This book is part of the Routledge Focus Series, short publications which discuss a particular core issue within a disciplinary field. It stretches to only 62 pages of text but within such a short publication it develops a fascinating argument about the role of politics in organisational change.
The book is split into five short chapters which develop an interesting set of ideas leading to reflections on organisations’ need to change how they approach change agendas if they are to bring meaningful change. This area of research is one I personally find really important due to my own work applying Normalisation Process Theory (NPT) to educational contexts. An important part of NPT is the dialogic process which is developed to aid processes leading to the normalisation of change; this book adds a greater degree of insight and complexity to this aspect of managing change.
The first chapter outlines the core importance of individual self-interest in employees’ reaction to change agendas. Employees will assess change agendas relative to their own self-interest and where they do not align the politics of change may lead an individual to become ambivalent or even resistant. Because of the power of the organisation even where an employee does not agree with the change they may enact it through a process of ‘conformance’ i.e. a process of conformity, but one where on the surface they are seen to conform, inside there is little energy or agreement with the process of change. This creates the potential for political choices on the part of the employee, from silent acceptance through to forms of subversion.
Chapter two takes these ideas further to consider their roles in the development of narratives by both the organisation and the individual. This includes the development of organisationally driven dialogues as an attempt to develop positive narratives, as well as how employees understand these and create narratives of their own. Some employees will remain passive as narratives develop whilst others will have clear political agendas which lead them to create their own narratives about intended changes. Consequently, consideration needs to be given by the organisation as to how it will develop coherent, positive narratives about the nature and need for change.
I found chapter three particularly interesting due to having read and used the research of Streatfield (2001) in the past, exploring the concept of the paradox of control. This chapter looks at the illusion of control, i.e. the degrees to which an organisation actually has control over employee political attitudes and behaviour as they navigate change. This chapter considers the roles of power and of narrative in how individuals relate to organisations and how as a result the control believed to be a characteristic of organisations is to a degree an illusion.
Chapters four and five use the insights from the first part of the book to consider how managers can attempt to bring better change processes to bear by explicit consideration of the political dynamics present in organisations. One area I feel is particularly important is the need for dialogue and the harnessing of the voice of employees as a core aspect of the change process. If this is a genuine process then it may require organisations to change the way they manage and develop change. But any use of dialogue needs authenticity. If dialogue is merely a way of attempting to placate whilst change approaches don't actually change then the political aspect to change will not be altered. To really limit the politicisation of change projects genuine critical partnership with employees is needed.
This is a fascinating book which opens up important issues of how employees make sense of change and how, as political individuals, they react to formal agendas. This is not a long read and is well worth the time to engage with an interesting way of deepening the consideration of how change can be managed in organisations.
Streatfield, P. (2001) The Paradox of Control in Organizations. London: Routledge.
If you have not really engaged with the field of organisational sciences, or organisational sociology, then you might be looking out for a basic text which sets out some of the main ideas of interest in these areas of study. Lune’s book does a good job of introducing some of the basic ideas around organisations and might help people orientate themselves in this area of work.
The chapters each pick up on a facet of organisational study, the first chapter engaging with the simple question of what we mean by an organisation and exploring the centrality of organisations in our society. This is then built upon by looking at the work of Weber, Durkheim and Marx who offer classic theories of organisation. This latter chapter is particularly useful for those who have not engaged with these theories but who what to develop an understanding of organisational theory – the sections are short on each theorist, but they offer enough to begin a train of thought to be followed up elsewhere.
Having looked at these classic theorists as a starting point, the next couple of chapters that take a loosely historical approach, looking first at rational systems work by people such as Taylor and Ford, then the development of human systems approaches as a reaction to this, before focusing on organisational culture in chapter 4.
Whilst these initial chapters are quite broad and very much introductory, for those new to organisational work, they nevertheless offer a simple orientation to some of the more mainstream and ‘classic’ views of organisations.
The remaining chapters are then more issues based. I’m currently doing a lot of reading on organisational failure, so the chapter on organisational dysfunction was particularly interesting, looking at different forms and scales of dysfunction and failure. This is followed by considering the ways in which organisations fit within their environments, including the development and importance of relations, and a consideration of the neo-institutional model.
The final chapters then look at the non-profit sector and their form and roles in the wider organisational ecology followed by the role of organisations in social change, and finally a ‘what next?’ reflection on the sociology of organisations.
This is a very readable book and is well written in the sense that it mixes theory with examples and case studies to help the reader understand how ideas can be used to explore and understand real world issues and contexts. At 192 pages it will not take long to read this and is a nice example of a book I would suggest students in education read if they want to consider an alternative way of understanding schools, colleges and universities to those tripped out in countless leadership books. Well worth taking a look. ere to edit.
Some reflections on things I'm reading