Over a number of posts, I want to reflect on, discuss and suggest possible issues we need to think about when understanding change in the hope of beginning to sketch out a philosophy for organisational change. At the moment, I’m calling the ideas I’m developing a philosophy because it is about a way of thinking, and an admission that in most organisational contexts change processes are inherently dealing with aporias (Jones and Bos, 2015: 4), meaning ‘impasse, puzzlement, a situation where one finds no way out.’. It is a matter of developing a system of ideas which can act as the basis for practical work, rather than creating a single framework which can be followed like a recipe. If change in organisations regularly involves aporias, we need understanding and flexibility as the basis for contextual action, not abstract, universal frameworks to be blindly followed.
The posts which follow consider some of the experiences that I and others have experienced as a consequence of change, before thinking about the issues which arise from them. Finally, further posts will go on to outline some of the elements I believe can be brought together as the basis for a philosophy for organisational change.
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The experiences which underpin some of these initial reflections are located in an educational context, both schools and HE. The degree to which they are representative of either this sector or other sectors is not known, but certainly they are characteristics I have come across all too often. In the rest of this post, I’ll pick up on a theme I have spoken about before (see the narrated PowerPoint video), the over-reliance on numeric data. All too frequently
Another problem with putting numeric data at the heart of an organisation is that they generally characterise outcomes rather than processes. Therefore, organisations which come to rely heavily on numeric data also tend to rely on a view of the world very much focused on outcomes. Again, I am not suggesting that outcomes are not important, but unless the processes involved in leading to those outcomes are constantly investigated, discussed and understood, when outcomes are less than satisfactory, the activities and effort required to improve them becomes problematic.
The focus on outcomes can in turn lead to an ‘individualistic’ culture where data is used to prove an individual’s excellence, becomes exemplification in CVs, and at the same time is used to identify and root out individuals who are failing. All too often, the collaborative and complex activities responsible for various outcomes are reduced to individual success or failure. An example of this are the systems operating in many universities and the wider sector where fellowships and excellence awards are offered. Here, the narratives cannot be based on what ‘we’ have achieved, or how ‘our’ work has made a difference. Outcomes need to be appropriated by individuals to create heroic stories of ‘transformative’ change.
Jones, C. & Bos R.T. (2007). Philosophy and Organization. Abingdon: Routledge. <link>