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					The Nature of Organisational Change

The Nature of Organisational Change
 The

initial premise is that there are four kinds of change in organisations:

l
l l

l

Process change. System change. Structural change. Organisational change

Processes
 Processes

are the ordered set of activities which are used to generate the outputs of an organisations. Michael Hammer and James Champney define a business process as, “a collection of activities that take one or more kinds of input and creates an output that is of value to the customer.” (1995:35)



Hammer and Champney contrast the process way of thinking with a simple task focus, where each individual activity is viewed in isolation. Their work is thus a step towards a more holistic view of organisational life. Processes can cut right across structural boundaries such as departments, divisions or even firms; if the process can be managed and designed to operate as a seamless whole enormous efficiencies could follow.

 Business

Process Re-engineering (BPR) was sold as a radical form of organisational transformation. By re-ordering the processes to a more natural customerfocused way the hope was that organisations would undergo a step change and move to new ways of working and being. The reality was usually different.

 This

is not the place to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of BPR but the absence of any reference to people in the definition above is very significant. In fact, processes always involve interactions between people, usually on a one-to-one basis.

 This

is not the place to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of BPR but the absence of any reference to people in the definition above is very significant. In fact, processes always involve interactions between people, usually on a one-to-one basis.

A

better perspective on process comes, in my view, by considering the interactions between the people who actually interact with one another to deliver the process. Winograd & Flores‟ notion of commitments (1986) is worth exploring further in this context.

Systems
 When

most people in organisations speak of systems they are referring to sets of procedures. Increasingly these will be facilitated by networked computers; so much so that IT systems are now the first kind most managers will call to mind. But there are also HR systems: reward and recognition; recruitment and retention; appraisal and development; and so on.

Structures


Structure is the outward form of organisation; an indication of the regularities which arise when groups of people get together in pursuit of a common purpose. Structures will inevitably emerge from the interactions between individuals—these people will usually work together; this one will usually adopt a leadership role; these will perform some functions, those will perform others; this group will have more status and power than that; and so on.

 Yet

although structure will always emerge, in modern organisations it is usually imposed from „outside‟. A conscious decision is made: perhaps to move from a hierarchy to a matrix; or from functional divisions to process-focused work teams.



Traditional „expert‟ consultants are often very skilled at suggesting appropriate structures for different kinds of organisation in particular environments. Vast sums were expended (and often still are) in creating new structures. How often these projects deliver value for money must be questioned—indeed, it can be argued that one of their primary functions is to provide a mechanism to help managers deal with anxiety in organisational life (Hirschhorn & Barnett 1993).

Organisation


Organisation is the most fundamental aspect of a business, charity, public service or any other goaldirected collection of people. My current working definition of an organisation is a co-creating pattern of relationships. The outward manifestation of organisation is what is often known as culture. I will just briefly look at the three key terms in the definition in a little more detail:

Relationships
 The

notion of relationship is core to this view of organisation, which owes much to the work of Maturana & Varela:

 Organization

denotes those relations which must exist among the components of a system for it to be a member of a specific class. (1987:47)

 The

relationships in human organisations are those which exist moment to moment between the people who are „members‟ of the organisation and also between them and those who are in the „environment‟ of the organisation. (I therefore do not see human organisations as autopoetic as I understand Maturana and Varela‟s use of the term.)

Pattern
I

use the word „pattern‟ to indicate that although the way the networks of relationships occur is completely unpredictable at the micro level there are nevertheless some regularities and consistencies



The metaphor of the whirlpool may help here. From the point of view of an individual water molecule all is change and progress—it enters the whirlpool at a specific place (the source), moves from outside to inside in a way which is sometimes orderly and sometimes turbulent and finally exits into another relatively calm environment (the sink). Technically, the whirlpool is a chaotic system and it is not possible to predict the trajectory of an individual molecule.

 To

the outside observer the whirlpool seems to present a relatively stable and recognisable pattern. Not only can we recognise a whirlpool if we see one but any particular whirlpool has features which persist over time (the Great Red Spot in Jupiter‟s atmosphere is a good example).

Co-creating
 It

is crucial to recognise that the patterns of relationship which make up organisation are not designed or imposed from „above‟ or „outside‟; they are co-created by all the other conversations and interactions which are occurring. Patterns may have a degree of stability but they too are both influenced and influencing in this continuous dance of change.


				
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