The Role Justice Plays in Organizational Change

By Cobb, Anthony T.; Folger, Robert et al. | Public Administration Quarterly, Summer 1995 | Go to article overview
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The Role Justice Plays in Organizational Change


Cobb, Anthony T., Folger, Robert, Wooten, Kevin, Public Administration Quarterly


INTRODUCTION

Because organizational change involves changes in policies, procedures, and resource allocations, issues of fairness are inherent in change programs.(1) Certainly organizational development (OD) has long shown an ethical concern about issues of fairness in its core values (e.g., Friedlander, 1976; Margulies and Raia, 1978) and basic assumptions as a field (e.g., Conner, 1977). Recent and emerging work in distributive, procedural, and interactional justice indicates that OD's orientation to fairness is well-placed for functional as well as ethical reasons.

Justice research has shown that organizations and leaders perceived as fair command loyalty, commitment, and trust (Cobb and Frey, 1991; Folger and Konovsky, 1989; Lind and Tyler, 1988). Individuals in "fair" organizations are also more likely to engage in prosocial or "organizational citizenship" behaviors (e.g., Moorman, 1991) and are better able to adjust to the kind of adversities often found in change efforts--even layoffs (Brockner, 1988; Konovsky and Folger, 1991; Martin and Bies, 1991). Group cohesion, cooperation, and the productive resolution of disputes within and between groups have also been tied closely to perceptions of fairness (Deutsch, 1985; Lind and Tyler, 1988; Thibaut and Walker, 1975). Deutsch (1985) argues, too, that the organization as a whole is more effective when its needs are fairly addressed instead of the narrow self-interests of any one individual or group. Recently Cobb (1992) has advanced the position that the broad social reconstruction process of organizational change can be better achieved by using distributive, procedural, and interactional technologies developed specifically for the needs of organizational transformation.

Although OD's value base and technology show that it has evolved to address fairness issues, the functional roles they play in organizational change remain an arena for inquiry and action (cf., Woodman, 1989). On the other hand, because most of the work done in organizational justice has been conducted within, or assumed a relatively stable organizational context, the context of organizational change has much to offer the expansion of justice theory and research. The authors propose, then, to explore the contributions that OD and organizational justice can make to each other. To do so, they explore in turn each of the three major areas that compose the current study of organizational justice: distributive justice because of its relevance to resource allocation, procedural justice because of its relevance to the process of change, and interactional justice because of its relevance to the importance of leadership in change.

Distributive Justice

Fundamental to change is a redistribution of resources as the organization shifts its missions, its priorities, and the means to achieve its goals. The kinds of resource reallocated are as wide ranging as are the people affected by those reallocations. They include power, prestige, authority, responsibilities, technology, and plant as well as financial resources. Small wonder, then, that such resource distributions will fundamentally affect perceptions of how fair is the change effort and, as a consequence, the outcomes that result from these perceptions such as organizational commitment, trust, and the willingness to accept change. Although there are any number of distributive criteria that may be applicable to change efforts (Reis, 1986), three criteria have commanded most of the theoretical and research attention in the justice literature: allocations based on equity, equality, and individual needs. Of the three, equity has commanded the most attention but we see the other two criteria as requiring more attention in the context of change.

Equity. Compensation based on "merit" has become almost synonymous with the idea of fairness. In times of organizational stability (when goals, objectives, and the means to reach them are relatively well-known), the traditional application of the equity principle seems to play an effective role in the mobilization of human resources.

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