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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Organizational Change and Strategy: An Interlevel Dynamics Approach
Article Type: Suggested reading From: Strategic Direction, Volume 25, Issue 11
David Coghlan and Nicholas S. RashfordRoutledge,London and New York,NY,2006,234 pp.,ISBN 10: 0-415-37817-6 (pbk)
Questions about effective strategies for organizational change have held the attention of theorists for years. David Coghlan (School of Business, Trinity College, Dublin) and Nicholas Rashford (past president of St Joseph’s University, Philadelphia) bring their combined knowledge and experience to the task of writing a book that contributes significantly to understanding the dynamics of organizational change. Building both on research and practice, the authors provide valuable insights and useful strategies for large system organizational change. Effective change initiatives in systems require a focus on the deep structures embedded in organizations: those core beliefs, values, strategies and controls that organize basic activity patterns and underpin the system. Coghlan and Rashford offer an approach to understanding learning and change that takes into account the dynamic interplay of multi-layered organizational structures, as well as the functions and forces that often defeat planned change. Their inclusion of the relational and contextual aspects of organizational change gives this book an edge, as ultimately change is about people.
Their focus is large scale and large system change, and they discuss the kinds of thinking and actions that managers, organizational members and ODC consultants can engage in “to help an organization survive and thrive in a world of discontinuous change (p. xvi)” They stress the importance of understanding how change happens internally and externally, that is, with individuals, teams, interdepartmentally and across organizations, and they suggest that much of what goes on in organizations is embedded in the assumptions that constitute organizational culture. The authors note that making successful large scale or large system change work requires a holistic appreciation of change itself: why it is needed, how it occurs, and what outcomes are desired, as well as how to facilitate change across organizational boundaries.
The book is organized into four parts: levels and interlevels in organizations and interlevel dynamics; interlevel change; the strategy process for interlevel change, and an integrating chapter that provides a comprehensive discussion of a specific case. Throughout the book there are smaller case examples to consider and concluding each chapter are questions for reflection and discussion.
Part 1 of the book provides a framework for understanding four levels of organizational membership. The framework offers a vantage point from which to view the organization, a platform for analysis and an entry point for discussion. The interlevel approach focuses on complexity rather than hierarchy and deepens the sense of organizations as living systems. Working within this framework the authors discuss each level in relation to organizational processes, assigning descriptive terms that define their particular essence. Part 1 concludes with a discussion of the interconnectedness of the four levels and illustrates how functional and dysfunctional dynamics cause ripple effects across organizations. Their point is important – that it is essential to understand the linkages and feedback loops from one organizational level to another when preparing for change.
Part 2 approaches change and learning from several perspectives including planned and unplanned change, the context of change and psychological reactions to change. The authors propose a structure for change that includes five activities: determining the need for change, designing the vision, assessing the present, managing the transition and reinforcing/sustaining the change. These activities, in tandem with the management of interlevel dynamics are considered essential to successful system wide change. The phases of change discussed by the authors are significant. They underscore the importance of appreciating that people change at different paces, that large systems do not change instantly and that the perception that change is required is not appreciated across the organization at the same time or in the same way. Anticipating the variety of responses to large-scale change (deep, pervasive and complex change) and large systems change (change across all aspects of the organization) helps to understand the perspectives and reactions of organizational members. Moreover, the phases of change suggested by Coughlan and Rashford show how members of an organization can be at different stages of the change process and how changes moves through individuals, teams and interdepartmental groups differently. It makes sense to attend to how the intricate iterations of change interplay across, between and among organizational levels and how these iterations systematically influence each level.
The discussion in Part 3 introduces strategic foci, the ongoing systematic points of interactions that generate strategic thinking and acting. Each of the five foci has task and relational components, viewed through content, process and culture lenses. These foci: framing the corporate picture, naming the corporate words, doing corporate analysis, choosing and implementing corporate actions and evaluating corporate outcomes, are addressed in successive chapters. A discussion of the relationships between the five strategic foci concludes the third part of the book.
Coghlan and Rashford have addressed many of the issues that challenge large scale and large systems change efforts to be successful. Remembering that reality is different for each of us and that our perception of reality relies on our place and the angle of our lens helps to appreciate the complexity of the change process, the importance of finding ways to address content and process issues, and of exploring hidden assumptions. Their multidimensional treatment of the topic brings into focus the issues associated with the recurring, interactive nature of organizational change and offers insight into how one might mitigate problems related to change that arise across organizational boundaries. Bringing readers into the discussion, by way of an action research approach is engaging in a number of helpful ways. Perhaps most significantly it invites them to participate in their own cycle of inquiry, drawing on their own experiences, the authors’ insights and the examples of organizations who have successfully worked through change processes.
Reviewed by Terry Shields, Educational Studies: Policy and Administration, University of Western Ontario, Canada.
This review was originally published in Leadership and Organizational Development Journal, Vol. 30 No. 4, pp. 398-400.