Five Insights for Change Managers in Second-Order Change. Organizations as Complex Systems

Five Insights for Change Managers in Second-Order Change. Organizations as Complex Systems

Robert J. Blomme, Jan P.M. Morsch
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0148-0.ch016
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When managers are confronted with the necessity to bring about second-order change in their organization, their change efforts are often not very successful. This chapter attempts to redefine organizational change using complexity theory and the work of Karl Weick and Ralph Stacey as a basis. Organizational change can be defined as emergent change in complex adaptive systems and is based on self-organizational principles. One important attractor that guides the process of emergence is equivocality. This article expounds the concept of ambiguity as a main attractor for emergent change and how managers can make use of this attractor to make change successful.
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A change strategy can be defined as a targeted and purposeful determination to implement with optimal effect a change in an organization that is deemed to be desirable (Blomme, 2012; Blomme, 2014). Organizational changes have three dimensions: content, process and context (Self, Armenakis, & Schraeder, 2007). The first two dimensions refer to the choices relating to the formulation of change strategy: what will change and how it will happen. The how often refers to the strategies and tactics of change managers, such as communication, influencing techniques, active participation and various forms and symbols (Self, Armenakis, & Schraeder, 2007). The what refers to the point of leverage for change, such as organizational structure, HR policy, technology, quality management and physical circumstances (Folger & Cropanzano, 1998). The change context concerns the existing external and internal conditions for successful change (Self, Armenakis, & Schraeder, 2007). The external conditions have an influence on how an organization functions and are often the source of the change (Kelly & Amburgey, 1991). The internal conditions have an influence on attitudes, intentions and behaviour of the organization (Devos, Buelens, & Bouckenooghe, 2007). At a micro level, we can even define the attitudes, intentions and behaviour of the employees (Kavanagh & Ashkanasy, 2006). We can also describe the change context as contingency factors that have a moderating influence on the relationship between change strategy and the success of the change. In order to make the right choice of a specific change strategy, various authors indicate that the extent to which the change context is taken into account is a factor in determining the success of change (Hope Hailey & Balogun 2002). Dealing with increasing external turbulence, internal tensions and problems of increasing complexity calls for continual organizational modifications (Hope Hailey & Balogun 2002). Hence, although organizations seem stable at first glance, change is always happening (Weick & Quinn, 1999). Researchers indicate that changes are becoming increasingly complex and far-reaching (Higgs & Rowland, 2001). As a result of this, these changes frequently do not proceed successfully for a large number of organizations (Devos, Buelens, & Bouckenooghe, 2007). A possible reason for unsuccessful organizational change is that change managers take insufficient account of the dynamics of the change context in choosing their change strategies (Kotter, & Schlesinger, 2008). In general, the complexity of these dynamics and the impact of change interventions on them are difficult to predict (Weick, Sutcliffe, & Obstfeld, 2005).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Organizational Routines: Iterative and recognizable patterns of dependent behaviours, demonstrated by various actors, which are of fundamental importance for the execution of tasks within organizational contexts and which include skills as well as knowledge.

Attractor: A state of behaviour towards which the system has a tendency to move or be drawn.

Complex Adaptive Systems: An organizational complex system in which large groups of agents adapt their behaviour in interactions and in which agents are defined as actors, causes and working means.

Second-Order Change: Organizational change concerning the creation of new concepts and cognitive frameworks in which new structures of meaning concerning the direction and organizational routines play an important part.

First-Order Change: Organizational change involving looking for solutions to problems within the parameters of strategy and organizational routines.

Complex Systems: An organizational system in which agents act locally with each other based on an identity that has developed historically; they do this without knowing how the whole system will develop further and without an understanding of the current state of the system as a whole.

Complex Responsive Systems: An organizational complex system in which large groups of agents weave together sensations, feelings, thoughts, memories and patterns of interaction into coherent clusters of meaning without any fixed finished product.

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