Organizational Change
An Ethical, Means Based, Approach to Organizational Change

Document Overview
Document Overview

I have come to the belief that leadership is an art. As with any art, leadership can not be understood by logical argument or technical instruction. Certainly, there are technical abilities a person must master in order to be an effective leader, but mastery of public speaking or conducting a meeting does not make a person a leader. For example, a person who knows all about brushes, paints and canvas is still not an artist. The ability to apply technical knowledge creatively is what makes a person an artist.

This document avoids a discussion of the technical aspects of leadership not because they are not important but because they are well documented and readily available from other sources. This document is intended to focus on the art of being a leader who is an agent of change.

This document is divided into a series of sections. The first five sections concentrate on various aspect of a leader as an agent of change. The last two sections develop and outline of an organizational model reflecting the need for a real time analysis of an organization. The following is a brief summary of each section.

A Conventional View of Organizational Change

This section presents an overview of a conventional understanding of organizational change. It is probably quite obvious that this document is not based on previous literature. I do wish to assure the reader that I did keep an open mind to the validity of the material. I tried to concentrate on data related to the effectiveness of various change strategies. The lack of evidence supporting the validity of a conventional view of organizational change is appalling. The data that does exist suggests a negative correlation between these intervention strategies and successful organizational change. This negative correlation supports my anecdotal experience with trying to implement some of these change strategies.

Floyd B. Olson

One of the difficulties a leader faces is forming a working relationship between sometime fractious factions of an organization. When an organization is under stress, as the state of Minnesota was during the Depression, it becomes much more difficult for these factions to work out their differences. However, if a common purpose can be found there is a great potential for major changes in the organization. This section looks at how a leader must reconcile differences between the true self, the political self, various sub-groups and the organization as a whole.

It may be surprising to some that Jesse Ventura was not the first radical governor of the state of Minnesota. In the 1930's Minnesota elected Floyd B. Olson, the state's first and only socialist governor. Floyd B. Olson acted as an agent of change during the early years of the Great Depression. Olson practiced the art of leadership to form a link between sub-groups that normally would be in opposition to each other. He accomplished this against the backdrop of severe economic hardship.

When reading this section it is helpful to consider the entire state of Minnesota as an organization. Equally helpful is to consider the various factions (labor, farmers and business leaders) as sub-groups of the larger organization.

Organizational Change and the Interaction
Between Sub-Groups

The Floyd B. Olson section introduces the concept of sub-groups within an organization. It also illustrates the importance of developing a relationship or at least an understanding of each sub-group. This section looks at how a leader can gain insight into how a sub-group thinks and how it may react to a particular situation.

An emphasis is placed on identifying the core beliefs of each sub-group. It is from these beliefs that leaders are empowered by the members of the sub-group. Three sub-groups from the civil rights moments of the 1960's are illustrated: the abolitionists, the segregationists and the Democratic party. This section also introduces the concept of spheres of control. Spheres of control are definable levels of interaction between sub-groups to maintain or change the organization as a whole.

Social vs. Corporate Change

This section further refines the idea of the spheres of control exercised by sub-groups within an organization. It suggests that the social acceptability of actions by a group varies according to the situation. This information is useful to a leader in that it makes it easier to predict how each sub-group will react to a proposal to change the organization.

The Importance of Timing

Deciding when to act is often as important as deciding on a course of action. This is a real dilemma for a leader acting as an agent of change. When is the time right to cease the moment and act to bring about change. This section looks at such a moment in the summer of 1925 when St. Michael's Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church was founded.

This section also illustrates the importance of understanding the history of an organization. To understand what made the summer of 1925 the time to act to found St. Michael's one needs to have an understanding of Ukrainian history going back to 988 AD.

A more subtle aspect of this section concerns the ethics of the leaders. Were the actions of the leaders of St. Michael's ethical? Their actions did severely disrupt St. Constantine's. Was it the right thing to do?

One other thing to keep in mind about this section -- two of the founders of St. Michael's had sisters who remained at St. Constantine's. The action to found St. Michael's led to a severing of family ties. Being an agent of change often carries a personal cost.

Confucian Ethics

As the story of the founding of St. Michael's illustrates, even in a situation which involves religious belief, determining what is ethical can be difficult. Difficult that is, unless one takes a dogmatic approach to life. When I tried to interview a member of St. Constantine's about events in 1925 I got the response "They left the true faith. What more do you need to know".

I would argue that an agent of change must adopt an ethical view which goes beyond mere dogma. Change involves finding a balance between many competing forces: Tradition vs. Change or Individual vs. Community to name just two. To accomplish this an agent of change can not afford the luxury of a simplistic dogmatic view. What is needed is the capability of seeking the illusive right solution for each situation. I believe that Confucius speaks to potential leaders who wish to act as agents of change.

Achieving Change

This section focuses on how a sub-group formulates its core beliefs. It addresses how we determine what is true. It makes the case that we can normally only access the ultimate truth by using a methodology. Differing methodologies yield different aspects of the ultimate truth. A leap of faith in a particular methodology is required in order to believe that the result is true. As difficult as this may be for some to accept, this applies equally to science and religion.

Once this concept is understood, organizational change becomes focused on changing what a sub-group or groups believe is true. If the change effort is successful, the agent of change will alter one or more groups core beliefs. This is an awesome responsibility for a leader to undertake. Even in cases were the change is relatively minor, there is an impact to individuals making up a group that can not be dismissed lightly. It is why I believe that change should only be attempted when the means to achieve change are ethical.

Organizational Model

This section is a schematic of organizational elements relevant to a leader acting as an agent of change. In the center of the model is the mechanism that an organization or sub-group uses to define its core beliefs. Radiating from that core are the spheres of control -- levels of action a group uses to influence other groups or to defend the groups core beliefs. The spheres are ordered by their relative effectiveness -- Physical Intimidation being the lest effective.

The next level of the model illustrates the life cycle of an organization. This life cycle is based on Erikson's model for a person's life cycle. It is included in the model to call attention to dominate conflicts an organization must resolve as it grows, matures and finally reinvents itself. Often these conflicts create the subtext behind the need for change within the organization.

The outer most parts of the model define the various aspects of leadership within an organization. The aspect covered by this document is the role of the visionary.


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