Graetz and Smith’s (2010) article starts off well enough:
“Traditional approaches to organizational change generally follow a linear, rational model in which the focus is on controllability under
the stewardship of a strong leader or ‘guiding coalition’. The underlying assumption of this classical
approach, ever popular among change consultants, is that organizational change
involves a series of predictable, reducible steps that can be planned and
managed (Collins, 1998). The evidence
from case studies of failed change implementations indicates, however, that
this uni-dimensional, rational focus is limited because it treats change as a
single, momentary disturbance that must be stabilized and controlled. Such a view fails not only to appreciate that
change is a natural phenomenon which is intimately entwined with continuity
but, also, that the change-continuity continuum is what defines organizations
and their ability both to exploit and explore.
Change and continuity represent competing but complementary narratives,
bring in ambiguity and novelty to destabilize as well as validate existing
organizational routines.” (pp. 135-136).
But the rest of the article doesn’t live up to the promise of introducing a new
method for bringing about organizational change. The authors catalog ten change philosophies*
by describing each philosophy’s methods for change and associated
shortcomings. They then discuss the
continuity-change continuum and argue that change agents must use a “multi-philosophic”
approach even though the authors don’t
specify what they mean by multi-philosophic. That is unfortunate because I believe that
they have pinpointed the fundamental problem with change management in modern
Organizations are in a constant state of change as an inherent part of its interactions within and without. Organizations are also constantly resisting
change because the members are trying to maintain continuity. Most of the time, change is a constant
background hum in the organization that periodically causes minor changes in
processes (switching from voice mail to email to communicate requests or
distributing information via the web versus the previous method of printed
Change agents need to realize that change already exists in the organization and that to bring about deep change is to dial up the change
part of the continuum while realizing that people in the organization are
conditioned to respond by dialing up the continuity part. If the organizational change is meant to
destroy the existing continuity part of the continuum in favor of a new
continuity, there will be a period of chaos until the new continuity is
established in the continuum. Change
produces feedback and this has to be handled carefully or the increasing disruption
can upset the continuum balance.
Graetz and Smith (2010) have the beginnings of a successful change method. Harness the change
inherent in the organization and realize how the continuity portion of the
continuum will resist the change.
Convince a critical mass of the organization’s members to drop the
continuity in favor of the change in order to shift the balance.
The big question is just how do you handle these tasks in the change-continuity continuum?
* Biological, Rational, Institutional, Resource, Contingency, Psychological, Political, Cultural, Systems, and Postmodern.
Graetz, F., & Smith, A.C.T. (2010). Managing organizational change: A philosophies of change approach. Journal of Change Management, 10:2. 135-154.