Previous posts in the series (see Footnote) have highlighted the need for the change facilitator to influence the organization’s ongoing decision-making and action-taking process. But who are these decision makers? Is it the Senior Management Team? Or line managers? Or is it members of the organization at large? This post addresses this question; drawing inferences from my 30-year-old paper on the analogous role of the specialist planner and ‘testing’ these against the informal coalitions view of organizational dynamics.
- Extract #16 – Judging the success of change facilitation by the extent to which it impacts upon everyday sense making and action taking.
“Many planning and management texts often claim that planning spells the difference between success and failure for the organisations. This, as Ewing (The Practice of Planning, 1968) points out, is nonsense. Only managerial decisions can make an organisation successful and only to the extent that it assists with the making of successful decisions can specialist planning be said to be effective.”
The main thrust of this section of the original paper was to underscore the earlier observation (Extract #7) that planning is, fundamentally, a line management activity. It can’t be ‘handed off’ to a planning team. And this is the same point that I make today about change leadership. At the same time, from an informal coalitions perspective, outcomes emerge from the myriad local conversations and interactions that constitute everyday organizational life. So it’s not only “managerial decisions [that] can make an organisation successful”; it’s the cumulative impact of decisions and actions taken by everyone ‘on the ground’, alone and in concert with others.
I would also argue today that, as regards “making an organisation successful”, people can do no more than act with that intention in mind. It is impossible to know what outcomes will emerge in practice as a result of their own and others’ actions.
- Extract #17 – Seeing the immersion of people in the organization’s ongoing sense-making and action-taking processes as significantly more important than the existence of sophisticated change plans, programmes and communications.
The original paper quotes Cleveland (in Steiner, G., 1969, Top Management Planning) as saying, in relation to the planning task:
‘The most useable end product of planning is not paper but a person thoroughly immersed in the subject – a person whose mind is trained to act, having taken everything into account, on the spur of the moment.’
The challenge of “taking everything into account” is a bit of a tall order when viewing the world from a social complexity perspective! How would you ever know what “everything” was? But Cleveland’s central point is crucial – that it’s the thorough involvement of people in the process, and the opportunity that this provides for ongoing sense-making interactions, that is likely to prove most beneficial in dealing with emerging challenges.
The paper goes on to say:
“This insight does not diminish the importance of the planner’s task. In fact it increases it. It releases the planner from the constraints of a job which apparently calls for him to produce ‘plans’ – whether or not these have any effect on organisational decision-making – and allows him to operate in the real world of strategic and operating decisions: the world where the real planning is done.”
Acknowledging here that the world “has no objective reality”, the paper then argues that “specialist planning must be carried out in relation to the real world as conceived by line management.”
All of this fits well with the idea of the change facilitator’s role that is embodied in Informal Coalitions. And the final extract from this section underlines another fundamental point that arises from viewing organizations as complex social processes.
- Extract #18 – Recognizing that generalized statements of strategy, policy, etc always have to be enacted within particular local circumstances; unavoidably affecting the ways in which these are perceived, interpreted, evaluated and acted upon.
“Managerial planning is not simply something done by top management with ‘implementation’ by the rest of the organisation. Every manager continuously makes operating decisions which have policy implications. According to classic management theory, the organization’s strategic and operational position results from definitive statements issued by top management. In practice, however, no statement can give categorical guidance when dealing with complex and uncertain situations. Regardless of attempts which may be made to ensure that policy statements are clear and unambiguous, they typically require explanation:
‘The inevitable need for clarification and interpretation gives the manager a great deal of discretion which puts him, whether he wants it or not, in a policy making position. In implementing guidance from above, the manager greatly influences it. Policies evolve and become clarified through a manager’s daily activities.’ (Uyterhoeven et al, 1973, Strategy and Organisation).
This insight is fundamental to the informal coalitions perspective. The only issue I would take with it today is to recognize that, as with my comments in relation to Extract #16 (above), this dynamic applies to everyone’s involvement in the ongoing process of communicative interaction, not just to that of managers.
In the next post in the series, we will look at what pointers - if any - the chapter entitled Acquisition, Deployment and Management of Resources might have for the facilitation of organizational change.
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: