Governments are seeking the holy grail of “achieving high performing public services, delivered at the lowest price, while maximizing participation.” The same is true in business for which the equivalent mantra is “achieving strong growth whilst delivering strong results and maximising stakeholder satisfaction”. New research suggests that there are two levels of change within an organization and that these two levels continuously interact. One is more mechanistic and operates at a surface level while the other is more organic and takes place at a deeper level. However, unless both sets of processes, the mechanical and the organic are considered during implementation, the management of change is likely to fail.
Whilst complexity thinking is a term with which most are familiar, receptivity may need explanation. Receptivity for change refers to an organization’s readiness to respond to the change challenges coming from both outside and inside the organisation, to an organisation’s ability to synchronize appropriate internal organisational practices to meet threats and opportunities.
Beginning at the organizational mechanistic level of change, four receptivity factors are recognised as interconnected:
- Ideological Vision: this factor critically analyses the strategic decisions being made in order to establish and evaluate if they are driven by a higher-order purpose. High change organizations establish the strategic context and case for change in their vision. This drives strategic change, and is shared by all as the reference point for evaluating the relevance and importance of any new change.
- Leading Change: this factor analyses the actions of key decision-makers to see the extent to which clear leaders for change are appointed to enable innovation to be identified and cascaded across the organization. Through this factor new practices are embedded. In high change organizations, leaders of transformational change can be spotted and through them good practice started in one part of the organization is shared across the whole.
- Institutional Politics: this factor explores how decision-making processes originate and continue through formal processes and informal networks. High performing organizations make formal decision-making processes explicit but also recognise informal networks and influencers that enable or disable change. Social connections and networks within high change organisations are multi-channelled and operate independently of the hierarchy.
- Implementation Capacity: this factor explores where decision-making takes place in greater detail by going beyond structural relationships to explore which staff have the necessary skills and knowledge to implement the desired change. This factor is about the wider organization’s flexibility and awareness to support and accept change as it is being implemented.
A second level of change occurs when several novel management processes are introduced at the same time:
- Possibility Space: this fifth receptivity factor allows for and encourages creativity in organizational processes, so that existing behaviours can be adapted and new behaviours can emerge – people are allowed to trial new things. Possibility space exists where parts of the organization feel comfortable experimenting, when the organization creates space for this experimentation to take place and can then exploit it. Mistakes are accepted as long as learning takes place so those mistakes don’t happen again.
Any change should be understood as occurring in self-organizing systems. Success in this process impinges upon the adaptive abilities of the organisation and individuals within them. Adaptive capability is therefore extremely important for all stakeholders. Complexity and receptivity offer a novel view on the process of organizational change. While stakeholders work to reduce the complexity of implementation, receptivity offers an explanation of change in the language of traditional management processes.