The Theoretical Backdrop
Before digging deeper into the case studies and unpacking the findings, it will be helpful to establish the theoretical backdrop for change and to place resistance within it. Fortunately for scholars and practitioners, a few works offer a substantial exploration of the related organizational change theory. For a comprehensive set of the change theory ancestors and an overview of the seminal works to date, look no further than Burke, Dale, and Paine’s (2009) edited volume, Organization Change: A Comprehensive Reader. For a reworking of modern theories, see Demers’s (2007) Organizational Change Theories: A Synthesis. Burke’s (2008) Organization Change: Theory and Practice provides a bridge between the two. Cawsey and Deszca (2007) offer a Toolkit for Organizational Change that practitioners may find handy. Rather than replicate the good efforts of these authors, here I elucidate the frameworks and theory that informed my study.
Traditionally, authors and change consultants have steadfastly proclaimed that leaders, or “change champions,” should have a solid vision for the end result they seek, as well as concrete plans in place well before they pull the change trigger (e.g., Kotter, 1996). My research suggests this is fine in theory, but difficult to make happen in practice. The institutional leaders I interviewed indicated, without exception, that while they indeed held a strong vision of the final outcome, they had no concrete notion about the path a change effort should follow; nor did they attempt to plan their change effort from beginning to end. Their plans and actions evolved over time, and the process of change was ambiguous and arduous (Burke, 2008). At best, these leaders grasped the change tiger’s tail