Over 3,500 registrants signed up for our most recent webinar, Three Perspectives on Organizational Change. During the event, MIT Sloan Professor John Van Maanen discussed innovative approaches to change management and delved into three different perspectives embraced by most organizations: strategic, political, and cultural. In this post, Professor Van Maanen responds to some questions from webinar attendees that were not addressed during the live event.
With the rapid pace of technological advancement, as well as increasing globalization with its accompanying challenges, which lens is the most undervalued or most challenging to get right? Which lenses most commonly contribute to failures for organizations to execute well on change management strategies?
The cultural lens is the most difficult to "get right" in the sense of having a culture that fits the challenges the organization is presently facing. It certainly is the most vexing to both diagnose and alter, in terms of difficulty and time. Change that threatens valued professional or occupational identities is particularly problematic. My sense is that if you can figure out a way to work within and with respect for the various cultures represented in the organization, change is somewhat easier. Culture is not a variable that one tunes up or down. It is a set of deeply embedded habits and ways of looking at the world that works and works well for cultural members. So, there are limits, serious ones, to the extent which cultural change can be directed and hastened.
Can organizations survive if there are competing perspectives between workgroups? E.g., if one department is politically powerful and another is strategically powerful, is it best to lean towards one or the other method?
To some extent this on-going battle for power and control of strategic moves is built into organizational life. It contributes motivation, ambition, innovation, and drama, and works at the individual and group levels. One fights for what one thinks is best for the organization (strategy) and marshals all the evidence one can collect in its support. The loyal opposition does the same. If power--the ability to get things done--is not so imbalanced, things generally work out and adjustments can be made. Tinkering is continual.
Over time, culture usually helps select which groups have power, and those groups select strategic designs that support their position. When the lack of fit with the environment is apparent to all (falling revenues, unmet goals, customer abandonment, etc.), a change movement (from outside or inside or both) typically forms to shift the power balance. If successful, strategic design changes usually follow in its wake. To cling to one lens or the other is a recipe for failure.