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The seven communication reasons organizations do not change

Philip Salem (Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas, USA)

Corporate Communications: An International Journal

ISSN: 1356-3289

Article publication date: 6 August 2008




Management attempts to transform organizations seldom succeed. This paper aims to describe seven common communication behaviors accompanying those failures.


This paper integrates material from three recent communication and organizational change studies, recent change theory, and complexity theory to model communication and change processes. All the studies employed traditional ethnographic methods, but one study employed quantitative methods as well as part of a mixed methods design.


Data describe six common communication behaviors during failed organizational change efforts. The combination of these behaviors suggests a seventh pattern. Communication during failed efforts seldom involves enough communication opportunities, lacks any sense of emerging identification, engenders distrust, and lacks productive humor. These problems are compounded by conflict avoidance and a lack of interpersonal communication skills. Members decouple the system, sheltering the existing culture until it is safe for it to reemerge later.

Research limitations/implications

The integration of data from three studies with theory improves transferability, but more studies would improve the veracity of the results. Only one study employed quantitative data along with qualitative data. Organizational change research may need to employ mixed methods and augment results through simulations to understand time‐dependent processes.

Practical implications

Results point to the limitations of management and impersonal communication. Change is a messy business, and transformational change will not happen unless management is willing to tolerate the ambiguity and the sense that emerges in communication. Results also point to the importance of communication skills in hiring practices.


Few essays integrate results from several studies. This paper challenges accepted management practices and extends the growing understanding of the limits of individuals to control social change; it also adds to the literature on and application of complexity theory.



Salem, P. (2008), "The seven communication reasons organizations do not change", Corporate Communications: An International Journal, Vol. 13 No. 3, pp. 333-348.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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