Organization Change: Theory and Practice

By Coghlan, David | Irish Journal of Management, January 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

Organization Change: Theory and Practice


Coghlan, David, Irish Journal of Management


W. Warner Burke, Organization Change: Theory and Practice, Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA, 2002, 325 pages, Paperback, (EUR)25.00 approx.

W. Warner Burke is a major figure in the field of organisation development and change, and has been for over 40 years. This book, published in the Foundations for Organisational Science series, is the outcome of his study and reflections on current theory and practice in the field of change management (which, he wryly suggests, might be an oxymoron).

The central theme of the book is that, while the environment for organisations is discontinuous and highly unpredictable, organisations are created to last and so aim for stability and continuity. So, in order. to understand the theory and practice of organisational change, the organisational literature is not sufficient. We need to study the life sciences to see what they say about complexity. In the first chapter, Burke lays out the key issues, which become the structure for the main themes of the book. These are the metaphor of choice: open systems and life sciences, types of organisational change, organizational levels, data-based change, content and process, the use of frameworks, and leadership. Each of these receives thorough treatment.

Chapters 3 to 7 deal with theory and research of organisational change and explore the literature on evolutionary/revolutionary change, individual/group and organisational change, content and process, and conceptual models. In these chapters, Burke reviews familiar fields, such as Lewin's three stages of change, the Chin and Benne strategies, and many of the theories that have shaped our thinking about change. There are two particularly important chapters in this section. Chapter 3, in my view, is the central chapter of the book, as it is where Burke is explicit about what he sees as critical to understanding organisational change. In this chapter, he discusses two themes: open systems theory and living systems. He presents open systems theory through the well-known Katz and Kahn work. It is, however, the living systems approach that is new and Burke explores this through the work of Fritjof Capra and presents Capra's criteria for understanding life, pattern, structure and process. After his discussion of Capra, Burke provides what he sees as the implications for organisation and organisation change. …

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