Categorising and characterising change

Large-scale organisation-wide changes such as changes to the organisation’s hierarchy are usually deliberate, planned, and led by senior management. They are usually one-off, occur infrequently, and can therefore be said to be ‘episodic’.

Small changes at a departmental or subsystem level happen more spontaneously, and can be described as ‘emergent’. They can happen as part of an episodic organisation-wide change, or be initiated by individual managers as part of their day-to-day work. Such changes are often cumulative, and can bring about wider change in the organisation over the long term. When this happens, the changes are described as ‘incremental’.

Changes happen for two main reasons:

  • To improve on a poor situation
  • To improve on successes

Changes can therefore be large or small-scale, planned or emergent, episodic or incremental, and happen in response to problems or successes.

The B628 course book contains a good table on page 342 that lists the types of change and their characteristics as distinguished by Ackerman (1997), and considers:

  • Developmental change – to resolve a problem or improve something – can be planned or emergent.
  • Transitional change – to move from one state to another – typically planned and episodic.
  • Transformational change – to change structure, processes, culture, etc. – typically planned and continuous.

Stacey’s uncertainty matrix is worth looking at, covered on page 343. Stacey (1996) argues that two factors (uncertainty and agreement) influence whether a change will be simple, complicated, complex, or chaotic.

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