Orthodox management literature contains many of the same assumptions about organisational culture: that changes in culture can be linked to organisational success and improvement; that culture is a mixture of the tangible (rules, behaviour, rewards) and the intangible (symbols); that culture can exist in an organisation and in sub-units within an organisation; that it can be ‘diagnosed’ and changed, perhaps with an ‘n’ step programme moving from existing to preferred cultures; that it is often precipitated by a leader having an inspiring vision.
For a discussion of alternatives from a complexity perspective come to the Complexity and Management Conference.
The key note speaker is Professor Ralph Stacey, one of the world’s leading scholars on complexity and management.
There will be lots of opportunity for lively discussion throughout the weekend.
Conference fees include all board and accommodation from 7pm Friday 6th to lunchtime Sunday 8th June. Book here.
During the last 10-15 years there have been repeated appeals to the complexity sciences to inform evaluative practice in books and journals about evaluation. This partly reflects the increased ambition of many social development and health programmes which are configured with multiple objectives and outcomes and the perceived inadequacy of linear approaches to evaluating them. It could also be understood as a further evolution of the methods vs theories debate which has led to theory-based approaches becoming much more widely taken up in the evaluative practice. It is now very hard to avoid using a ‘theory of change’ both in programme development and evaluation. What kind of theory informs a theory of change, however?
Although the discussion over paradigms has clearly not gone away, the turn to the complexity sciences as a resource domain for evaluative insight could be seen as another development in producing richer theories better to understand, and make judgements about, complex reality. However, some evaluators are understandably nervous about the challenge of what they perceive as being the more radical implications of assuming that non-linear interactions in social life may be the norm, rather than the exception. In a variety of ways they try to subsume them under traditional evaluative orthodoxies, which is just as one might expect any thought collective to respond. Continue reading →
Evaluation is a domain of activity which the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu referred to as a field of specialised production. In other words, it is a highly organised game, extended over time, with its own developing vocabulary, in which there are a wide variety of players who have a heavy investment in continuing to play. Because the game is complex, and played seriously, and those who want to play it must accumulate symbolic and linguistic capital, it is very hard to keep up. To influence the game there is a requirement to be recognised as a legitimate player, as one worth engaging with, and this requires speaking with the concepts and vocabulary that are valued in the game. To call the game into question, then requires the paradoxical requirement of using the vocabulary of the game to criticise the game, and this is no easy thing.
However, a number of evaluation practitioners have begun to question the linearity of development interventions, and therefore the evaluation methods which are commonly used to make judgements about their quality. Since most social development interventions are construed using propositional logic of an if-then kind, there can be no surprise that most evaluation methods follow a similar path. As a recent call for papers for an international conference articulated this, evaluation is understood as being about developing scientifically valid methods to demonstrate that a particular intervention has led causally to a particular outcome. In calling into question the reductive linear logic of the framing of both social development and evaluation, a number of scholars have found themselves turning to the complexity sciences as a resource domain of a different kind of thinking but have done so with a varied radicalism in calling the evaluation game into question. Continue reading →
In previous posts we have considered the appeal by a variety of scholars to be more evidence-based in management. The idea is that management practice should be grounded in a stable body of generalisable knowledge, which should then ensure that managers in organisations can take up ‘best practice’ and aspire to better outcomes for the staff and organisations they manage.
This is a noble aspiration, particularly if it works against the dominance of fads and fashion in management, where managers may adopt a particular practice mainly because managers in other organisations in their particular field are doing so. But what is the evidence for thinking that there is such a stable body of knowledge? Continue reading →
I began to argue in the last but one post that the complexity sciences are adduced by a wide variety of scholars and commentators who are writing or talking about organisational change, and that this phenomenon may be indicative of the pressure that more linear ways of understanding change are under. Many people realise instinctively, and from their own experience, that the taken for granted ways of thinking about change, input-process-output, are inadequate for describing what actually takes place when they are caught up in organisational life. However, I also went on to argue that there is still a very strong tendency to try and instrumentalise the complexity sciences. If you like, these commentators are having their cake and eating it at the same time: on the one hand they say that organisations are very complex places, on the other hand they argue that complexity can still somehow be harnessed by some managerial approach or other. This manifests itself in a variety of different forms, from those people who claim that they can help your organisation model the complexity you are experiencing, perhaps with a computer model or a systems diagram, through to those who claim they have a unique method, which you can buy off them or be trained in, which will help you manage the complexity in your organisation. In a blog I came across the other day the author was arguing that managers can ‘manage the evolutionary possibilities of the present’ in their organisations.
Previously I have argued that during the last two decades or so strong ideological claims have been made for the unique abilities of managers both to identify, shape and manage change. A cursory glance at the recruitment pages of the daily newspapers will produce a number of different advertisements where managers are sought who can ‘drive change’ in an organisation. Clearly there is no job too big for the claims of management as a discipline: it can manage change, complexity and evolution. Continue reading →