Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Culturally Sensitive Structuring: An Action Research-Based Approach to Organization Development and Design

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Culturally Sensitive Structuring: An Action Research-Based Approach to Organization Development and Design

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

One reason for the sometimes-disappointing return from strategic change initiatives is an inability among managers to integrate STRUCTURAL change with more subtle changes in the SOCIAL AND CULTURAL dimensions of the organization. This article makes the case for a new approach to the management and leadership of change that addresses both spheres simultaneously. Drawing on a resent research study at a UK hospital, Bannerdown Trust, the article develops a ^culturally sensitive" approach to organization redesign. A four-stage "working model" of the change process is presented in which organization design and organization development (OD) are fused together to transform the very essence of the organization.

INTRODUCTION: FAILING AT CHANGE

As large-scale strategic change has become a major preoccupation in contemporary management, so too has the sense of disappointment and diminishing returns that all too often accompanies the change process. During the 1990s, organizations in the commercial, public, and not-for-profit sectors have experimented with and frequently failed to secure a sustainable benefit from a variety of strategic change initiatives. They have been restructuring, reengineering, and refocusing but never quite realizing the gains they must have expected from their (sometimes huge) human and financial investment in change.

Organizational analysts have attributed this outcome, in part at least, to a failure in change management. Managers, consultants, and researchers, we are told, need to develop new "social technologies" of change (Beer and Eisenstat, 1996) to rethink the processes and management methods by which changes are planned, designed, and implemented (Burke, 1994; Hambrick and Cannella, 1994; Kotter, 1995; Stace and Dunphy, 1994).

This article takes the argument one step further. The authors draw attention to a common failure in strategic change initiatives to integrate changes in organizational structure (restructuring, reengineering, out-sourcing, etc.) with more subtle changes in organizational culture. It is their contention that organizational structure and culture are inseparable in practice, linked together in a coevolutionary relationship in which each shapes and is shaped by the other. Change initiatives, it follows, need to address both spheres simultaneously, coordinating and aligning "hard" strategic and "soft" cultural changes in line with the changing demands of a dynamic environment.

This article makes the case for a new approach to the leadership and management of strategic change and for new methods of organization design which can embrace the complexity and complementarity of the structure-culture matrix. Drawing on a recent action research study, the authors outline a "cultural sensitive" approach to organization design--or, more accurately, to the process of designing organizations. From this, they develop a four-stage "working model" of the change process in which organization design and organization development (OD) are fused together to transform the very essence of the organization.

BACK TO BASICS

The idea that organizational change needs to be coordinated across a number of dimensions--of which structure and culture are perhaps the two most fundamental--is not in itself very new. Indeed, it has become very much the conventional wisdom in change circles since McKinsey published the globally-recognized "Seven S" framework (Peters and Waterman, 1982). The concept is a familiar one: successful strategic change rests on alignment and integration, on the fusion of structure, system, leadership, strategy, and culture into an integrated and synergistic competitive whole (Amburgey and Dacin, 1994; Batelaan, 1995; Kilmann, 1995; Miller, 1990; Trompenaars, 1995; Schwartz and Davis, 1981).

The alignment concept is an important theoretical development, drawing attention to a fundamental issue: "soft" and "hard" are two sides of the same coin, existing in a state of symbiosis and interdependence. …

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