This paper is a review of six articles written by Ezzamel, Willmott & Worthington (2001), Fleming & Spicer (2003), Orton (2000), Morrison & Milliken (2000), Piderit (2000), and Vince & Broussine (1996). The researchers explored organizational change issues by investigating the factors that impede (or support) the process. This paper critically evaluates their arguments and assumptions using a three-pronged framework that summarizes their findings into organizational culture issues, communication issues, and human factors (which affect organizational change). By doing so, this study identifies new insights for change management by narrowing the divide between theory and practice.
Vince & Broussine (1996) say organizational focus (in change management) should move from problem-solving and planning-based approaches to human emotions and interpersonal relations. Particularly, they stress the need to understand how human uncertainties and people’s defensiveness affect organizational change. Vince & Broussine (1996) say so because they believe human factors affect change management (by affecting people’s acceptance of the change process).
We need to consider several issues in this analysis. For example, resistance to change is an attitudinal issue that most organizations could solve by appealing to human needs. Managers that do so have a high chance of experiencing employee support in change management. For example, Faucheux (2013) narrates the story of an American church (Jeff’s Church), which planned to build a new sanctuary for its congregants but received complaints from some of its members for excluding them in the project.
The church addressed this problem by appointing a steering committee that sought the views and involvement of all church members. Eventually, most of the members supported the project because they felt part of the change process (Faucheux, 2013). This analysis shows that focusing on people’s emotions and interpersonal relations, as highlighted by Vince and Broussine (1996), underlies the success of the organizational change.
Piderit (2000) supports the focus of human attitudes as a prerequisite for successful organizational change by advocating for a new approach to addressing employee resistance. He says that people’s attitudes affect their inhibitions (or support) to change. In this regard, Piderit (2000) also says, striking a balance between organizational needs and personal needs would foster ambivalent attitudes to change. To do so, he proposed the need to understand how employee resistance to change has evolved. Similarly, he emphasized the need to understand how employees respond to change proposals (using a bottom-up approach). He used this argument to explain the egalitarian change process (Piderit, 2000).
Morrison & Milliken (2000) say that the main inhibition to organizational change is the failure of organizations to voice the issues that affect company performance and employee performance. They say that such organizations prevent stakeholders from voicing organizational problems because it is “unwise” to do so. They term this phenomenon as “organizational silence” (Morrison & Milliken, 2000).
To promote organizational change, the researchers investigated the contextual variables that lead to organizational change and proposed that eliminating these variables foster change. The above view reflects the assertions of Faucheux (2013) when he highlighted the need for managers to communicate organizational change issues to all stakeholders. He also said that the top-level team should persuade all members of an organization (stakeholders) to support the change management process (Faucheux, 2013; Morrison & Milliken, 2000). This way, employees would understand the need for embracing change. Such a strategy has yielded success.
For example, in 1981, British Airways got a new manager who wanted to restructure the organization because he realized that it suffered from resource wastage (Faucheux, 2013). He embarked on several restructuring processes that involved downsizing the airline’s workforce. However, before he did so, he communicated the need to re-structure the organization to all the stakeholders. This process prepared employees for the change. Eventually, his efforts yielded fruit by saving the London-based airline from imminent collapse (Faucheux, 2013).
Fleming & Spicer (2003) say that subjectivity and power relations are important factors that affect organizational change. These factors are mainly included in organizational culture. In this regard, Fleming & Spicer (2003) say that most workers who understand an organization’s culture are likely to support organizational change, while those that do not understand it frustrate the process. The latter group does so because they feel isolated.
Moreover, cynicism becomes a common characteristic of their work performance. To explain this phenomenon, Fleming & Spicer (2003) say, “We label this the ideology interpretation because in dis-identifying with power, it is inadvertently reproduced at the same time” (p. 157). Overall, Fleming & Spicer (2003) believe that cultural power has a great impact on an organization’s ability to embrace change. Similarly, they say that subjectivity affects an organization’s ability to change (subjectivity might not necessarily come from within the organization). This fact also shows that what many people may regard as frustrations to change may not necessarily be so.
Orton (2000) used the above ideology to explain how internal communications affect organizational design processes in the US intelligence system. He built on Weick’s theory of organization development and explored how three design assumptions affected an organization’s design process. In his study, he found out that dominant variables, causal laws, and executive dictates (the three organization design assumptions) restricted the organizational design process (Orton, 2000). Overall, Orton (2000) highlighted the need for organizations to move from simple designs to reliable designs.
Ezzamel et al. (2001) have questioned the justification for using new waves of management (as highlighted above), as the only prerequisites for re-engineering organizational processes. After evaluating the experiences of frustrated managers who tried to re-engineer organizational processes, the researchers found out that most employees could easily use personal and collective forms of resistance to support (or frustrate) organizational change (Ezzamel et al., 2001). Although the authors acknowledge the role that external organizational conditions, such as market changes, have on organizational change, they say that identifying with past working practices has a greater impact on organizational change. Therefore, the authors appreciate the need to focus on the role that employee work experiences have on organizational change
Discussion and Conclusion
After analyzing the six articles highlighted in this paper, we see that organizational change is a dynamic and multifaceted issue. Human factors, communication, and organizational change emerge as the main issues affecting the process. As Ezzamel et al. (2001) observe, although many kinds of literature acknowledge the need for adopting modern change management paradigms, like lean management, it is equally important to appreciate the role that an employee’s experience plays in shaping his resistance (or support) to the change management process.
Therefore, change management should focus on getting the “human aspect” right and later concentrate on other important issues, such as communication and organizational culture. Overall, this paper highlights the need to approach change management through a multidimensional perspective. Furthermore, it highlights the need for merging past and present organizational needs when charting the future of organizational processes.
Ezzamel, M., Willmott, H., & Worthington, F. (2001). Power, Control and Resistance in The Factory That Time Forgot. Journal of Management Studies, 38(8), 1053-1079.
Faucheux, M. (2013). Examples of Change Management Plans That Worked. Web.
Fleming, P., & Spicer, A. (2003). Working at a Cynical Distance: Implications for Power, Subjectivity and Resistance. Organization, 10(1), 157-179.
Morrison, E. W., & Milliken, F. J. (2000). Organizational Silence: A Barrier to Change And Development In A Pluralistic World. Academy of Management Review, 25(4), 706-725.
Orton, J. D. (2000). Enactment, Sensemaking and Decision Making: Redesign Processes in the 1976 Reorganization of US Intelligence. Journal of Management Studies, 37(2), 213-234.
Piderit, S. K. (2000). Rethinking Resistance and Recognizing Ambivalence: A Multidimensional View of Attitudes toward an Organizational Change. The Academy of Management Review, 25(4), 783-794.
Vince, R., & Broussine, M. (1996). Paradox, Defense and Attachment: Accessing and Working with Emotions and Relations Underlying Organizational Change. Organization Studies, 17(1), 1-21.