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.
One of the problems of the modern media sector is its need to constantly find new ways to attract viewers/listeners/readers. As a result, the mainstream media partakes in a relentless drive towards new stories and disasters. The negative impact of this is that stories, even major global events, become lost, are rapidly wiped from the collective memory. In some cases politicians even act to rewrite events to suit their own narratives and lust for power, often aided and abetted by their journalistic outriders. Consequently, it becomes vital that some individuals take time to create testaments to capture authentic experiences and impacts to be captured for posterity, if only to remind us that there are alternative, and often much more honest recollections of those events. This book by Stu Hennigan is such a testament, based on his experiences as a volunteer, delivering food parcels and medicines to those in need across Leeds during the first UK pandemic lockdown.
The book is mainly an ethnography of his experiences delivering food to those in need across Leeds and is written in a loose diary format. The thick descriptions give a vivid idea of the areas he visits, the dilapidated nature of much of the housing in parts of the city, and the incredibly difficult lives of those he interacts with. The fact that he recorded his experiences on a daily basis whilst volunteering and helping maintain some semblance of normality within his family life is astounding. He shows a huge commitment to capture the stories of poverty in what is meant to be a modern, wealthy nation. The book follows his experiences chronologically, which he intersperses with a reminder of the wider national picture at the beginning of each chapter. This helps to create a rich recollection of a major event, locating the narrative in both place and national context.
What comes across to me is the vast disparity of wealth across a single city, often between two adjacent areas. It feels as if whole groups of people have been left to fend for themselves, apparently unworthy of help as a result of the commentary the Conservative government spun after the financial crash of 2008 – it was right to dole out billions to the individuals who had crashed the system, but those in need were to be punished for someone else’s catastrophic mistakes because they are unfairly characterised as feckless, lazy, unwilling to work.
A book comes along every once in a while, which reflects the awfulness of a society back on itself, making it uneasy, but necessary reading. I remember reading Rezak Hukanovic’s The Tenth Circle of Hell: A memoir of life in the death camps of Bosnia, and being stunned by the inhumanity, the shear willingness to perpetrate violence against innocent people just because of their religion. Here, Stu Hennigan gives a critical and sickening insight into how a country whose wealth should ensure that all its population have a basic dignity in life has failed completely to do so. This is a hugely important testament not only to capturing the impact of the COVID pandemic, but also to laying bare the abject failure of politicians to fulfil their basic role – the safety and dignity of their population. This seems to me to be a clear throated call for change.
Some reflections on things I'm reading