01 September 2009

To Those Who Think They Can Manage Organizational Change

Two words: You can't!

The trick is to stop thinking of organizations as stable entities - distinct ontological endpoints in the realm of business school models of reality. Tor Hernes (2008) refers to Tsoukas and Chia (2002) who replace the notion of organizational change with “organizational becoming,” the idea that organizations are continually in flux: organizations are continuously in a state of becoming something that may be intended but can never actually be achieved. Thus, the true nature of organizational change, considered from a process ground, is that the result can never be what was expected because (1) the actors directly involved can only direct their attention to a relatively small domain within the realm of the entire world, and (2) “nothing stops the outside world from inviting itself in, especially during attempts at organizational change when expectations of multiple stakeholders are at stake” (Hernes, 2008, p. 40).

The corollary to this idea is that what I call the purposeful organization is forever doomed to fail. Like the barking dog attempting to catch the fleeing delivery van, it grows increasingly frustrated and increasingly annoys the neighbours. Instead, an emergent, relationship-based organization (like that described by Valence Theory), recognizes and accepts the natural state of flux and its inherent predilection for discovering new opportunities for connections.

  • Hernes, T. (2008). Understanding organization as process: Theory for a tangled world. New York: Routledge.
  • Tsoukas, H., & Chia, R. (2002). On organizational becoming: Rethinking organizational change. Organization Science, 13(5), 567-582.

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