Identifying and selecting a path of
Viewing organizational change from a phenomenological perspective as they do, McWhinney et al. (1997) offer managers/leaders an alternative way to conceptualize organizational change. The authors first specify a three-step process that requires managers/leaders to identify the presenting problem, scan the relevant issues in the environment, and then, develop a path toward resolution (p. 68). Because a presenting problem is the starting point of this phenomenological way to conceptualize organizational change, all organizational change plans begin in the sensory reality. The authors then offer managers/leaders several plans (what the authors call "paths" of organizational change) for implementing it.
The direction which the path of organizational change will take from the sensory reality (e.g., in the direction of the unitary reality, social reality, or mythic reality) is a decision that a manager/leader must make and is one for which the manager/leader bears personal and professional responsibility. If the direction selected moves toward the unitary reality, the manager/leader seeks to initiate one of the two grand paths of change, namely, the path of organizational revitalization. If the direction selected by the manager/leader moves toward the social reality, the manager/leader seeks to initiate the second grand path of change, namely, the path of organizational renaissance. And, when the manager/leader selects the direction of the mythic reality, McWhinney et al. offer a menu of five minor paths of change from which the manager/leader can choose.
The two grand paths of change...
There are two grand paths of organizational change.
The first grand path of organizational change is the "path of revitalization." Managers/leaders select this path is most frequently when they must respond to moderate organizational crises. The organizational theory literature describes the path of revitalization using the term "turnaround" to describe the goal of this change plan. The purpose for which managers/leaders select this path is to strengthen the existing organization by re-engineering its basic processes.
The direction of the grand path of revitalization begins in the sensory reality and moves counter-clockwise a) away from awareness of a problem by b) using data to show how deviation from policy and goals have led to organizational dysfunction. Then, the path of revitalization moves c) in the direction of mobilizing people around renewed goals and policies and towards d) getting workers to value the renewed goals. The path of revitalization terminates at the sensory reality as e) responsibilities are allocated and put into action so that they can once again be tested (McWhinney et al., 1997, p. 70).
The second grand path of organizational change is the "path of renaissance." Managers/leaders select this path when the organization confronts a situation that is either desperate (e.g., the core technology has grown obsolete) or presents an opportunity (e.g., an entrepreneurial venture). No matter which of these two situations confronts the organization, the path of renaissance endeavors to effect dramatic organizational rebirth in a new form.
Like its counterpart, the grand path of renaissance begins in the sensory reality. But, this path moves clockwise as the manager/leader a) puts new policies into action. Because of a loss of purpose and meaning in what the organization does, the path of renaissance then moves in the direction of b) eliciting what matters from organizational members and c) working together to create new images that reflect what the workers value. In response, d) the manager/leader develops policies that give expression to the new vision. The path of renaissance terminates at the sensory reality as e) the new policies are evaluated (McWhinney et al., 1997, p. 71).
No matter which of the two grand paths the manager/leader selects, the movement of the path's direction involves play on various boards and modes of change.
The six minor paths of change...
The minor paths of change are organizational "intervention strategies" which use a limited range of the change options available to managers/leaders. McWhinney et al. (1997) identify six minor paths of change that have been formulated by organizational theorists and consultants during past 50 years. The include: socio-technical design, business process re-engineering, interactive planning, mediation, and organizational development. Because these minor paths respond to more immediate needs and practical problems, each provides managers/leaders some simple and well-defined yet powerful tools to effect organizational change.
The challenge to managers/leaders...
Fundamental to the theory of organizational change McWhinney et al. espouse is the concept that people in organizations operate from diverse perspectives about what constitutes reality. Alert to this, the chief responsibility of managers/leaders is to select a path of change that engages people and their diverse perspectives in an overall effort to build a team that shares a common purpose and whose members can engage in organizational learning (DiBella & Nevis, 1998). In this way, managers/leaders use the tools associated with the grand and minor paths of change to "work the issue" toward resolution while followers "work the problems" toward solution.
DiBella, A. J., & Nevis, E. C. (1998). How organizations learn. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
McWhinney, W., Webber, J. B., Smith, D. M., & Novokowsky, B. J. (1997). Creating paths of change: Managing issues and resolving problems in organizations (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publication, Inc.