Academic journal article Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management

Organisational Change Stories and Management Research: Facts or Fiction

Academic journal article Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management

Organisational Change Stories and Management Research: Facts or Fiction

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Organisational change stories are often constructed around a linear series of 'successful' events that serve to show the company in a positive light to any interested external party. These stories of company success sanitize complex change processes and offer data for change experts to formulate neat linear prescriptions on how to best manage change. This article criticizes this position and argues that change is a far more dynamic political process consisting of competing histories and ongoing multiple change narratives which may vie for dominance in seeking to be the change story. A central aim is to identify and unpack narratives of change in order to highlight a number of theoretical and methodological implications for management research. It is argued that post-hoc rationalized stories should not be used as a knowledge base for prescriptive lessons or theoretical developments, nor should research data simply be presented as a single authentic story of change. The need to study change overtime and to accommodate multiple stories that may be reshaped, replaced and modified raise critical issues of data collection and data analysis, as well as important questions on the place of the conventional case study as a conveyor of research findings. As such, the article calls for the more widespread use of the concept of 'competing histories' and 'multiple change narratives' in longitudinal studies that seek to explain processes of organisational change.

INTRODUCTION

Organisations are the fundamental building blocks of modem societies. Studies of why and how they change are crucial for analysing social change... We need encompassing schemes for understanding what is happening to us, and for putting local actions in historical and global context (Aldrich 1999, p. 346).

In studying why and how organisations manage complex change initiatives a growing body of knowledge has emerged. In that tradition, the company case study has become a longstanding vehicle for presenting findings. The way the change story is told and data presented generally varies within management research and is often tailored to meet the expectations of the intended audience. In longitudinal qualitative studies, the researcher often presents his or her interpretation of events (an organisational change story) that is based on a systematic analysis of complex and detailed data. Within these data, there are often competing stories of change, conflicting interpretations, and a range of different experiences and views and yet, in the final presentation of the case study many of these stories are not told (often for practicable reasons). As such, there is always dilemma and compromise between being faithful to the data and yet also working towards the creation of a readable case study that engages an audience and supports key arguments. In contrast, studies that focus on single individuals or groups, or those that simply take a snapshot of accounts, often present far less contested stories of change. Although the coherence and logic of these stories may be attractive, their simplification of complex change processes may ultimately provide misleading information on change management. This is most noticeable in the more popularised management texts where anecdotal stories of 'successful' change are often used to promote key ingredient approaches to change management. In their various forms, stories of change can act as powerful conveyors and receptacles of knowledge, but we rarely reflect on the creation and organisation of this knowledge or critically assess the way in which this knowledge is documented and presented. These and other issues are addressed in this article that provides an analysis of organisational change stories. It is argued that concepts such as, 'competing change narratives' and 'multiple change histories' provide useful aids to understanding processes of change. It is also argued that there is a need for further reflection on the role of the researcher as an 'author' of case studies as well as the place of change agents as conductors and scriptwriters of company change initiatives. …

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