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Aaron C.T. Smith, James Skinner and Daniel Read

Chapter 4 examines the biological philosophy, which suggests that organizations, industries and sectors ‘live’ and endure vulnerabilities like any fragile, mortal organism. It explains that the biological philosophy houses two major theories. First, the life-cycle model maps the developmental progress of individual organizations, and second, the Darwinian concept of evolution by natural selection describes the process of environmental adaptation and change. Also, based on a combination of these theories, the biological metaphor of an ‘ecosystems’ approach to organizational change, has also experienced a resurgence as technological change has increased the importance of networks and cooperation. The chapter acknowledges that while the ideas that organizations - and the populations of industries that contain them - grow (life-cycle) and adapt (evolution), offer useful metaphors, there remains challenges in translating biological thinking into tangible change action.

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Aaron C.T. Smith, James Skinner and Daniel Read

Chapter 14 provides a summary of the 12 philosophies examined in the book, as well as the approach used for their analysis. It begins by acknowledging that change can be understood as the movement away from a present state toward a future state. However, change is rarely easy or painless. At the same time the capacity to change to meet environmental challenges is essential for organizational survival. The chapter observes that the best ‘philosophy’ for approaching change is complicated by cautious researchers who focus on describing the complexity of change, and zealous business consultants who favour simplistic but authoritative solutions. It highlights that implementing change with consistent success remains a subject of contention, and is influenced by the fundamental assumptions made about the nature of change and its barriers. The chapter concludes that, in the absence of a consensus or unifying theory, it is instructive to understand the 12 fundamental philosophies of organizational change.

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Aaron C.T. Smith, James Skinner and Daniel Read

Chapter 11 considers the critical philosophy, incorporating a collection of political and postmodern theories of change. The critical philosophy of organizational change consistently challenges conventional ways of thinking, from ideas about power and politics to constructions of social reality. The chapter notes that the critical philosophy provides an umbrella to encompass those change theories seeking to challenge, contradict and confront. It first presents the sociological work of Marx and Hegel, whose political theory views change as the clash of ideologies or belief systems. Conflict means that change revolves around activities such as bargaining, consciousness-raising, persuasion, influence, power, and social movements. The chapter also introduces postmodern theories that challenge singular or grand theories about organizational change, taking instead a socially-constructed view of reality. Postmodernism juxtaposes the old and new, engaged through change tactics emphasizing diffusion, empowerment, flexibility, trust and market responsiveness. The chapter concludes that theories under the critical philosophy share an interest in the nature and application of power and disourse.

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Aaron C.T. Smith, James Skinner and Daniel Read

Chapter 10 considers the cultural philosophy, which owes its emergence to anthropology, where change reflects what members of a group consider important. The concept of organizational culture emerged in response to an absence of explanations for how certain values and beliefs gain prominence. The chapter examines the key foundation to the culture philosophy, that change must be preceded by a period of careful cultural diagnosis where common beliefs and values rise to the surface. As a result, imposing change means fighting entrenched sets of values and beliefs shared by organizational members. Accordingly, change managers must, first, be accurate in diagnosing the values that permeate an organization (which are likely to be hidden), and, second, change them without undermining the tacit behavioural fabric holding the organization together. The chapter concludes that unsuccessful attempts to change culture invariably lead to conflicting organizational goals and members’ values, which in turn stimulate an unworkable level of competing values and goals.

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Aaron C.T. Smith, James Skinner and Daniel Read

Chapter 13 details the dualities philosophy, which argues to abandon change management decision-making based on an either-or choice between change and stability. Organizational change cannot always be a matter of reducing one kind of activity to offset another kind. In fact, often organizations need more of both change and stability. The chapter explains that a duality can be understood as two opposing poles that can vary between conflicted and complementary as the context changes. According to the dualities philosophy, the challenge lies in encouraging both change and stability at the same time. It explores ‘modular’ and ‘ambidextrous’ theories where competing approaches work together, and difference outperforms one extreme or the other. A dualities approach is also sympathetic to the strategy-as-practice trend wherein strategy transforms into organizing and strategizing, where the latter two embrace a dynamic change employing iterative and reciprocal action. The chapter concludes by observing that the dualities philosophy prescribes few tangible change actions, making its implementation challenging in practice.

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Aaron C.T. Smith, James Skinner and Daniel Read

Chapter 12 describes the innovation philosophy, which arrived as a consequence of rapid changes in globalization, technology and competition. According to the innovation philosophy, the long-term growth of organizations is directly tied to their continual production of new products and services. Organizations embracing the innovation paradigm strive to be flexible, agile, intuitive, imaginative, resilient, and creative in order to stimulate new ideas in the face of increasing complexity and turbulence. The chapter notes that innovation demands risk and experimentation as organizations must push through failure by building momentum and speed through new learning. In addition to outlining the process for fast prototyping of new products, the chapter examines user-centric innovation. ‘Design thinking’ helps organizations focus on a user’s experience of a new product rather than on the organization’s perception of the product’s functional utility. However, as with all aspects of the innovation philosophy, success delivers a significant dividend but comes with implementation challenges, and therefore high risk.

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Aaron C.T. Smith, James Skinner and Daniel Read

Chapter 6 introduces the institutional philosophy, which seeks to explain how external pressures influence organizational structures and practices, and how an organization’s ability to adapt determines its prosperity. Through an exploration of key institutional debates, the chapter illuminates the ways in which institutions evolve, adapt and respond to various social, political and environmental pressures in their struggle for survival, and a progressive move to a social judgments approach. The chapter also highlights several varieties of institutionalism, including ‘new’ institutionalism as well as issues of identity, power and culture. The chapter then reviews institutional entrepreneurship as a force for innovation and change through disruptions to institutional norms. It concludes that the institutional philosophy downplays internal change and the power change leaders hold over their own fates. Organizational change from an institutional perspective is therefore about sensitivity to a forceful institutional context.

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Aaron C.T. Smith, James Skinner and Daniel Read

Chapter 1 notes that the need for change features prominently in organizational ambitions, as its success or failure can lead to decisive consequences, from transformational improvements in productivity to catastrophic plunges towards insolvency. Research also reveals a discord between organizations’ change ambitions and their tangible effects on organizational performance. Perhaps most concerning, the evidence informing organizational change is scant and tends to rely on unvalidated theories, models, cases and commentaries. The chapter subsequently outlines how this book’s second edition aims to inventory and explain the diverse and pluralistic organizational change approaches that have attracted research and practitioner interest. It reveals the ‘philosophies’ that guide change theories and models on the presupposition that a better understanding of these underpinning perspectives provides valuable insight for the research and practice of change. The approach assumes that organizational change can be best studied and applied when the philosophies that structure an approach are clearly exposed.

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Aaron C.T. Smith, James Skinner and Daniel Read

Chapter 5 examines the models philosophy, or the change interventions typically presented by consultants. The chapter introduces the context in which consultants are engaged, and how consulting models are deployed for change. It then details a series of the foundational models as a means to demonstrate their character and effects. The chapter’s aim is not to provide an inventory of recent change models wielded by consultants, but rather to demonstrate how the models philosophy has shaped a kind of thinking and method. Many powerful and predictive models of change exist in literature, and an even greater number of bespoke models have been developed by consulting firms. Each offers up putative insights into ways to direct and initiate change in an organization. The chapter concludes that models must be utilized with care as many are contradictory or supported by minimal evidence, while others are underpinned by unchallenged hypotheses.

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Philosophies of Organizational Change

Perspectives, Models and Theories for Managing Change

Aaron C.T. Smith, James Skinner and Daniel Read

This revised and extended second edition evaluates the diverse approaches to organizational change that have defined the field. Explaining the assumptions and implications that accompany these diverse philosophies, this book demystifies the complexities of conflicting perspectives and delivers valuable insights into the research and practice of organizational change.