Consultants believe in change. It keeps bread on their tables.
That's as true for conservative sorts (selling corporate renewal via
rational strategic plans) as it is for ``touchy-feely'' types (bent
upon altering your ``corporate culture''). Ordinary folks are
hopeful, too: Witness the millions of salvation-by-the-numbers,
self-help books we buy each year.
Yet most companies fail to execute the brilliant strategies
their consultants propose. Most who swear by the transforming
nature of their three-day ``culture-change workshop'' revert to type
on the job by midmorning Tuesday. And for every person who has
bought a diet book and kept off those 20 unwanted pounds, there are
scores who put them back on.
The change debate rages from the Odd Fellows' Lodge to the
pristine halls of academe. Take organizational change. One school
sees organizations as malleable, and in constant flux. But another
draws inspiration from biological models: Births and deaths of
companies are normal; but the individual organization is born of
happenstance and passes away when what made it good becomes
Conventional theories ``treated organizations as rational,
flexible and speedy adapters to changing environmental
circumstances,'' Cornell's Michael Hannan and John Freeman write in
their book ``Organizational Ecology.'' But ``the organizations we
knew ... (were) anything but flexible and quick in ... response to
changing opportunities and constraints in the environment.''
Then there are those who look at change through the lens of
leadership. Change demands superb leaders who fire us up to shed
our shopworn ways, some croon. Opponents, such as University of
California Professor Bob Cole, vow that the leadership variable in
business is grossly overrated. Japanese economic performance has
been remarkable, but few Japanese, he says, can name any any
home-grown business leaders. Americans, by contrast, are ensnared
by ``the cult of the CEO,'' as one commentator labeled it.
Among students of psychology, the change debate has raged for a
century. ``Nature vs. nurture'' is one divider: Once you're born, is
it too late to change? Those who downplay the role of genes don't
necessarily champion human lability: There's the ``what matters
happens by the age of 5'' crowd (friends of Freud) vs. the ``change
forever'' gang (behaviorist B.F. Skinner's followers, who insist
that we can turn on a dime right up to the last gasp).
These differing views have enormous consequences for the
economy, the firm and the individual. Consider economic policy. If
you believe that corporations have a tough time changing, you let
the old ones die when their time comes - e. …