Cognitive Mapping and Diagnostic Aspects of Organizational Change

Article excerpt


A model of Perceptual Actualization, as a whole person phenomenon based upon processes of experiential learning, is presented. The enactment of Perceptual Actualization elements is demonstrated as essential to successful execution of the diagnostic aspects of organizational change. The model, utilizing aspects of cognitive mapping, serves as a framing template illuminating those diagnostic variables that are operative (actualized). The paper concludes with examples of pathways to successful change diagnosis and implementations.


The focus of this paper is on successful organizational change efforts based on accurate diagnosis of the elements that need to be addressed, especially during die initial diagnostic phase of a change program. A good diagnostic analysis must be based upon accurate perception of the situation combined with an assessment of what needs to be addressed, as well as those elements that should not or do not need to be addressed. The concept of Perceptual Actualization will be presented as an approach that is conducive to enhanced diagnostic capacity, especially at the early stages of an organizational change effort. As organizational change practitioners adopt such a perspective, a collective mind can be created (Tenbrusal, 1996) that pools micro/individual processes into a more comprehensive framework. Comprehensiveness is important to a field such as organizational change. The objective would be to avoid succumbing to the pitfall that Weick (1995) describes wherein easily communicated explanations are substituted for relevant facts and comprehensiveness. The result would hopefully yield a form of organizational memory (Walsh and Ungston, 1991) that could be utilized to bring about more effective and ongoing organizational change efforts.

Organizational Diagnosis and Accurate Perception

The importance of the diagnostic stage of organizational intervention and change is well documented (Argyris, 1970; French and Bell, 1999; Cummings and Worley, 2005). Argyris (1970, p. 175) in his classic work on intervention theory, states that just as effective intervention comes from accurate diagnostics, ineffective intervention is sourced in the difficulty of perceiving stressful reality accurately. French and Bell (1999, p. 105) describe diagnosis as the very foundation of intervening, and a necessary component for subsequent action and program management. Cummings and Worley (2005, p. 83) state that "diagnosis clearly points the organization and the O.D. practitioner toward a set of appropriate intervention activities that will improve organizational effectiveness." Cummings and Worley go on to state that diagnosis involves collecting what they choose to describe as "pertinent information" (2005, p. 83). The question addressed in this paper is how the O.D. practitioner knows whether or not the information gathered is pertinent. The concept of Perceptual Actualization utilizing concepts of cognitive mapping is applied here to address that question.

The term Perceptual Actualization (fully defined shortly) is used to describe this accomplishment. Quality perception, in tum, emerges from processes of sufficient cognitive mapping (Eden, 1992; Huff and Jenkins, 2002). Swan (1997) reports research that indicates that cognitive mapping might be used to promote understandings of potential problems and even design choices. It is in the spirit of the potential of cognitive mapping that this paper finds one of its primary themes. Organizational change agents must begin with a perception of organizational reality sufficient to enable astute designs of change programs. Conversely, the road to change management failure is often characterized by attempts to implement change with the wrong people for the wrong reason and at the wrong time utilizing organizational change tools inappropriate to the task. Successful organizational change is thus closely tied to successful identification of management cognition issues relative to accurate and reportable perceptual frameworks. …