Toward a systemic theory of organisational change
Change is the subject matter for this thesis which reports on a research programme that has investigated the issue of effective and sustainable organisational change. Organisational change possesses an almost obsessive interest for many organisational and behavioural scholars. Nevertheless, it has been observed that a majority of organisational change initiatives fail, or fail to realise the promise intended by the managers who institute such programmes. This research programme, and the associated thesis, has recognised that organisational change is both enigmatic and paradoxical as it is a 'constant' feature of organisational life. The research has been directed towards understanding the paradoxical and enigmatic nature of organisational change by developing a Systemic Theory of Organisational Change (STOC) that is, itself, grounded in Critical Systems Thinking (CST). This STOC will provide a sound theoretical underpinning as a necessary feature of organisational learning that, in turn, will create the sufficient conditions for effective and sustainable organisational change. The research work has created an ontological and epistemological framework through which to understand the complex nature of organisational change. Additionally, the programme has attempted to explicitly incorporate the dynamic of time associated with change initiatives. Traditional approaches to managing organisational change have treated change in single event mode. This research has deliberately shown that change is a continuous process and must be dealt with as such if the output of a change programme is to be effective and sustainable. The thesis has explored the phenomena of change in some depth. It has been shown that change is complex in terms of the'ordee of change. Indeed, it has been argued, and demonstrated during the research, that, as a phenomena it comprises first, second, and third order change. First order change is associated with internal system change; second order change is associated with radical total system change; and third order change is destructive in nature. Having developed a systemic understanding of change, the thesis shows how this can be understood in terms of forms and paths of change using critical pluralist approaches. This led to the development of a Critical Pluralist Intervention Methodology (CPIM), grounded in the STOC, as meta-methodology designed to bring about first or second order change in organisational situations. Both the STOC and the CPIM were developed and tested in action research mode in five interventions in complex organisational change situations over a period of several years. This thesis claims to make contribution to the subject fields of organisational analysis and systems thinking.