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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Contemporary academic communications are exploding under the influence of the internet (mobility of laptops and cellular phones matches the ubiquity of the www) and transforming in response to the strictly bureaucratic regulation of professional exchanges, interactions and publications. JOCM is no exception; when our authors meet on some ritual occasions – say, at the annual Academy of Management, International Academy of Business Disciplines, Standing Conference for Management and Organization Inquiry, SCOS, EGOS, EURAM or – bi-annually – at the Critical Management Studies or Art of Management conferences, they complain that our professional communications are not up to the speed of exchanges and living contacts within the community of knowledge. When we talk to one another exchanging research notes and developing theoretical ideas, we know that a weak and pale echo of our vivid exchanges will be found in conference rooms during the paper presentations. We guess that an even weaker echo will sound on reflected on the pages of journals, periodicals, web sites and books. What should we do to introduce an equivalent of rapid deployment force in our professional communications? At JOCM we aim to ensure timeliness of publication whilst providing a stimulating combination of standard and special issues.
Having said that let us present the long-overdue potpourri issue you are opening, dear Reader. The first – as the title already reveals – deals with the influence of the internet on models of business in its domain, which had already demonstrated a particular sensitivity to this communication and information enhancing technology, namely travel agencies as a component of the tourist industries. They had to redefine themselves – both because clients started using the web on their own and because the suppliers – of hotel or air transport services – often sailed around the travel agencies trying to get rid of one of the classical middlemen on their way to the client. What makes this paper particularly interesting is that the authors try to approach the problem from the theoretical point of view represented by the population ecology and institutionalism. Both these evolutionary theoretical trends in contemporary theory of organizational development and change are important interfaces between a domain of qualitative and a domain of quantitative methodologies. Population ecologists hope that formalization of their language and large databases will enable them to generate predictions about organizational morphologies and their temporary transformations. Institutionalists hope to be able to link up to the economists and to transfer mathematical modeling into organizational sciences, which – so far – proved to be resistant. Both population ecologists and institutionalists long for methodological respectability but with a license to thrill with interpretative, pragmatic twist. The authors – Hosein Gharavi and Roger Sor – try to find out if the proof of the pudding had indeed been demonstrated in the eating – what did managers do, when technological perturbation dealt new cards for the reiterative business games.
Carol McWilliam and Catherine Ward-Griffin take a more usual qualitative approach, which they call “hermeneutic phenomenological”. They deal with an organizational change in Canadian health services (home care programs), which went from a centralized bureaucratic approach to what they term “empowering partnership approach”. Health care is definitely becoming one of the most interesting areas of organizing, in which most of the battles in the ongoing hot wars between managerialism and its alternatives are being fought. It is in the health care that we will, perhaps, first notice if the “empowerment” programs are, indeed, a liberation from the iron cage of professional bureaucracy, or a subtle translation of the market economy onto the language of public servants, with internalizing of former external control as the main managerial instrument assuring control of formally empowered employees.
Two successive papers deal with similar issues. Maria Nirmala and K. Akhilesh analyze the concept of “rightsizing environment” and its links with the idea (and a redefinition of) organizational justice. They attempt to compare “stories” of participants in organizational downsizing – of those who became “separated” from their former employer, those who had survived – and are called “stayers”, and those, who had consulted, advised and managed the downsizing process – “the implementers”. Their terminology itself – “graceful exit”, assistance programs for both the stayers and those separated, evaluation of the processes – indicates a pragmatic, consulting edge and an attempt to come up with benchmarking in organizational rightsizing (since both of them come from Bangalore, there is a link to the first paper in that India is becoming an important supplier of online services, thus tackling technological change in ICT, which the authors of the first papers had also been analyzing). The paper by Robert Jones and George Kriflik also deals with an organizational rightsizing – only this time the process takes place within a professional bureaucracy, so it is called “cleaned-up bureaucracy” and the phenomenon isolated for study by the authors is defined as subordinate expectations of leadership – on the ruins of the cleaned-up bureaucratic hierarchies. The link to qualitative methodologies can be found in the grounded theory approach applied to a single organization's case and in attention paid to such aspects of leadership in changing organization as intermediation, facilitating subordinates' evolution and a “brokering” role.
Two next papers also deal with bureaucracies, but with the one usually associated with power and enforcement. The first, Gabriele Jacobs-Belschak's, Anne Keegan et al.'s – “The Fatal Smirk” is based on a study of organizational change processes implemented in German police. The authors use a qualitative methodology and attempt to understand the difference between a “successful” and an “unsuccessful” project, with special stress on commitment of peers and superiors. None can be taken for granted – peers can sneer at project participants and beneficiaries seeing it is a clever way of favoring management's darlings, while superiors can on some occasions show impatience with the rituals of change, eager to re-instate their bureaucratic power in an organization with military ranks and chain of command. Hence the title – one fatal smirk of a superior can undo months of patient practice and committed participation among peers. The authors conclude that the usual consulting stress on technical and managerial aspects of change processes should be beefed up with the “social and behavioral” scenario and sensitivity. The next paper, “A Machiavellian analysis of organizational change” by David McGuire and Kate Hutchings is an attempt to translate the classical writings on political power as a “doable”, “manageable” project of a strong and intelligent individual in a turbulent environment into the language of contemporary organization, managerial instruments of HRM policies, organizational culture and models of organizational change.
Three consecutive papers all deal with the organizational sensemaking. The first picks up the thread of an organizational change triggered by the developments in information and communication technology. Cynthia Bean and Eric Eisenberg write on “Employee sensemaking; in the transition to nomadic work” – what they reconstruct in their qualitative analysis are social and communicative processes among employees who switch from routine office work in a traditionally organized office to a more mobile – “nomadic” mode of work. Interestingly enough – they found out that the more flexible, mobile and paperless we become, the more we rely on solid identity, culture and structure, preferably black on white, with paper documents around, since we want to stabilize after reckless flexibilization and mobilization. Weick's sensemaking concept offers an interesting perspective on personal and interpersonal echoes of these new anxieties. Hermine Scheeres and Carl Rhodes also deal with values and identities in the context of an organizational change within a fairly classical “middle-sized manufacturing firm”. Their paper, “Between cultures; values, training and identity in a manufacturing firm”, deals with identities imposed from above and contested from below. They thus ask the same question, which we have heard before, when talking about the empowerment in health service, namely, does the language of inclusiveness and empowerment, of identity and trust hide the attempt to suppress potential dissent and alternative identities, which might emerge from below? Mary Ann Hazen returns to the health service in her paper, in which she interviews in depth 14 women who had experienced prenatal losses and tries to understand the role of silence and organized glossing over the losses in personal and organizational sensemaking. She suggests that we apply Foucault's theoretical framework (the mix of power/knowledge in shaping medical and bureaucratic discourse) and that we consider a possibility that:
... small changes in organizational policies, such as training managers to recognize and respond to grieving employees and to practice active listening, can positively affect healing, task accomplishment and team relationships.
The concept of polyphonic organization is proposed – as conducive to these types of “small organizational changes”.
Finally, in a paper, which deals with an organizational rightsizing linked to the privatization of a public utility in Gambia, Thomas Forster and Suchitra Mouly speak of a rarely investigated area, namely the application of the western managerial commonsense knowledge (private¼good, public¼wasteful, private¼efficient, public¼bureaucratic). In “Privatisation in a Developing Country; insights from The Gambia”, they present a longitudinal study of changes of an electric energy company and try to distinguish between changes, which are endogenous (and for the success of which there is empirical evidence), and exogenously driven changes, which stand a far lower chance of ending in success.
The last article is not a usual paper, but a review of a book on World Café Community written by Raymond Pagliarini. The subtitle of the book, authored by Juanita Brown and David Isaacs – “shaping our futures through conversations that matter” – refers to a technique of shaping managerial teams through a specially generated experiential platform, which is hospitable, relevant, democratic and cross-pollinating. I have to confess that this quasi-biological language of “pollination” seems to me weirdly absurd, like a magical chant of a consultant guru, but on the other hand, empirical participant observation of countless receptions and parties convinces me that people crowd in even the tiniest kitchens at the expense of the largest living rooms, so perhaps there is something more to the world café approach than meets the eye.