MIS40640 – Managing Technology & Change: Cultural & Political Perspectives – Issues in IS implementation

Readings of the Week:

Grey – The fetish of change

Walsham – Chapter 10

Critique on Grey & Walsham papers

Questions & Comments:

“The most striking thing about change management is that it almost always fails” is clearly a line designed to provoke a reaction from the reader. The author seems to be insinuating because organisations are always looking to improve processes, a particular change management project is a failure. Can change management not be a success while still looking for something better?

Communication and consultation is a better approach to the change management process, especially in terms of attempt to secure commitment. According to Grey, communication and consultation is increasingly recognized in areas where fair employee treatment was applied. However we have to be careful of the use of communication and consultation as a change management technique as it is more likely that senior management will favour it in terms of production processes but not over shareholder dividends. There are many traps to be negotiated in the field of change. Today every organisation is confronted at some point with the necessity to introduce some sort of change, it is important to recognise the importance and the individual key elements of change. Do you think every organisation need to introduce change in its own way by considering its size, circumstances and goals?

In the ‘Fetish of Change’ paper Grey’s contention that change has been perpetual in human history and that every generation had to struggle with it, is correct. But though change has always been,there, what is different now is that it is only recently that a conscious effort on the management of change has begun within the organisations. Uptil now change was accepted more as an ‘act of fate’ on which humans had no control and against the tide of change humanity had felt helpless. And in the last few decades a proper understanding behind the dynamics of change has settle in and with it has come an urge or a drive to proactively manage the change. Change management is an evolving field and the frameworks & structures around it are still being debated. But to call change management a fetish would be puerile, it certainly is a new endeavour and an untrodden path which we as humans have only just started to grapple. Yes, the failure rate in change management is high at present but then this field is still evolving and like other human studies the field of change management is expected to become more mature and structured to tip the scales in its favour.

Minutes of the Class:

Recap on Last week

This weeks lecture began by wrapping up the discussion on agile and how it can be seen as a breath of fresh air for software development as it’s more suited to the often constantly changing needs and requirements that arise as a software development process evolves. This is in part due to software not scaling up very well, but as it does scale things can get riskier and more difficult. But there is a problem regarding agile in that we currently don’t have a lot of empirical studies available in terms of how or what happens when it’s introduced into an organisation. This results in the complexity of the implementation of agile becoming largely dependent on the implementing organisations current culture.

However, Seamas has seen some projects in action that show it can work very well. To understand Agile there is a need to know where it has originated. It emerged as a counter movement driven largely by engineers as opposed to project managers. The Agile manifesto values interaction and individuals over procedures and tools, working software over documentation and responding to change over contract negotiation. The reality is that project management is nice in theory but the realities can be quite different.

However, agile may not take root in an organisation if there are broader barriers regarding culture and politics in place to block or hinder it.

Theme of this week:

Difficulties associated with management of change.

Grey & Walsham week 9 readings review

This week’s lecture focused solely on the Grey reading. The sense from this reading was that Grey was saying something important but what exactly? This lecture hoped to offer some clarity on what Grey was trying to say. Some of this can be easy to misconstrue but in fact what Grey is targeting in this paper is the discourse of change, the ways in which we think, talk about and enact change.  Grey believes the way we currently speak about change is not helpful and that because of this, change can be viewed as a fetish. There is a propensity to obsess unhealthily about change. The way we think is formed by the era in which we live where globalisation and technology dominate. The current ‘fast paced’ world poses huge challenges to the stability of organisations. Because of this we believe we have to actively embrace and manage change, this is Grey’s summation of the ideology of change. The paper itself is written as a polemic and was published in a non-mainstream journal that led Grey to have the liberty and scope to write the article in a non traditional way. It’s a provocative paper that aims to elicit a response from the reader.

A lot of what Grey has to say is not generally heard in the normal discourse on management.

There are three main components to Greys paper and they are:

  1. Are we living in times of unprecedented change?
  2. He puts the popular dominant conceptions of organisational theory under the microscope.
  3. He takes a critical look at why some of the popular explanations as to why change management fails and some of the panaceas associated with change management.

With regard to the first point, it seems that every era believes it exists in a time of unprecedented change. This is the conceit that each generation and one which we generally ignore. Grey uses personal anecdotes of his father and father in law to illustrate this. Grey is not making the argument that the pace of change is not now faster than ever but is merely asking ‘where is the evidence to support this argument?’. It is important that we look at the gradual changes that precede these so called revolutions in terms of change.

There is also a notion that we live in an information age, this is an argument that is difficult to make stand up. The information age has at least started as far back as the railway age. Seamas gave the example of the hanging file and the pocket watch leading to the timetable as truly effective and revolutionary components of the information age. The change in terms of todays world seems radical not because of the newness of things but because of the speed. However, what matters is not the rate of change but rather of perception of it. Because we enact the world as this crazy frenzied place, we then begin to talk about it like that.

The driver behind this enactment is anxiety, the fear of losing out to rival organisations, losing customers or thinking that customers want everything and they want it now. The main creators of anxiety are the tech industry and consulting companies.

Grey is also critical of the metaphors we use to understand organisational change, both emphasise control. They are the machine metaphor and the organism metaphor. We use these to see change as controllable in an organisational context. This is displayed through the Lewin Shine model where an organisation can: Unfreeze, Implement change and then Refreeze.

This generates a static view of organisations whereas for this module we have been looking at them as dynamic.

The organism view states that the organisation exists in a hostile environment and it has to adapt to changing circumstances or die.

We need to be careful with this view and the notion of adaptive change. Large change management initiatives almost always fail but yet this doesn’t stop or undermine our efforts to enforce change or our confidence in change management.

Grey also has a problem with benchmarking in that it leads to a homogeneity and overlooks the unique and individual facets of organisations. He also rails against the connotation associated with change in that it’s generally seen as good.

We then discussed the two dominant explanations as to why change initiatives don’t work. These are:

  • Imperfect implementation: We were right to do what we did but the implementation let us down. The theory was right but the method was wrong- It wouldn’t work if we implemented it differently. You can’t say that if we did it in a certain way that something would have happened differently.
  • Resistance to change: His point is that people often have a specific reason to resist change and often this can be a valid reason. If there are people that are offering rejections, they are often stigmatised as being resistant to change. Self-help manuals around managing change… there will always be a chapter on resistance to change. We need to educate these people and show them the error of their ways. Keane talks about managing IS implementation. He suggests that we do a counter implementation. A set of tactics for overcoming resistance, rather than silencing the voice in particular settings. It’s not saying that resistance doesn’t exist.

Leadership, communication and consultation: Chris’s book on studying organisations has gone on a tirade of this. The rigour of this at this stage is to understand why fault is always being found.

Next week:

Two ways which we can go about managing change. How we as managers should be approaching this, as managers who are constantly faced with implementation and issues around implementation.

Recommended reading/viewing:

  • The Agile Manifesto
  • A Very Short Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book About Studying Organizations – Chris Grey
  • What the theory of dispruptive innovation gets wrong. – Jill Lepore (New Yorker)
  • The Victorian Internet – Tom Standage
  • All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace – Documentary
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