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Aaron C.T. Smith and Bob Stewart

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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 2 explores how a philosophy’s method for change reveals the inferences it holds about the best way change can be delivered. A philosophy’s theories generate hypotheses and predictions about organizational change. Philosophies may generate numerous different theories, all based on similar assumptions and premises. However, without understanding philosophies, the relationship between theories becomes murky. Theories also evolve, adapt, and are revised or replaced. The chapter examines how change theories change. It begins by considering some basic questions: What is the goal of theory development in organization change? Will one single theory eventually explain all forms of change? Are theories of change subject to replacement or updating? Can two or more theories become interconnected to create a better new theory? Will there always be innumerable theories to explain change? Each question leads to long-standing and contentious philosophical arguments about the nature of theories.

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

Chapter 3 introduces the most prominent approach to change, the rational philosophy. At the centre of the rational philosophy is the presumption that strategy—and strategic theories—should drive change initiatives. Sometimes referred to as a ‘strategic’ approach, the rational philosophy pursues an alignment between an organization’s structure, its competencies, and the environment. The rational philosophy assumes that organizational change occurs because senior managers and other change agents deem it necessary, navigated through linear thinking and performance by objectives, with managers at the helm. Approaches consistent with the rational philosophy give precedence to strategic decision-making and careful planning around organizational goals. The chapter notes that the rational philosophy commands enormous popularity for leaders seeking to impose a new direction upon an organization. It concludes that the rational philosophy’s concepts offer a useful, if too rigid, initial guide. Organizations are not always rational actors in the change process.

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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 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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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 7 discusses the resource philosophy, which maintains that an organization’s ability to acquire and leverage valuable resources will determine its ongoing competitive success and survival. Change from a resource perspective depends not only upon how an organization’s resources coalesce and evolve, but also on the way in which they are re-configured and re-deployed over time. The chapter begins by defining and exploring what constitutes resources and a resource-based perspective. It considers how the resource perspective evolved and its place in the fields of strategic and change management. Whilst a firm must acquire and build strategically valuable resources and capabilities, value creation and competitive advantage ultimately rely on how these resources are used. The way in which an organization structures, bundles and leverages its resources will impact profoundly upon their effectiveness. The chapter concludes that successful organizations perform best at acquiring and deploying scarce resources including money and skills, where the most valuable resources can be combined with other assets, or cannot be easily reproduced.

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

Chapter 8 explains the psychological philosophy, where personal responses to change govern organizational success. In the applied social psychology tradition, the psychological philosophy focuses on individual experiences as organizations attempt change. The ‘human’ side of change introduces links with behavioural science, human relations, human development and organizational development, all combating the mechanistic legacy of scientific management. The psychological philosophy assumes that individual employees constitute the most important unit of analyses in studying organizational change. The chapter examines psychological responses to change with particular interest in resistance and empowerment. It considers organizational development as well as its offspring, organizational learning. The chapter culminates by introducing a cognitive dimension; the ‘thinking’ and believing aspects of psychological change. This section examines decision-making and discusses the nature and implications of beliefs, particularly their resistance to change and their immunity to rational interrogation.

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

Chapter 9 explores the systems philosophy, which looks beyond simplistic causal views of management and the constituent parts of organizations. Organizations are seen as the sum of their parts rather than as a collection of reducible units. Systems theorists appreciate that any change instigates numerous and sometimes multiplied effects across an organization. The chapter explains how the systems philosophy views the entire organization as the unit of change rather than industry, strategy, structure, processes, culture, psychology, or any other element. It concludes with the assumption that organizational change succeeds when interventions are levelled throughout the entire system because the interrelationships between parts mean that everything is affected. The systems philosophy also gives rise to less prescriptive change theories, where planned, rational change surrenders to chaos and complexity, based on the premise that change involves an unmanageable tension between control and chaos. However, the systems philosophy risks ignoring the ‘softer’, human side of change.