Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

'Living in the Blender of Change': The Carnival of Control in a Culture of Culture

Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

'Living in the Blender of Change': The Carnival of Control in a Culture of Culture

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Traditional structural-functional approaches to organisational change, as well as critics of those approaches, often offer overly structured and rationalised views of how change occurs. This paper attempts to build upon processual studies of change and critiques of overly hegemonic views of managerial control by seeking to capture the complex, emotive and fluid character of organisational 'changing'. In pursuit of this aim, the paper documents these characteristics of change through a personalised ethnography of a micro-incident - a critical change meeting - in an Australian steel making plant undergoing cultural change. In conclusion, it is argued that even the more sophisticated studies of the emergent process-like character of organisational change fail to fully capture the ambiguous, ironic, emotional, and uncertain character of events in the 'blender' of change.

INTRODUCTION: THE SETTING AND PURPOSE

We are living in the blender of change at the moment, we identify the next Lego blocks that we can handle, but it is a bit bard to structure it. We don't feel empowered, we are in the water trying to achieve change, but someone left 6 sharks in the water - we are in the chaos theory situation. Dennis, Supervisor, Cokemaking Oz.[1]

Postmodernism has invited us to mistrust many of the revered categories of the human sciences, including 'self, ' 'body, ' 'society,' 'family, ' Organisation,'and 'choice, ' revealing them to be linguistic mirages or constructs ofcommience, indeed 'stories. ' Is it not time that we sought to deconstruct the concept of control itself? (Gabriel, 1999:198)

Apart from a few short visits in the previous fortnight, I[2] had been away from the 400-person cokemaking plant for about two months. The people in the plant let me know they had noticed that I had been gone, and in their way welcomed me back, 'I thought you had fallen off the edge', 'Hullo stranger'. 'So what's your name then?' 'Sorry about your desk....!' But now I was back, 'phase 2' of a work redesign was being planned, and an introductory meeting was arranged for today in the main training room ('the blue rooms'). The chairs were in a circle, I was five minutes late, but there were only two people there - Tom, a Scottish superintendent, who had called the meeting, and Joe, an English electrician who I had taken out to dinner a few nights before to catch up, meet his girlfriend, and talk about an illness that he had. They knew each other well, in fact we all knew each other well, as we were all involved strongly in the earlier 'phase 1 ' of the work redesign. Gradually, a few more people turned up, and the numbers grew to eleven: four middle managers, two technicians, four skilled electricians and heating controllers, and one machine operator. When one Lebanese electrician came in, Joe said to me 'Richard, this is the Arab, I always told you about'. The 'Arab' said something about doing Joe's work. I joked, 'I heard Joe kept looking after you, that is what he told me'. Joe smiled and quickly remarked to all of us, 'I do look after him, so long as he does what he is told!'

What followed was an all morning meeting, the Phase 2 Kick Off meeting, in which those present discussed the nature of the next phase of change, their interests and concerns, and what they felt should be done. This paper uses an account of this Kick Off meeting, the launch of Phase 2 at Cokemaking Oz to probe the nature of the 'control' that is supposed to be associated with organizational change. While the major focus is on the Kick Off meeting, the paper also draws data from an earlier Phase 2 Planning meeting (held by senior supervisors a few weeks before the Kick Off), and from interviews and observations gathered in a longer term study of the plant. The aim is to provide a less sanitised and less purist window on the processes of corporate culture change than is normally encountered in the research literature.

As Kunda (1993) has observed, many studies of change focus on the rhetoric of the 'culture merchants', 'managerial anthropologists' or managers and groups involved in culture change programs ('the culture of culture'), to the exclusion of direct observation and analysis of the rhetoric and actions of those most closely involved. …

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