This post continues the review of my 1980 paper on the nature of the planning task in organizations and its comparison to the dynamics of change as embodied in Informal Coalitions (see Footnote). The focus here is on the suggestion that the planner’s task (and, by inference, that of the change facilitator) is to influence the ongoing decision making and action taking of line managers.
A central proposition of the informal coalitions perspective is that overall outcomes emerge from the organization-wide interplay of people’s everyday decisions and actions. Through their ongoing conversations and interactions, people perceive, interpret and evaluate what’s going on and decide how they are going to act. This is not a neatly packaged, linear and step-wise process but rather the complex and emergent interweaving of in-the-moment sense making and action taking. Seeking to influence the nature and dynamics of this conversational process, in a deliberate and informed way, is then the essence of change leadership. And the change specialist’s role is one of facilitating this practice in ways that are intended to be organizationally beneficial. Crucially, of course, those who are seeking to lead and facilitate change can act with intention, but still can't be sure as to the outcomes that will emerge.
- Extract #13 – Recognizing that power relations are fundamental to the dynamics of organizational change and performance (and to the role of the change facilitator):
“Power is an emotive word but is increasingly becoming an important concept in helping to understand how complex organisations function.”
My 1980s paper drew on Charles Handy’s conception of power and influence, as described in Handy, C., 1976, Understanding Organisations (now in its 4th edition). This defined influence as the process “whereby the planner modifies the knowledge, attitudes or behaviour of the line manager” and power as “the combination of personal and situational factors which enable him (sic) to do it”.
It also adopted Handy’s categorization of power in organizations, by identifying a number of “power sources” which “may be available to the planner”. These were physical, resource, position, expert and personal. To these I added “developmental power”, based on Charles Margerison’s 1978 text, Influencing Organizational Change. The paper then related each of these to a specific “influence method”, including force, exchange, rules and procedures, persuasion, development, ecology and magnetism. Not all of these were seen as being appropriate to the planning task!
In Informal Coalitions, I refer to a similar classification as an “instrumental” view of power in organizations. The relational nature of power, and its embeddedness in organizational structures, systems and processes, is now much more prominent in my thinking about the dynamics of power in organizations. Nevertheless, it’s pleasing to see that my wish to “rehabilitate” power and politics as inevitable - and legitimate - dynamics of all organizations, had its seeds in this earlier strand of thinking. This point is further emphasized in the next extract.
- Extract #14 – Seeing power and politics as inherent in all organizational interactions, including those between the leaders and facilitators of change:
“Within the context of the planner-manager relationship, the planner ‘contracts’ to help the manager by offering his specialist knowledge, skills and time. In return he gains access to more of the manager’s world … . Throughout any exchange relationship the planner and manager will be making subjective judgements as to whether the relationship should be continued, based on the relative costs and benefits. The pattern of any exchange is complicated and sensitive. The [adjacent] model, adapted from Margerison [see above] identifies some of the basic elements."
Interestingly, one of the figures in the book offers a similar view of this ongoing political process; this time expressed in the language of informal coalitions. There I describe the “process dynamics” as, variously: competitive, collaborative, collusive and (potentially) corrupt. And the resulting “outcome dynamics” reflect combinations of functional/dysfunctional and ethical/unethical behaviour.
Likewise, Ralph Stacey (drawing primarily here on the writings of Norbert Elias) maintains that “… power is a structural characteristic of all human relationships in that it reflects the fact that we depend on each other and so enable and constrain each other. .. The basis of power is need so that when we need others more than they need us … then they have more power over us than we have over them. However, this is never absolute because the power of the more powerful depends on the recognition of the less powerful that this is indeed so.” What Stacey is saying, then, is that power relations are dynamic.
Finally here, the original paper stresses the need for the planner to actively engage with the 'real world' messiness of organizational life.
- Extract #15 - Understanding and imaginatively entering into the world as conceptualized by line managers and other individuals:
"The planner will often find himself working in a world of opinions rather than facts; and there are no facts about the future, only expectations. ...The planner with a strong inherent 'feel' for the line manager's needs, problems and anxieties is able as a result to respond to them with keener insight and hence greater effectiveness than is the planner to whom the line manager's work represents merely a formal catalogue of problems."
In Informal Coalitions I make the point that organizations are social worlds and that they are also constructed worlds. That is, people get together and make things up! These socially contructed worlds are both the products and influencers of ongoing change. So this is the territory that the change facilitator needs to inhabit and 'get a feel for'.
The 1980 paper argues that the focus of the specialist planner's attention should be on the planning and action taking of line managers. This is refelected in Extract #7 (see earlier post), which positions planning as the responsibility of line managers (rather than of specialist planning staff). Whilst this is directly analogous to the relative roles of change leaders and change facilitators, it is important to recognize that decision-making is far from the sole preserve of those in formal managerial positions. The proposition in Extract #15 therefore extends the scope of the change facilitator's attention beyond that represented by "management" alone and into the organization at large.
This point will be explored further in the next post, where attention will shift to the decision-makers themselves.
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.
Earlier posts in the series include: