Change Tactics

With almost eight years of experience working in a traditionally hierarchical organization, I was intrigued by the ideas presented by Allen and Cherrey. In the opening paragraphs, the authors suggest that familiar change strategies used in a hierarchical organization have become less effective due to the "web-like� functioning of current organizations. However, as our world becomes more flattened via the connection of technology and network structures, is it possible that hierarchical organizations will become extinct? If the majority of organizations become network-based, and they are ultimately able to adopt the ideal organic change approach, what role would hierarchies play in the organizations of the future?

Due to the economy, several organizations—from retail businesses to non-profit organizations—have been forced to adopt a survivalist approach to external changes brought upon them. In order to not only survive, but to flourish and prosper, it seems necessary for organizations to make the progression to organic change tactics. If most organizations must adapt and embrace organic change, will hierarchical organizational structure become obsolete?

It could be said that the order of change approaches are arranged in a hierarchy all their own—similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. "Making change� is a basic approach to change that involves force; an organization may progress from forced change to "surviving change,� if external forces require it. The next level leads organizations to the most evolved (and perhaps most effective in the long-term) style for creating change, which is "organic change.� Is organic change the ideal change approach for all organizations, or does each unique organization require its own blend of change tactics that includes elements of making change, surviving change and organic change? Why?


is it possible that hierarchical organizations will become extinct?

This is a question I've asked myself as well. I've come to the conclusion, at least at this time, that the answer is no, not entirely. I also don't think the end "product" will be one and the same for every organization. I don't think the absence of any hierarchy entirely is necessary for accessibility and engagement across the board. I think the end result for many organizations will be varying hybrids - combinations of hierarchies and heterarchies subject to change - that work best to meet the needs and purposes of each individual mission/goal.

I agree that the end "product" will not be the same for all organizations. I am also curious about Allen and Cherrey's emphasis on triggering change for hierarchical and networked organizations. I would like to understand more about how to manage and sustain the change over time for both hierarchical and network types of change.

Also, I would like to understand more about "paradigm cognition" (p.48) and how to manage the challenges of shifting behavior according the most useful paradigm. This sounds simple but changing behaviors is complex and often not rapid.

Is organic change the ideal change approach for all organizations, or does each unique organization require its own blend of change tactics that includes elements of making change, surviving change and organic change? Why?

Although in principle I like the idea of "organic change" and see how in the right circumstances it would be beneficial to organizations, I cannot get behind supporting it as the ideal change approach for all organizations. Each organization has their own unique circumstances and require one or combinations of all three methods of change. In most organizations there is a bottom line that must be met, a product delivered, or a service rendered. If that bottom line is not met by nudging the network, organizations must be able to adapt quickly to crisis management or top down directives of "get it fixed'. The key here is possessing the knowledge and flexibility to change from one system to the next when needed.

I came away with a question on the author’s strategy to "reward experimentation and innovation, not perfection"(p62). Does this idea allow organizations to justify when they don't meet their goals? I am not a proponent of the zero defect mindset by any means, but in the end organizations must be expected to meet some kind of standard or their are doing a disservice to whomever their client may be.

I agree with Tim's perspective that there is no single approach to change that is beneficial in all situations. The organic change approach that is advocated in this article also feels too organic in that it seems to imply spontaneous, unplanned, and unorganized change.

The most significant part of this article is in its title, but was not addressed directly in the article. That is that in order to have impact, change must be systemic. It cannot thrive in silos, but instead must rely on people who can see and act across the silos, across the organization. This is where we see the network of relationships and influence.

“If the majority of organizations become network-based, and they are ultimately able to adopt the ideal organic change approach, what role would hierarchies play in the organizations of the future?�

I work in a company that is organized in a traditional hierarchy though I believe that much of the work is completed through networks. Over the last few years, these networks have been recognized by the hierarchical leaders, and in many cases they are even encouraged and celebrated as a new way to work more efficiently and fuel growth. However, as the company works to respond to the marketplace changes triggered by the growing economic crisis, the hierarchy is once again begin reinforced.

Organizational design experts are searching for ways to restructure the hierarchy into a more efficient model, and seem unwilling to acknowledge the effectiveness of networks to complete work. I believe this is an understandable response because it is difficult and time consuming to analyze how work is completed in a networked environment, and even more so to identify inefficiencies. When speed is of the essence, we return to what we know.

I offer this as anecdotal evidence that hierarchies are deeply ingrained in most companies, if not society as a whole. The structure itself seems resistant to change.

Is it possible that hierarchical organizations will become extinct?

As I read the comments addressing this question, I couldn't help but tie it back to some of the points made by Crosby & Bryson's "When No One Is in Charge." I, too, do not think that hiearchical structures will become entirely obsolete in the future, but may take on a different form to adapt to the complex and ever-changing network environments. Stacey's example shows organizational resistance to moving away from hierarchy due to the effort and coordination it takes to form a better 'networked' model.

Crosby & Bryson conclude by explaining 'The Need for Leadership' and address the question of hierarchy and what good management could look like in the future, and why it is in organization's interests to integrate some shared-power concepts into their structures.

"A shared-power arrangement enhances the power of the participants beyond the sum of their separate capabilities...Leaders who focus on building shared-power arrangements enhance the power of the groups involved by reducing the risk for the participants and by sharing responsibility." (p.29-30)

Even though there are inherent benefits to moving away from hierarchical structure, I think that the additional effort it takes to move beyond the organizational 'comfort zone' slows the process.

Additonally, this quote from Crosby & Bryson offers a perspective for leaders who believe in the reality of a shared-power world, and adds to our discussion on hiearchy: "Many individuals, groups, and organizations have some stake in the problem, but no one of them has enough power to resolve it alone...In such a world, leaders cannot rely on hierarchic bureucratic models to bring about needed change." (p. 33)

(Sorry to bring in another article, I just thought it was interesting and relevant to this discussion!)

Just a brief comment. Organic change does seem to be the best choice of the three for some types of work, but I feel not all companies can operate this way. Paper mills are a huge industry in NE Wisconsin. I can't imagine the managers taking on the organic change approach. I think they must create a pleasant working environment for their employees, good pay, and good leadership support, but to go as far as the organic method of change may be a stretch.

Extinction? No, I’m with Jamie on this one too. Hierarchical organizations, prism models of leadership, though not always the most desirable is often found to be quite efficient, and I think this is essential when organizing/managing masses. I do believe that this model has also changed much over the years, I think it is needed because it creates boundaries, and boundaries are good so as to let each person function properly. Boundaries also—not always—breeds trust and respect. For example if you had everyone who had a complaint going to the CFO/CEO every time, they would never get anything done, but if you have a “linchpin� who collects the input, sends it up to the guy at the top you have a process of communication that is more effective than random. Of course we have situations in which what I just shared has failed, thus the paradigm cognition comes in.

Pat, I agree that paragraph was written very matter-of-fact, and it is really more complex, but the complexity comes mostly from what you mentioned the “not rapid� nature of change. Sometimes it takes a long time for change to materialize, but the process might just be as important as the outcome. I think Kouzes and Posner’s five practices of leadership are elements that can help to navigate the process of paradigm cognition

The Uses of Hierarchy

Like every form of organizing, hierarchy has its advantages and disadvantages. Both because of its advantages and because it is widely entrenched, it will not go away. So the leadership challenge is how to use hierarchy to best advantage and how to overcome its weaknesses – especially in a world where those weaknesses are likely to be magnified.

Hierarchical structure can be powerfully effective when goals are clear and widely shared, when effective solutions exist and are accepted by the implementers, and when communication flows smoothly up and down the hierarchy. In class discussion last night, we heard cases where the hierarchy was not working well because some of these conditions weren’t met.

In some of the cases we talked about, leaders with formal and informal power needed to make existing hierarchy work better but also needed to supplement it with nonhierarchical, networking approaches. Cross-functional teams and flatter hierarchies are among the ways of accomplishing this.

A response to Tim's asking about implications for high standards in an organic approach to change: My sense is that leaders can help constituents in organic change efforts establish and meet high standards. But, in keeping with Lindy's comments about not overdoing strengths, astute adaptive leaders would not focus on perfecting new accomplishments, but rather on continuing to innovate in response to an ever-changing environment.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs