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MPA 8002
Organization Theory





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Project Notes:  The Organizational Change Plan


The second written exercise requires students to identify and utilize the issue underlying the organizational problems and dysfunction identified in the organizational biography and SWOT analysis/chart completed for Exercise #1.  In Exercise #2, students will formulate a theory-based organizational change plan for the organization that solves the underlying issue from which the organizational problems arise.


I announced "Operation Bear Hug." Each of the fifty members of the senior
management team was to visit a minimum of five or our biggest customers during
the next three months. The executives were to listen, to show the customer
that we cared, and to implement holding action as appropriate.
Each of their direct reports (a total of more than 200 executives) was to do the same.
For each Bear Hug visit, I asked that a one-to two-page report be sent to me....
I also made it clear that there was no reason to stop at five customers.
This was clearly an exam in which extra credit would be awarded.

Bear Hug became a first step in IBM's cultural change....It created quite a stir,
and when people realized that I really did read every one of the reports,
there as quick improvement in action and responsiveness.
(Gerstner, 2002, p. 50)

As students consider formulating the organizational change plan that is the content for Exercise #2, they should consider how each of Bolman and Deal's (2003) four frames or Morgan's (2006) eight images facilitate re-examining the organizational context and issue which students detailed in Exercise #1. That is, how do each of these frames/images enable students to look at and, now, to re-assess their organization's context and functioning?

Perhaps the first and best way to respond to this question is for students, while reading and reviewing each frame/image and as these are discussed and applied in class, to jot down one's thoughts and reflections along the book's margins or on separate pieces of paper (perhaps by using one page for each frame/image). These notes will provide students a rudimentary outline to begin organizing and expanding upon their thoughts. All of this will provide the content for the organizational analysis in Exercise #2. (Students might also use resources other than Bolman and Deal [2003] or Morgan [2006]. For example, students might be inclined to use some of theories of practice gleaned from other courses as well as the PowerPoint presentations and, after having studied the references cited therein, incorporate those materials into Exercise #2.) At this juncture, students should focus upon identifying what each frame/image argues the facts of the matter actually are, what ought to be done, and why this is so. The key idea here is to use theory (not one's personal interpretations, experiences, or beliefs) to identify what really is transpiring within the organization, that is, to relate theory to the organizational context, and to identify what that theory suggests the manager/leader should do and why.  In short: "The goal is objectivity: Get yourself out of your analysis."

Students can also respond to the question regarding how each of the frames/images facilitate better understanding what is really transpiring in their organizations by working with the worksheets completed for each frame (Bolman & Deal, 2003) or image (Morgan, 2006) when the theories associated with each frame or image were detailed, discussed, and applied in class. More than simply reviewing the worksheets is necessary, however.  Students should also make note of those alternatives offering the promise of improving organizational functioning (and why) as well as those alternatives that do not seem as if they will work (and why not).

Students should be particularly interested in understanding what each alternative offers and implies, both positively and negatively. When weighing these alternatives, students should consider how each alternative offers the promise of solving organizational problems by improving organizational functioning. In addition, students should note the limitations associated with each alternative as well as carefully consider those alternatives that do not seem to offer any promise of improving organizational functioning. Even though these alternatives may not improve organizational functioning, they do provide insight into how the individual alternatives that ultimately will be included in the organizational change plan may fail or, worse yet, unleash new, unintended problems and consequences.

Furthermore, this process will assist students to begin developing the "cognitive complexity" (Jacobs, n.d.) it will take to identify the issue driving many of the organizational problems and dysfunction described in Exercise #1 and which is the central focus of the organizational change plan. Examining the theory-based alternatives and adaptations as if they are a series of symptoms pointing to the disease afflicting organizational functioning, students will isolate the organizational issue that, if properly solved, will engage the members of their organizations in purposive behaviors that will assist the organization's members to learn how to solve the problems plaguing their organizations for themselves. Then, as students select alternatives for inclusion in the organizational change plan, they will consider what tools could be used to navigate an effective pathway of organizational change (McWhinney, 1992; McWhinney, Webber, Smith, & Novokowsky, 1997). The purpose for all of this intellectual activity is to minimize the potential for unwittingly and unthinkingly unleashing new, unintended problems and consequences.

As students complete Exercise #2, they should not be surprised feeling as if "it's a hopeless mess." Students should allow the problems to "take on a life of their own," that is, allow the problems to become increasingly more complex and interrelated. Then, students should sift through all of their ideas and understandings, struggling to identify relationships and conflicts between and among the problems.  Particularly useful in this regard is the SWOT analysis and chart completed as part of Exercise #1 because the SWOT analysis and chart provides solid clues concerning the issue that is at the heart of many, if not most organizational problems..

To envision how Exercise #2 functions, students might consider each of the theory-based alternatives and adaptations studied in class as "pieces" in a larger and far more complex organizational "puzzle." That is, each theory-based alternative and adaptation is a piece of a much larger puzzle, a more complex vision of the organization and its functioning. The intellectual trick for each student, of course, is to figure out how the individual pieces interlock in a way that the student develops a much more complex and detailed vision of the organization, its good functioning, and a pathway to involve all members of the organization in effecting that end.


A coherent and realistic organizational change plan includes five elements. These are:

  • A very brief overview of the organization, its context, the recurrent problems emerging in the organization, and the issue that needs to be solved by the leader if one's followers are to resolve the recurring problems. Students completed the first draft of this overview in Exercise #1; now, it is to be revised and shortened so that it functions to introduce the issue and change plan effectively.
  • The incremental steps of the change plan. Students will use at least three theories from three different frames/images to identify and describe the incremental steps. There are many ways students might present these incremental steps (e.g., bulleted/bolded; matrix; narrative with appendix). That having been said, no matter how a student presents the incremental steps, each step should include a brief discussion identifying a timeline for implementation, the responsible agent, the action (e.g., the tool[s] used), a mode for assessment and evaluation, and how the action will be reported. Utilizing "SMART" goals as these will be presented and described in class is especially important.
  • A realistic appraisal of probable success. In this element of the change plan, students should be realistic. They should identify not only the probability of success but also the area(s) which students believe may negatively impact success. Students should provide options and fallback positions that need to be considered.
  • A summation emphasizing the purpose to be achieved by adopting this plan and the major reason(s) why it should be accepted.

These five elements do not constitute a unitary template. Instead, they provide the basic elements normally included in a professionally-developed organizational change plan. For a host of factors, not the least of which is that organizations differ, it is entirely appropriate—if a student believes necessary—to adapt these elements to one's organizational context when completing Exercise #2. What is absolutely crucial is that students identify the issue that is at the heart of the problems emerging in the organization as these were detailed in Exercise #1.

A successful organizational change plan will consist of no more than eight pages (excluding cover, abstract, references, and appendices). Why is the document so short? Because this is what CEO's expect of their direct reports. You don't believe it? One of the first steps Lou Gerstner (2002) took when he was named CEO and Chairman of IBM was to give his direct reports a homework assignment. Within 30 days, each was to submit a 10-page report covering customer needs, product line, competitive analysis, technical outlook, economics, both long- and short- term key issues, and the next year's business outlook (p. 25). From those reports, Gerstner crafted his highly successful and well-regarded leadership agenda for changing IBM.

The organizational change plan must comply with the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Students should remember to keep Exercise #2 concise and precise. Avoid the stylistic errors pointed out in Exercises #1. Lastly: remember the goal of Exercise #2 is to apply theory to practice by identifying a workable change proposal that deals with the issue underlying organizational problems.

Exercise #2 accounts for 50% of the course project grade.


...Execution is really the critical part of a successful strategy.  Getting it done,
getting it done right, getting it done better than the next person is far more
important than dreaming up new visions of the future.... I've seen well-written,
sometimes brilliant strategy documents promulgated to the organization.
I've seen great video, intranet, and face-to-face messages describing with excitement
and passion a new and daring direction for an enterprise. But, also, too often
the executive does not understand that people do what you inspect, not
what you expect. Execution is all about translating strategies into action
programs and measuring their results. It's detailed, it's complicated, and
it requires a deep understanding of where the institution is today and
how far away it is from where it needs to go. Proper execution involves
building measurable targets and holding people accountable for them.
But, most of all, it usually requires that the organization do something different,
value something more than it has in the past, acquire skills it doesn't have,
and move more quickly and effectively in day-to-day relationships....
All of this spells change, and companies don't like to change because
individuals don't like to change.

(Gerstner, 2002, pp. 230-231)

The critical examination of one's organization from several frames/images and the theoretical perspectives implicit in each frame/image makes it possible not only for students to envision their organizational context from multiple perspectives and to think about solving the issues that lurk beneath the surface manifestations of organizational problems. More importantly, this critical examination also makes it possible for students to formulate a rational and potentially effective change proposal that is the substance of Exercise #2 and of successful leadership practice as well. Crucial in this regard is the development of "cognitive complexity" (Jacobs, n.d.).

Exercise #2 introduces students to the real "stuff" of management and leadership. In this sense, there is no "one right way" to engage in organizational change. Instead, there are many possible pathways to engage in organizational change (McWhinney, 1992; McWhinney, Webber, Smith, & Novokowsky, 1997). Successful management and leadership requires creativity in working with the unique context, tools, and variables presenting themselves as well as possessing the courage implement the organizational plan in actual practice.


American Psychological Association.  (2009).  Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.).  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E.  (2003).  Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice, and leadership (3rd ed.).  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Gerstner, L.  (2002).  Who says elephants can't dance?  New York: HarperCollins.

Jacobs, R. (n.d.).  Analyzing organizations through cognitive complexity.  Accessed on-line, February 28, 2006:

McWhinney, W. (1992). Paths of change: Strategic choices for organizations and society. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

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.

Morgan, G. (2006).  Images or organization (3rd ed.).  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.