Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: Journal of Organizational Change Management, Volume 21, Issue 2.
From common sense to sensitive commons (editorial comments on the margins of managerial philosophies).
With increasing astonishment does one discover that psychology, philosophy and managerial sciences expand on the shelves of major bookshops, while sociology shrinks and barely survives (if at all) boxed in between “communication” and “social work” or “esoteric” and “religion.” Has sociology become useless and uninteresting for both intellectuals and broader educated public? At the same time, we do realize that conservative turn in social sciences and public policies is over: privatization of upward mobility (individual career pathing) domesticates in real life and breeds irrelevance in research (selecting high-potentials divides and allows to rule). Trains and rails get worse, health care deteriorates for most and becomes too expensive for many, while gaps of inequality become unmanageable. “Clash of civilizations” will soon be read as a homage to the mobilizing potential of a reinvented religion. Even, Habermas admits nowadays that without values with some proper “aura” around them, his liberal dream of ideally free dialogue remains idle gossip and will never attract the managed masses.
Who is going to be the next recognizable and socially acceptable champion of significant strategic change? According to Dan Chrusciel, the change worth talking about is “frame-breaking, culture-changing, transforming, radical, revolutionary, etc.” His question is phrased in a non-controversial, middle-of-the road, over-psychologized way “What motivates the significant/strategic change champions?” but his answers point towards the social system, ability to build a team around “intrinsic values” (let us say, “fairness” rather than “bonus” or “share options”) and towards organization as the most sensitive and relevant vehicle of change at large, emotional intelligence profiles at the individual level notwithstanding. Doris Hamner (together with Allison Cohen Hall, Jaime Ciulla Timmons, Heike Boeltzig and Sheila Fesko) takes a narrower look but emerges with broader conclusions. She and her co-authors focus on an organization called “one-stop career centers” and on their policies with respect to the people with disabilities. Longitudinal studies had been conducted over four years and 20 individuals interviewed in six locations across the USA. The ability of some centers to provide valuable contribution to the disabled entrants at the job market depends crucially on their change skills. These change skills enable them to construct and maintain networks and to bridge the gaps in knowledge transfer and communication between various involved parties. Emergence, longevity and effectiveness of those change agents defined as bridge-builders varies. The authors phrase their conclusions in psychological language, but the implications are clearly sociological. Long-term change in the workforce development system does call for a degree of social imagination and organizational creativity. Jon Aarum Andersen notices another significant symptom of the over-psychologized organizational sciences, namely the “anthropomorphization” of organizations themselves (An organization called Harry). It would do us all some good, indeed, to think of the limits of metaphor organizations, after all, do not think, do not learn, do not get sick or die. In this particular sense, Margaret Thatcher should have said “organizations do not exist,” very much like she said “society does not exist,” but then, to be fair, she should have added, neither does “intelligence” or “personality.” Andersen also notices that anthropomorphization in organizational theory may result from an attempt to overcome reifications and to “humanize” organizations, but it should nevertheless be distrusted and avoided. Organizations are artificial constructs (eviva sociologia!) and “anthropomorphization takes focus away from the importance of individual action and human competence in organizations.” With the next paper we do return to the mainstream organization studies, but only partly so. Victor J. Garcia Morales, Fernando Matias-Reche and Nuria Hurtado-Torres decided to study “The influence of transformational leadership on organizational innovation and performance depending on the level of organizational learning in the pharmaceutical sector” and they had examined a sample of 164 firms. Their choice is a fortunate one, since educational and health care bureaucracies are the fastest growing multi-organizational forms in our societies. All those who dream of spawning clones of Sillicon Valleys of the future should read their paper. They are also self-critical and correctly observe that we have no objective measure of organizational learning (evolutionary approach of those who like population ecology syndrome would obviously link objectivity to long-term survival measurement) and that collaborative involvement of both academics and practitioners is a crucial challenge also for those championing competitive advantage of more humanist and humane solutions for constructing our collective futures. Taking a look at those two problems of objectivity in measuring organizational processes and responsiveness to the environment (the making of sensitive commons hinted at in the title of the present editorial) we should read two next papers, namely Drago Podobnik's and Slavko Dolinšek's “Competitiveness and performance development: an integrated management model” and “The moderating role of environmental dynamism between firm emotional capability and performance” by Ali Akgün, Halit Keskin and John Byrne. The Slovenians focus on various business monitoring and control concepts with some degree of academic respectability (TQM, EFQM, BSC) and duly note that it is extremely hard to “meaningfully integrate economic value-added concept into their model activities” and that the concept of intellectual capital and innovation competence remain outsiders to their model as well. They cautiously conclude that balance (between various managerial actions) and health (of the managed organization) should be attempted, and urge further research. The Turkish-US team of authors have received 356 surveys from 112 companies and analyzed the “dynamics of encouragement, displaying freedom, playfulness, experiencing, reconciliation, and identification constructs.” Among their conclusions there are some which merit attention even of those who do not love quantitative methodologies and are reluctant to perform regression analysis. Emotions in organization are legitimized as an important “competitive resource,” which allows to:
[...] understand employee behaviors particularly those that are discretionary but contribute to organizational effectiveness. This is particularly important in view of the uncertain and dynamic environments in which organizations operate making it difficult to specify behaviors that are needed or desired of employees.
Even if voiced in a cautious manner, these conclusions allow us to understand why sociology of organizations should be much more developed and influential than it is as testified by the length of bookshelves mentioned above. We shall never develop a theory of organizational change with a moral navigator built into the very process of producing and implementing new theoretical knowledge if we beat about the bush of organizational learning, knowledge creating company or ambidextrous, flexible organization. What is badly needed is the preventive injection of sociological imagination into our research activities in order to enhance precision and relevance at the same time. Time for sensitive commons.