 1947).
Lewin developed the 3-step model and argued that a successful change project involved 3 steps. Unfreezing was the first step. He believed that in order for change to occur, the equilibrium needs to be destabilised (unfrozen) and old behaviour disregarded (Burnes 2004). Step 2 was named moving and Lewin believed that this was the shift from undesired to desired actions/behaviours. Refreezing was the final step and this was the stabilisation of the new set of behaviours to prevent regression. However, Lewins work has received a great deal of criticism from many other researchers in this field.
Kanter et al (1992) claimed that his 3 step model was too simple and that organisational change was much more dynamic than his 3 step model suggests. On the other hand Burnes (2004) argued that when Lewin developed his 3-step model it was not intended to be solely for organisational use, but for social and personal means also. A further criticism of this model could be that it is now outdated and may not be efficient for organisations in current times. In response to the criticism associated with Lewins work, a new approach to organisational change emerged in the 1980s, known as the processual approach (Burnes 2005).
This approach argues that change is continuous and unpredictable. Two main researchers in this field believe that organisation is the way in which humans try to channel instability towards certain ends (Tsoukas and chia 2002567). In their research, Tsoukas and Chia try to prove organisational change to be a normal condition of organisational life. They reject the more traditional view that change is an exceptional activity individuals undertake in the hope to gain stability. Rather, they see change as a continuous and emergent process.
In order to justify these claims the authors draw upon the findings of studies conducted by researchers in this field, such as Feldman (2002). In her research she studied organisational routines in a student housing department of a U. S university and demonstrated how change is a common occurrence. She found that rather than having the student move-in routine reapplied year upon year without change, it kept being assessed and improved on an ongoing basis in response to new problems, such as congestion.
Tsoukas and Chia argue that from these findings, along with others, organisations are constantly changing (sometimes without knowing) in a bid to improve their systems rather than only changing when disruption occurs as the planned approach would suggest. However, Balogun and Hailey (2004) argue that despite evidence to show that organisations need to be flexible and capable of re-organisation through continuous and emergent change; there are still a number of companies that have to undertake a step change in order to remain competitive.
According to the authors, step change is concerned with intentional and planned change. They believe that managers examine their strategic position and develop a new strategy accordingly, requiring the organisation to operate in a new way. An example of this could be HMV recently offering different products to CDs and DVSDs such as clothing and calendars. This is probably due to the increasing availability of music downloads and MP3s, decreasing the need for customers to go to music stores. HMV have therefore changed their strategy in order to attract more customers to visit their stores and physically purchase goods.
From looking at different perspectives and views of organisational change, it is evident that there is a lack of agreement between academics of how to manage change. However, despite this, there is a general consensus that organisations have to deal with an increase in the need to change and so the ability to manage change should be a core organisational competence (Burnes 2005). As a result of this, academics have started to use complexity theories as a way of understanding change. Complexity theories are concerned with the emergence of order in dynamic non-linear systems operating at the edge of chaos (Burnes 200477).
They try to bring together a collection of common ideas from different researchers in order to provide some form of stability to constantly changing systems where unpredictable and irregular behaviour occurs. Stacey et al (2002) state that there are 3 key ideas in the field of complexity theories, these are chaos theory, dissipative structures theory and the theory of complex adaptive systems. Chaos theory is concerned with systems that are constantly changing in an irreversible manner and are not adherent to cause and effect relationships.
Dissipative theory is concerned with systems that pass through states of instability and reach critical points where self-organisation may occur to produce a different behavioural pattern (Stacey 2003). Complex adaptive theory looks at how the different agents within a system behaves and states that patterns of behaviour emerge from the interaction between agents within that system, rather than emerging in response to external factors. It is believed that the difference between these theories is that the first two re concerned with whole systems whereas complexity adaptive theory seeks to understand the behaviour of the individual elements of systems (Stacey et al, 2002). However, Cohen and Stewart (1994) argue that complexity seeks to find out how simple things arise from complex systems and how complex things arise from simple systems (Burnes 200579). But despite this disagreement there seems to be a common acceptance that systems appear to be both non-linear and self-organising. Stacey (2003) therefore believes that in order to survive, organisations need to continuously transform themselves in the same way that complex systems do.
Complexity theories are not without criticism though. Houchin and MacLean (2005) state that there are a number of different interpretations of the theory, suggesting that there is a lack of empirical evidence in order to support a coherent framework. Also, because complexity theories have originated from the natural and biological sciences, and therefore experiments conducted on non-humans) it is wondered if it is acceptable to apply such findings and theories to social organisations (Houchin and MacLean 2005).
It is also argued that much of the evidence produced by scientists to show that complexity can be applied to the natural world is derived from computer simulations rather than empirical studies, making the validity of such finding questionable (Burnes 2005). To conclude it is obvious to see that there is not one way to view organisational change. Despite there being a large number of ideas, theories and models on how to manage organisational change, a high failure rate of change programmes seems to be reported (Burnes 2005).
It may be said that an organisation must first assess its situation before it can decide how to go about changing. From assessing their position, incremental changes to keep in line with the environment may be appropriate, or a revolutionary change may have to occur. A good example of this is the recent government spending cuts. Until now, it has been common for the government to make small annual changes to government spending using a budget. However, after a recent review on their finances, a dramatic change in the way the government is spending money has had to occur, resulting in major setbacks and implications.