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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Business as unusual
Article Type: Editorial From: Journal of Organizational Change Management, Volume 24, Issue 1
Year after year editors-in-chief browse papers and authors’ lists and come up with an attempted comment, synthesis, analytical insight or preferably all three wrapped together in a stylistically attractive and intellectually stimulating verbal form. Well, not really, it is not really, not always, not even usually so. Why? Because ground is shifting under our very feet as we speak, write, type, communicate and go about our academic business. The ground shifts have to do with almost every relevant aspect of our attempts to communicate to all who want to listen and read what we know about developments in research in our focal areas.
First, the very idea of a refereed, blindly reviewed pre-emptive selection of the research papers, we process and accept for publication is under fire. The way in which professors think, so to speak, is not tacitly accepted by general public. The growth of creative commons prompts some of our colleagues to suggest that we should perhaps move towards the more open procedure, in which reviews will become either praises or critiques – but will be delivered ex post, not ex ante, that is after everybody had a chance to have a look and to reflect on papers, which are being reviewed. It is easy to ridicule this idea, but had not we persisted in our silly superstitions in some other areas as well? Women would have never made any progress in all sorts of professional bureaucracies, including the archconservative lobbies of politicians and academics (I guess only some extremely orthodox churches are more conservative than we are) – if we still prevented them from competing against men and then blamed the victims of our gender discrimination by weeping hypocritically over the fact that a mysterious sickness called pregnancy makes them unable to run our rat races as quickly as we do […].
But enough of the obvious. Point one; secret ballots of experts are under fire and peer review system may not survive the transparency of the world wide web.
Second, we may think that we are critical and self-critical in our trained self-reflection, but the rest of the world may test this claim and find us wanting. There is a worldwide critique of the pro-establishment bias and a growing awareness, that “another” knowledge, so to speak, is possible, a knowledge, which is less readily monopolized by the best, the brightest, the most powerful and the most efficiently commercialized. It is hard not to notice that bio-piracy in seed copyrighting and pharmaceutical industry – to limit ourselves to the best-known cases in point – have already forced us to rethink the way in which our knowledge grows, is applied to the solution of problems and allows different stakeholders to draw quite substantially different benefits. There is no escaping the issues of global justice and fairness, and fair trade initiatives are just a tiny prelude to the growing music of chance in shifting global order. Witness very ambivalent attitudes of the core Western commentators on the news that China is relocating the most polluting industries to Africa – is it a symptom of progress or a confirmation of the low rank of the black continent “inherited” by the forthcoming economic superpower from the previous one?
Do we have anything to say within the contexts generated by powerful shifts in cultural and institutional landscape of our professional activities? I think we may.
Oana Catalina Iederan (from the Babes-Bolayi University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania), working with her three colleagues from Tilburg University in The Netherlands (about a half hour’s drive from my office in Rotterdam) – namely Petru Lucian Curseu, Patrick A.M. Vermeulen and Jac L. A. Geurts, focused on “Cognitive representations of institutional change: similarities and dissimilarities in the cognitive schema of entrepreneurs”. A sample group of 121 Romanian entrepreneurs were interviewed – roughly half of them before Romania’s ascent to the EU, and half afterwards. Their basic idea is that the influences of an institutional change (let us say, a major restructuring or reform – the EU membership did require just that in their case) upon actual actions undertaken by individuals are never “direct”. The influence is “filtered” by what they call “cognitive schemas”, images, representations and ideas. What they found was the increase in richness, diversity and variety of cognitive schemes after the changes necessitated by the EU ascension had been implemented. Perhaps, hardly surprising, but certainly worth noting in trying to understand the cognitive domains of the organizational theory research.
Frederick A. Starke and his younger colleagues from the Asper School of Business in Manitoba – Gita Sharma, Burno Dyck, Parshotam Dass and Michael K. Mauws (the last one is actually from a different campus of the same university, namely not from Winnipeg in Manitoba but from Athabasca in the province of Alberta) devoted their attention to “Exploring archetypal change: the importance of leadership and its substitutes”. Their longitudinal studies required six cycles of interviews with all employees of a small manufacturing company over the two-year period – and the most surprising discovery they made was that actual change occurred not while the major change agent and change’s strongest advocate – the company’s leader – was actively busy with transforming the organization, but only after he had left and a previous boss, who waned to reverse the changes, was in power. In a sense, they have discovered the “organizational afterlife” of a change agent’s agenda – after physical removal of the change agent from the scene. They conclude that a well-functioning management information system neutralized the leadership influences and the self-managed and self-created interpretative schemes, cognitive games so to speak, of the employees, do the rest. Leadership theoreticians – beware! Cognitive games of mid-managers and employees are more important than leaders would like to think.
Toke Bjerregard reflected on institutional work in organizations – the Danish researcher wanted to know what exactly do we learn applying ethnographic methodologies. What should we do in order to detect their implications for our understanding of the processes of maintaining, changing and disrupting institutions? Some of the reflections require going back to the Chicago School of Sociology, though not to Znaniecki’s methodology of personal documents (which our Danish colleague had perfected studying the letters written by the Polish peasants from the USA to their families in Poland in the 1920s) or to Thomas, Znaniecki’s partner in academic venture, but to the second Chicago school and to Goffman. Manchester school makes its appearance, so does Michael Burawoy, even Marcus, Fischer and Clifford (I welcome such theoretical excursions being a voracious reader and an old acquaintance of Michael Burawoy, though it pains me to see that Barbara Czarniawska’s family name is misspelled, although her Goteborgian home is quite close to Arhus of Toke Bjerregaard. Latour, Strathern and Appadurai fare better).
Anna A. Łupina-Wegener and Susan C. Schneider from the University of Geneva joined forces with Rolf van Dick from Goethe University in Frankfurt (I had done my postdoc research there back in 1981 and 1984 – Habermas was still lecturing, inviting for instance Charles Taylor) in order to study “Different experiences of socio-cultural integration: a European merger in Mexico”. They are interested in various aspects of integration perceived from the point of “identity building” – especially a shared identity building. Their conclusions merit attention:
The development of a deep-structure identification wherein the new identity becomes incorporated in the identities of the employees rather than just having common interests with the organization […] can be possible only if differences in the perception of the integration process are taken into account.
These conclusions drive home the same point that the authors of two first papers made – that a cognitive life and games of even the lowers employees matter much more than managers with their heads clouded by corporate headquarters might suspect. To which the authors of the next paper, Giovanni Azzone and Tommaso Palermo from the Technical University of Milano might only add that “Adopting performance appraisal and reward systems: a qualitative analysis of public sector organisational change” also matters (there is the qualitative analysis of a public sector organizational change). Finally, last not least, Patricia Wolf and Ralf Hansmann from the Technical University in Zurich joined forces with Peter Troxler from the Rotterdam World Port Center and wrote “Unconferencing as method to initiate organizational change: a case study on reducing CO2 emissions of a university” (they have selected a Swiss university, though the third co-authors could have reached our campus in about a quarter of an hour of fast walking). Methodology? Participatory observation, narrative and problem centered interviews, participant survey and documentary check-up. I find it mildly funny to read that unconferencing makes use of performative methods – a theatre-like staged performance, for instance, video films, audio recordings, posters and other visuals and graphics, even “crafting”. A professional bureaucracy as a theater stage? Yes, quite.
Having read their paper I have decided to add the very last one, by Jo A. Tyler from Penn State University in Middletown on “Reclaiming rare listening as means of organizational re-enchantment”. It is devoted to Rogerian listening approach in the study of how members of organizations listen to one another. Her study focuses on active listening and tracing the way in which this active listening had been subjected to deformations and co-optations and control mechanisms – she wants to “re-claim it from the territory of calculated and observable skill”, a desire, which perhaps merits some attention in a quantitatively dominated professional environment.
Finally, since this is the first issue in 2011, I wish you a better 2011.