This is the first leg of our quest to see what insights - if any - we might gain into the challenges of change facilitation from my 30-year-old paper on the nature of the planning task in organizations (see Footnote). The proposition here is that change facilitation is best considered as a continuous process.
From an informal coalitions perspective change itself is seen as a continuous process. It is not something that happens in pre-packaged episodes between periods of stability. Also, a fundamental assumption of this perspective is that organizations are complex social processes rather than, for example, complex adaptive systems – or systems of any kind, for that matter.
So we appear to be ‘in the right ball park’. But what specific inferences can we draw from the original paper on this aspect of the role?
- Extract #6 – Valuing the ongoing process of change facilitation ahead of its formal outputs (plans, programmes, projects etc):
“… the principal value of planning lies not in the plans it produces but in the process of producing them.”
Drawing on Ackoff’s work, one of the corollaries of this is …
- Extract #7 – Identifying change leadership as a line management responsibility; not something that can be delegated to a “change team”:
“… effective planning cannot be done to or for an organisation, it must be done by the responsible managers.” (Ackoff, R.,1970, A Concept of Corporate Planning).
In this section of the paper, I’m pleased to see that I challenged Mintzberg’s contention that planners should confine themselves to the ‘left-hemispheric’ activities associated (at that time) with sequential and systematic analysis. His ideas were set out in the 1976 HBR article, Planning on the Left Side and Managing on the Right. In contrast, I argued that it must do more than this by …
- Extract #8 – Recognizing that change facilitation must go beyond the sequential and systematic, to embrace the messy and complex:
“[the specialist planner] must be able to handle irregular and complex situations which are not amenable to neat analytical thought processes or pre-packaged techniques … and must be able to operate in the ‘real’ world as conceptualised by line management.”
- Extract #9 – Positioning organizational change as a continuous, complex social process, in which outcomes emerge from the dynamics of human interaction:
“Paine and Naumes’ statement underlines that planning is a social process:
‘Policy formulation is not just a chore to be undertaken a few times a year when top management meets to decide critical issues. Policy formation is a continuing dynamic social process of implementing and revising policies in the human organisation as changes occur in resources and the environment.’" (Paine, F.T. and Naumes, W., 1978, Organisational Strategy and Policy).
The “changes in resources and the environment” to which Paine and Naumes refer are themselves, of course, the product of this same complex social process of humans interacting together. And today, we might have a further discussion about the notion of an organization’s ‘environment’, with its implication that an organization is a boundaried entity, rather than a boundaryless social process.
- Extract #10 – Embracing the unavoidably political nature of organizational dynamics and change facilitation:
“… planning is inevitably a political process. In … all purposive and complex organisations, there are individuals and groups competing for influence or control of resources. There are differences of opinion and of values; priorities differ and individual and departmental objectives are often in conflict; different departments develop different orientations to their goals and different ways of working. Clashes or personality rise and subside; cliques form, and so on. The planner needs to be a ‘politician’ if he is to be an effective member of the organisation; a politician in the sense that he understands, and is sensitive to the causes of conflict and the strategies and tactics which are adopted to cope with them. An understanding of these organizational realities is central to the effective execution of the planning task.”
- Extract #11 – Not colluding with the view that change specialists should confine themselves to the technical task of producing change strategies, plans and programmes:
“For the planner to focus solely on the technical tasks relating to the production of plans is to submit to one of the main pitfalls that the planner should be guiding the other organizational members away from. That is, closing down the problem (in this case the planner’s own job) to such an extent that it does not reflect reality."
A quotation from Ewing sums it up beautifully:
‘This permits planners to view with disdain many of the tough realities of corporate life; to see them as obstacles or barriers to the planner’s sophisticated work when, in fact, these so-called blocks should be the very guts of their job.' (Ewing, D.W.,1968, The Practice of Planning).
The final observation in this section of the paper also resonates strongly with my current views on the dynamics of change.
- Extract #12 – Understanding that the change facilitation role is, first and foremost, an interpersonal one :
“Securing relevance for planning in the decision-making process may relate more to the planner’s interpersonal competence than to his (sic) skills as a planner.”
This brings us back full-circle to the opening proposition that change facilitation is a continuous process - and one that is rooted in human interaction rather than in plans, programmes and projects. The next post in the series will look at power and influence in relation to the role.
This is one of a series of posts that draws extracts from a 1980 paper on the nature of the specialist planning task in organizations. The challenge is to see if and how this might relate to the view of organizational dynamics that is embodied in informal coalitions. More of the background can be found in the initial, context-setting post: Re-membering the past – The seeds of informal coalitions? Extract numbers follow on from those in earlier posts in the series.