The environment of most organizations is beset by continuous change, instability, flux, and unpredictability. If organizations are to survive and prosper under such conditions, they must be capable of dynamic adaption and stable and reliable performance. Organization theory recognizes the importance of both imperatives, but typically assumes that they pull organizations in different directions. Building on Selznick’s theory of institutionalization, we argue that institutions can, should and sometimes do master the challenge of being responsive and stable, while avoiding the potentially destructive tendencies of rigidity and opportunism. Contrary to a prominent view that strong institutionalization leads to inertia, Selznick’s theory suggests that strong institutions are capable of preemptive adaptation to protect the character of their institutions. We describe this state as one of dynamic conservatism and explore four types of preemptive internal reform strategies: strategic retreat, self-cannibalization, experimentation, and repositioning. We conclude with a consideration of factors that might moderate the ability of strong institutions to proactively change in order to remain the same.
We wish to thank Matthew Kraatz for his insightful and always encouraging comments on earlier versions of this paper.
Ansell, C., Boin, A. and Farjoun, M. (2015), "Dynamic Conservatism: How Institutions Change to Remain the Same", Institutions and Ideals: Philip Selznick’s Legacy for Organizational Studies (Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 44), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp. 89-119. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0733-558X20150000044005Download as .RIS
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