“Change” is a concept. The website, Etymoline, traces back to the 13th century the earliest known use of change. As a verb, it pertains to the difference that an action can bring about.
But this overused term had taken centuries to enrich itself. In the 15th and 16th centuries, change started to acquire the following meanings: switching, alteration, substitution, exchange, evolution, and so on. In this period as well, the term “development” was coined as to mean the unfolding of events, and automatically became a subset of change.
Across time, change and development have trodden forked paths. Development has attained macro to global levels of recognition as a universal goal while change is used in local, organizational or individual contexts. Despite this situation, the use of varied meanings of change has persisted in academe and organizations. This has made change difficult to recognize, measure or capture, and assess altogether. But as management is always pressured to deliver the objectives of organizations, the meaning of change has been restricted to delivery of outputs.
The concept of change was revisited by Ralph Stacey, Douglass Griffin, and Patricia Shaw in 2000. In the book “Complexity and Management: Fad or Radical Systems Thinking,” they discussed that change, although process-oriented, has underlying structural designs or teleology. In one view, change can introduce a specific or definite pattern of difference as shown by the following structural designs:
Adaptive: Change adjusts an organization to environment. It makes organization stable under the situation of uncertainty.
Formative: Change has linear stages. Its initial stages represent the basic situations of development of organizations. Strict preconditions have to be met before an organization moves up the stages and attains the terminal stage or highest level of desired change.
Natural law: Change has constant and cyclical unfolding. Any abnormality, anomaly or irregularity from this design of change is bound for immediate dampening or rectification.
Rational: Change represents universal values and determined by the choice taken by the organization. It assumes that organizational actors are always capable of advancing informed choice.
On the other hand, one structural design veers away from the usual thinking of neatness, order or stability as the case of transformative change. The only known given in the equation of transformation is the thrust of an organization. The latter is open to an end with unknown structure but known direction. Process leads the way to innovation, fueled by conflicts, diversity of opinions, uncertainty, and sustained flux.
Good management insights can be obtained from this teleology of change. One can say the ends of change differ across organizations. This implies the need to developing methods of evaluation of organizational performance properly adjusted to the structure of change.
Otherwise, the dynamics of change may not visibly register when the wrong yardstick is used. Thus, the contribution of units and individuals to organizational changes risk the chance of being undervalued or overvalued.
Also, not all forms of change are transformative. This makes the entire change process an ethical commitment. The management is duty bound to enjoin constituencies in charting the change needed by an organization.
Ultimately, the management view of change determines organizational dynamism. Change should build options and expand organizational resources. It should open up organizations not only to possibilities of learning, but also to being critical of their own growth.
Liberty I. Nolasco, DPA Candidate, is Assistant Professor at the Management and Organization Department of the De La Salle University Manila Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business. Her research interests are in complex systems, management theories and history, development and economics, and governance and public policy.