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Understanding change: theoretical perspectives

Understanding change: theoretical perspectives
Broad outline
The unit aims to help you understand why most organizations on a regular basis are experiencing major change. In most of the texts on change and transition, the focus is on techniques and/or tools to facilitate or implement such change. Not so much emphasis is placed on the reasons why organizations are experiencing periods of major transformation. In Topic 1, an attempt is made to explicitly address this issue. In order to do so, we have to go down the theoretical path of modern organizational sociology.
You are asked to read through four classic readings on organizations and change that highlight different conceptual positions and assumptions. The readings are:

Miller & Friessen (1980) – Archetypes of Organizational Transition
DiMaggio & Powell (1983) – The Iron Cage Revisited
Greenwood & Hinings (1996) – Understanding Radical Organizational Change
Erakovic & Powell (2006) – Pathways of Change: organizations in transition

It is important that you try to understand and familiarize yourself with these readings. This is not going to be easy. But it is crucial to have this basis as the next part of this unit builds on these insights. So do take your time in working through them.
Four classic readings on organizational transition
Organizations in the 21st century do not exist in splendid isolation. It is very questionable whether organizations ever did, though probably one could argue a case for the self-sustaining communities in the early days of our societies. Today, however, any organization is part of a larger network of organizations with which it interacts, serves or is dependent upon. These networks in turn have similar relationships with other networks, resulting in a dense pattern of interrelationships. Quite often this is described as the environment in which an organization is located.
Even though this unit is not specifically focused on organization theory, in order to understand the drivers for transformational change, that is change that is vast, encompassing and inescapable, however, we need to start with a few basic assumptions about the relationship between organizations and their environments and the forces that this relationship implies.
The four texts selected for laying the foundation of understanding the organization – environment relationship embody the evolution of thought in organization theory. As such they complement rather than replace each other.
Reading 1.1 Miller and Frisen (1980)
Archetypes of Organizational Transition – The central issue addressed is how organizations adapt to their environment. The starting point is that this is a highly complex process, which includes strategy-making, and which takes time. Through statistical analyses – which for the present purposes are not important – the authors identify six transition archetypes, supporting their proposition that changes tend to come in packages. A key message in this article is that contrary to the original contingency approach, the organization – environment relationship is not a deterministic one, but a mutually reinforcing one where past strategic choices and behaviors have influenced the environment as well as the environment influencing the organization.
Reading 1.2 DiMaggio and Powell (1983
The Iron Cage Revisited – This is a seminal article in organizational sociology. The central point made is that rational actors make their organizations increasingly similar as they try and change them, through what the authors define as isomorphic processes. Phrased differently, rational efforts to deal with uncertainties and constraints often lead to homogeneity of organizations’ structure, culture and output. As such, the authors shed an illuminating light on the inner life of organizations and what drives people that work in (or with) them.
Reading 1.3 Greenwood and Hinings (1996)
Understanding Radical Organizational Change – Another classic article on organizational change which further develops institutional theory as introduced in the previous reading. The authors aim to provide an account for understanding organizational interpretations of, and responses to, contextual pressures. They stress the political dynamics of intra-organizational behavior and the embeddedness of organizations within their contexts.
Reading 1.4 Erakovic and Powel (2006)
Pathways of Change: Organizations in Transition – The final reading builds on the previous ones by further stressing the notion that organizational transition is not something deterministic emerging out of the environment. The authors propose the concept of a pathway to capture the process of transition (rather than the outcome), and highlight the critical importance of the interaction of institutional context with the consequences of strategic choice by decision makers.

Using the arguments and conceptualizations developed in the four readings of Topic 1, critically discuss ONE of the following four statements:

   “When we consider a complex organization, there are many interacting environmental, structural and behavioral (strategy-making) attributes that influence adaptation.” (Miller & Friesen, 1980: 269)


      “Why is there such startling homogeneity of organizational forms and practices?” (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983: 148)


      “Institutional theory contains an excellent basis for an account of change by providing a convincing definition of radical as opposed to convergent) change, and by signaling the contextual dynamics that precipitate the need for organizational adaptation.” (Greenwood & Hinings, 1996: 1023)


      “The likelihood that organizations will go down a particular pathway is shaped by the complex interaction of different organizational and environmental factors.” (Erakovic & Powell, 2006: 32)

Assessment criteria

Not Addressed
Done Poorly

Done Well

The chosen question is analysed clearly and the essay addresses the question specifically
The literature related to the chosen question is discussed and interpreted accurately
The essay develops the stimulus provided for the chosen option by considering more than one viewpoint or interpretation
The position taken and the conclusions drawn by the student are placed in the context of organisational change and development. The use of examples from specific organisation/s is most acceptable
The assignment reflects evidence of wider reading than the minimum provided in the module notes and set text
The assignment is referenced using the APA System as detailed in the Referencing Guide (I will upload this):
• all material that should be acknowledged is acknowledged
• author, date & page included where needed
• alphabetical reference list included
Wrote and presented the assignment at a professional standard:
• sentence construction
• grammar
• punctuation
• spelling
• paragraphing
• word processed
• page layout
• pages numbered


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