Abrahamson’s argument and suggestions
Change in today’s environment is everywhere. Gone are the days of lifelong job security and steady growth. Today we are faced with work force casualisation, high unemployment, rapidly changing technology, traditional skills being made redundant, downsizing and the ever-growing conflict between our work life and our family life (Organizational longevity and technological change by Terence C. Krell, Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol 13 Issue 1 Date 2000, pp. 8-14).
The whole world is becoming a tougher and more cutthroat environment for all organizations and the employees within them. However despite all this change, Abrahamson leads us to believe that change doesn’t always have to create anguish within the organization. That in itself is a noble notion, however it is also an unrealistic expectation that rarely occurs in today’s global competitive environment. To ascertain what Abrahamson is trying to put forward we must first understand what type of change he is talking about and why it is happening.
We must also identify and further clarify the steps that are a part of organisational change if we are to properly evaluate and critique Abrahamson’s approach; i. e. we must explain why we make such a big fuss of the change process and why it is beneficial to us. Only then can we judge the merits of Dynamic stability as a whole entity and individual parts within it. As we are all aware there are 4 main steps in the change process (Human Resource management, 4th edition, Raymond J. Stone, Published by Wiley in 2002. ). They are: – Determining the need for change
– Determining the obstacles to change – Implementing change – Evaluating change The need for change is usually noticed when there is a noticeable gap between the expected performance and the actual performance. Indicators such as total net profit, sales per employee, labour costs etc. can be used to identify performance deficiencies. This process is assumed to help the organization, especially in the long term. However for many employees, including middle managers, change is neither sought after nor welcomed. It is disruptive and intrusive. It upsets the balance (P. Strebel, “Why do employees resist change? “, Harvard business Review, Volume 74, Number 3, May – June 1996.).
What does this tell us then? It tells us that employees will be cynical towards any change, not just major organisational overhauls but also to the small changes such as “tinkering” and “kludging”. If we are to accept Mr. Strebel’s theory which states that change is disruptive and intrusive, then the approach called dynamic stability is impossible to realise on any organisational level since there will always be opposition to change.
However if we take such a “black and white” approach to this issue, we run the risk of losing perspective. According to Strebel change does have a negative effect. However the issue here is not whether employees like change but what the best way of implementation of change is. If we look at the issue in that light, dynamic stability does seem like a viable way of change. Eric Abrahamson explains dynamic stability as in its essence, a process of continual but relatively small change efforts that involve the reconfiguration of existing practices and business models rather than the creation of new ones.
This process is fine if the organization does not need to radically overhaul its operation. However such a process cannot be viable for an organization that is looking to completely change its direction or for an organization that is facing extermination. No amount of kludging and tinkering was enough to save Ansett Australia from collapse. Also organizations such as HIH, the failed Australian insurer, could never have been saved through dynamic stability’s kludging and tinkering since major changes were needed.
The most drastic of times call for the most drastic of measures and whilst the concept of dynamic stability is employee friendly it is not the most effective way of rapid change. Dynamic stability is also not the “weapon of choice” for companies that wish to change their reason for existence. Kludging seems to work when an organization identifies idle resources and uses them to broaden their range of goods or services. An example of old-companies that try to adapt to the new economy is given as an example of successful kludging (e. g. Barnes and Noble).
Yet there is no mention of how kludging could be used to radically change an organization’s goals and missions. It does not take into account Darwinism. For example lets look at Nintendo. We all know that Nintendo is a successful, global video games and video game console maker. However Nintendo did not start its life as a video game maker (www. nintendo. com – History of Nintendo, author unknown). Not many people realise that Nintendo was a playing card manufacturer. That brings us to the whole point of this argument.
How could Nintendo have used kludging to switch from a card maker to a video game maker in a relatively short period of time? The answer is simple; kludging could not have been used in this instance. What was needed for such a rapid change was a more drastic method of change. Although Abrahamson’s ideas of dynamic stability change fall short in these two situations most organizations undergo constant, less dramatic and radical change. Apart from the two situations mentioned above dynamic stability can be a very effective tool in an organization’s constant quest to become more efficient and productive.
Tinkering can be useful in situations such as the one confronted in the helicopter example since the initial technology and expertise was already there, and the tinkering just made the production overall more efficient. But even the magic of dynamic stability can quickly go bad and the results of tinkering may not help the organization. Abrahamson lists Hewlett Packard as a champion of tinkering and hence dynamic stability. However he does not tell us that even a “champion” of tinkering may “over-tinker” itself.