Key Issues in Organizational Communication

By Dennis Tourish; Owen Hargie | Go to book overview

4

Managing change

Communication and political process

Patrick Dawson


Introduction

This chapter sets out to examine organizational change and communication. It provides a brief overview of the main competencies and guidelines offered in the prescriptive change management literature and a critique of the dominant Organizational Development (OD) approach. It is argued that the common claim that communication is fundamental to change is too readily linked with an assumption that communication is an apolitical neutral activity and that the OD perspective (which emphasizes planned participative change strategies) is an accurate reflection of how change unfolds in practice. However, this perspective is increasingly being called into question by the work of change writers who take a more critical perspective (for example Collins, 1998; Burnes, 2000; Knights and Willmott, 2000). These writers demonstrate how the process of change does not roll out in an uncomplicated way - as many stage models suggest (Collins, 1998), nor can it be viewed as an apolitical process (Buchanan and Badham, 1999). This chapter thereby sets out to counter-balance uncritical OD accounts on communication and change through incorporating an analysis of political processes.

The section that follows commences with a brief overview of the treatment of communication in the change management literature. A number of best practice guidelines are identified and the dominant planned approach to change is critically appraised. The need to address the influence of power and politics on communication and change is then taken up in a section on political process. Some of the more critical studies on organizational change are used to question a commonly held assumption (noticeable within the prescriptive literature) that communication is neutral and apolitical. The chapter concludes by calling for further critical discussion and research on how information is used and communicated in the purposeful objective of securing particular political ends during the process of organizational change.


Change management: The communication imperative

Within the popular management literature, John Kotter (1996) has put forward an eight-stage model on how to successfully manage change. This comprises:

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