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Tom Gibbons

Without having read the book I will be interested to read the differences between Herrero's perspectives and that of informal coalitions. In the Does It Work section of this post it states 'as a methodology for getting from A to B, it all depends on how well that methodology is applied'. This sounds eerily like so many other methodologies about change where if you don't do it right you won't get what you want. This then means the methodology is based somehow or other on the possibility of creating a certain, predictable future which for me is a serious and problematic flaw. A flaw that typically leads to high levels of blame, guilt, second guessing and angst, all of which we have too much of already in our organizations.

Chris Rodgers

Thanks, Tom.

You make a very important point about the 'do it better and get it right' trap into which most of the conventional approaches to organizational change (and OD in the round) tend to fall. This is seemingly one of the 'differences' that I mean to point to between the Viral Change (TM) approach and the informal coalitions view of organizational dynamics.

In a recently published article on change, I wrote: "...first the ‘bad news’. This messy reality also means that there are no simple, if-you-do-this-you'll-get-that formulae. Nor, despite the rhetoric, is it possible for consultants and others to provide evidence which demonstrates that a generally applied approach will ‘work’ at this specific time, in this specific situation, with these specific people. Inconvenient though this might be, in a world that craves clarity, certainty and proof, the craving does not make these socially complex and uncertain dynamics of everyday interaction disappear."

Hopefully, I will get around to writing the follow-up post to this one in the next couple of days. I had originally intended to write it rather sooner than has turned out to be the case. But things don't always work out as intended!

Cheers, Chris

Deb Booth

Thank you for introducing me to these books, Chris. I love the ideas of ‘homo imitans’ and ‘viral change’ as a helpful way to think about the HOW of some individual behavioural changes. I don’t think they fully explain the WHY. But what a delightful thought for the formal leaders of an org which finds itself maladapted to its environment (imminent failure is the most common motivation for change) that employees will ‘naturally’ (and this is the real importance of the term ‘H. Imitans’) imitate new behaviours if the environment is ‘enabling’. Contrary to Herrero’s rosy view, you show Chris, that we are a conservative species very attached to our habits of thinking and acting.

“We are creatures of habit….we have a preference for certain routine and ritualistic ways of working, which become habitual behaviours over time” Informal coalitions p. 123.

Chris, you and Tom correctly decry the assumption that organisational change can be purposefully planned and executed, by design, which underlies Herrero’s book. I am interested in the social consequences of collective belief in this sort of myth (by ODers, org leaders, employees etc) and how these consequences may enable such myths (those which obscure understanding of the true nature of organisational life) to become attractive to many (become a discourse around which many people choose to coalesce), and are reproduced (? go ‘viral’) amongst the business community.

Have we (not you, Chris or Tom) been too quick to follow the USA’s heroic, individualistic cultural tradition and attribute the success or failure of our organisations to the individual performance of their leaders, rather than the market/ environmental conditions which tend to ensure that similar orgs tend to perform similarly? The attribution of success to purposeful individuals’ actions inevitably re-inforces (and arises from) the belief peddled by business schools that the scientific method can be applied to business and that A+B always = C. This collective belief legitimates the excessive power routinely offered to CEOs and others. It is a myth which you both explode, to little effect with those whose interests are served by its continuing popularity, more’s the pity.

Durkheim taught us a long time ago that social phenomena (such as org performance) cannot be predicted from a knowledge of individuals. He said explanations of social should be sought in ‘the conditions in which the social group in its totality is placed’ (The rules of the sociological method 1964 p. 106.) Organisational development interventions might usefully be focused on the creation of social conditions in which ‘leaders’ will be likely to conclude that their own interests (metaphysical, political and economic) are aligned with those of key organisational stakeholders.

Herrero begs the question of why informal leaders in the organisation might wish to become ‘change champions’? Whom are they copying when they model the desired new behaviours? Why? Might it be that we should pay more attention to the rewards expected by such informal leaders, as you do in your book, Informal Coalitions, Chris, when you explicitly acknowledge the need to use power to leverage commitment to championing organisational change.

Returning to my original theme it seems to me that many successful contributors to the dominant discourse in both OD and business (eg. Herrero) subtly re-interpret traditional cultural narratives (including those about ‘human nature’ and ‘social organisation’) in ways which disguise from everyone the inability of any individual to fully predict the consequences of purposeful attempts to change their organisation and the necessarily contingent nature of organisational leadership. The most popular approaches to OD preclude explicit recognition of the political role of management and organisation mythologies, ensuring that such mythologies are presented as ‘existentially true’.

Our business culture is closely modelled on that of the US. However it is more permeable than that of the US because we are close economically and geographically to the European mainland. We also have a different pedagogical tradition in some of our business schools – a belief that managers should be educated as well as trained. This enables a healthy cultural tradition of diversity, innovation and self-criticism amongst management teachers, researchers and writers. As the ‘double-dip’ becomes ‘stagflation’ and depression we have a valuable stock of ‘alternative’ knowledges (such as your own Chris) from which to draw tools which, by acknowledging managers’ dependence, enable organisational stakeholders to create the spaces in which meaning can be re-negotiated for a new world. If these come to be imitated, it will be because individuals believe they need to use them to solve the new problems they face, not just because to imitate is part of human nature.

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