Strategic Management and Organisational Dynamics

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Ralph D. Stacey and Chris Mowles (2016)

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PREFACE

 

The preface to the last edition of this book was written by Ralph two years after the recession took place, and he pointed to the credit crunch as an example of one of the central messages of this book – that there are severe limits for even the most senior and the most powerful players in organisations, or even in societies, to choose the future as they would like it to be. The financial recession was both unforeseen and unwanted. Since that time the financial sector has come under severe scrutiny as one scandal after another has been uncovered, and different banks have been variously accused of manipulating the inter-bank lending rate (LIBOR), misselling insurance policies to their customers, turning a blind eye to the laundering of money by criminal gangs, and setting up offshore banking facilities to allow very wealthy people to avoid paying tax. From these scandals we might infer that not only are senior executives unable to predict the future, they are also unaware of what is going on day to day in the institutions for which they are responsible. And to a degree, how could they be, both because they are often responsible for huge institutions, and also because from an orthodox understanding of leadership and management, the abstract and ‘big picture’ view of the organisation is the most important. The public backlash against the banks, a substantial number of which are at least partly publicly owned in the UK, has led senior executives to declare ‘culture change’ programmes. In many ways this demonstrates exactly the same kind of thinking as before where the abstract and the whole are privileged, and it is assumed that senior executives can now put right what their predecessors were not aware of in the first place. What culture change programmes amount to is that senior executives choose a handful of highly idealised values or virtues, and then train all their staff in the kinds of behaviour that they think will fulfil them. This is accompanied by an apparatus for monitoring and evaluation to see that everyone is conforming, at least as far as is detectable. A similar phenomenon is unfolding in the public sector in the UK, particularly in the NHS after a series of scandals where hospitals seemed to be hitting their targets, and yet missing the point. The current coalition government has now changed the law to punish NHS employees for failing to be ‘transparent’ about lapses in care. This has led to each hospital in the UK developing weighty policy documents, developing training programmes for staff to instruct them on the values they should have, and then designing monitoring and evaluation schemes to police the changes. If nothing else, the culture change programmes in banks and the public sector have generated an enormous amount of paperwork, a heavy apparatus of scrutiny and control and a good degree of anxiety and fear of blame amongst staff and managers.

Of course, managers in the financial and public sectors should be doing some- thing to ensure that standards are high, but exactly what they spend their time doing, and how much of it is directed at paying attention to what is going on around them is something we call into question in this book. To what extent is the huge expansion of procedures helpful to what they are trying to achieve? Is a nurse more or less likely to be caring because she is frightened of being prosecuted?This is a textbook of ways of thinking about organisations and their management, particularly strategic management. It calls into question what leaders and managers spend their time doing, often following the prescriptions to be found in what we term the ‘dominant discourse’ on management. We claim in this book that the orthodox discourse takes for granted the assumption that change to the ‘whole’ organisation is possible, in the way we have highlighted in the paragraphs above on culture change. These prescriptions trade mostly in abstractions and perpetuate the idea that senior executives can control at a distance, increasingly, it seems, in highly authoritarian ways. As an alternative, this textbook questions some of these taken-for-granted assumptions as a prompt to think differently about what we are doing when we try to co-operate with others to get things done. The intention is not to offer new prescriptions for managing but to provoke deeper insight into the traditions of Western thought which are reflected in dominant ways of understanding leadership and management. What view of human psychology is implicit in prescribing measures that managers should take to select the direction of an organisation’s movement into the future? In a world in which the dominant prescriptions for strategic management are quite clearly not delivering what they are supposed to, we believe it is far more useful to reflect on how we are thinking, so that we may understand more about what we are doing rather than simply continuing to mindlessly apply the conventional wisdom.
This book, then, seeks to challenge thinking rather than simply to describe the current state of thinking about strategy and organisational dynamics. The challenge to current ways of thinking is presented in the contrasts that this book draws between systemic and responsive processes ways of thinking about strategy and organisational 
dynamics. While the systemic perspective is concerned with improvement and movement to a future destination, responsive process thinking is concerned with complex responsive processes of human-relating in which strategies emerge in the living present. From this perspective, strategy is defined as the emergence of organisational and individual identities, so that the concern is with how organisations come to be what they are and how those identities will continue to evolve. From a responsive processes perspective, the questions of performance and improvement have to do with participation in processes of communicative interaction, power relating and the creation of knowledge and meaning. The challenge to ways of thinking presented in this book also comes in the form of insights from the complexity sciences. The book will explore the differences for organisational thinking between a way of interpreting these insights in systemic terms and a way of interpreting them in responsive process terms. The purpose of this book is to assist people to make sense of their own experience of life in organisations, to explore their own thinking, because how they think powerfully affects what they pay attention to, and so what they do. If we never challenge dominant modes of thinking, we end up trapped in modes of acting that may no longer be serving us all that well. We accept that it may well be that readers turning to this book in the expectation of finding prescriptions for management will be disappointed.

This central emphasis on ways of thinking has consequences for how this book is structured and presented. The book questions the assumptions of the accepted discipline of strategic management and does so by drawing on a variety of different disciplines in social science, including sociology, psychology and philosophy. The assumption is that the complexity of what staff in organisations are doing together requires a variety of resources to understand it, and that subtly shaped case studies which demonstrate particularly effective ways of managing may be of limited value. Those examples which we do bring into the book are taken from our own experience of teaching or consultancy, or have struck us as pertinent to the broader themes we set out: that there are general similarities in human experience, but that it never repeats itself exactly the same. The invitation to the reader, then, is to enquire into their own experience of leading and managing and to seek the similarities and differences that we hope to provoke in writing this book.
The general structure of this seventh edition is the same as the sixth and we have attempted to update our references, find new examples and bring in more recent traditions of management scholarship which have become prominent since the last edition. There has also been an attempt to locate the discourse on leadership and management within broader political and economic changes during the last 30 years or so. Part 1 deals with the dominant discourse on strategic management as in the sixth edition, and updates the chapter which attempts to review where the dominant discourse has got to and what evidence there is for its prescriptions. Part 1 concludes with new material on process and practice schools which share in common some of the critiques that a responsive process perspective also has on the dominant discourse. The final chapter of Part 1 is thus a recognition that the dominant discourse is being challenged in a number of ways which this book seeks to continue. Part 2 is once again concerned with the complexity sciences and how writers on organisations use them. We have incorporated some more recent work on organisational complexity but reach the same conclusion: namely, that most of these writers simply re-present the dominant discourse. Part 3 continues to review the theory of complex responsive processes as a way of thinking about strategising. The further reading at the end of the chapters refers to work that could have been used as reflective narratives, but as with the last edition, we have not included the reflective narratives found in the fifth edition.

This edition is a collaboration between Ralph and Chris which has served as a further induction for the latter in the breadth and depth of complex responsive processes of relating. The core of the book remains Ralph’s work, which is an elaboration over 20 years of his long and fruitful discussions with colleagues, in particular Doug Griffin and Patricia Shaw. Chris hopes to have added some insights, to have clarified in places and to have brought in other examples as a way of expanding and updating the ideas. Users of previous editions have made helpful comments and we are grateful to our colleagues and other participants in the MA/Doctor of Management programme on organisational change at the University of Hertfordshire for the contribution they continue to make to how we find ourselves thinking.

Ralph Stacey
Chris Mowles
University of Hertfordshire
March 2015

 

CONTENTS

List of boxes ..................................................................................................xiii
List of tables.................................................................................................. xiv
Preface xv
1 Strategic management in perspective: a step in the professionalisation
of management.................................................................................................. 2
2 Thinking about strategy and organisational change: the implicit
assumptions distinguishing one theory from another .......................................28

Part 1 Systemic ways of thinking about strategy and organisational
dynamics
3 The origins of systems thinking in the Age of Reason.................................... 48
4 Thinking in terms of strategic choice: cybernetic systems, cognitivist
and humanistic psychology................................................................................. 66
5 Thinking in terms of organisational learning and knowledge creation:
systems dynamics, cognitivist, humanistic and constructivist psychology....... 100
6 Thinking in terms of organisational psychodynamics: open systems
and psychoanalytic perspectives .......................................................................128
7 Thinking about strategy process from a systemic perspective: using a
process to control a process.............................................................................. 150
8 A review of systemic ways of thinking about strategy and organisational
dynamics: key challenges for alternative ways of thinking ..............................176
9 Extending and challenging the dominant discourse on organisations:
thinking about participation and practice ..........................................................202

Part 2 The challenge of complexity to ways of thinking
10 The complexity sciences: the sciences of uncertainty.................................. 238
11 Systemic applications of complexity sciences to organisations: restating
the dominant discourse...................................................................................... 266

Part 3 Complex responsive processes as a way of thinking about
strategy and organisational dynamics
12 Responsive processes thinking: the interplay of intentions ...........................302
13 The emergence of organisational strategy in local communicative
interaction: complex responsive processes of conversation............................... 338
14 The link between the local communicative interaction of strategising
and the population-wide patterns of strategy...................................................... 362
15 The emergence of organisational strategy in local communicative
interaction: complex responsive processes of ideology and power relating ......388
16 Different modes of articulating patterns of interaction emerging across
organisations: strategy narratives and strategy models ......................................416
17 Complex responsive processes of strategising: acting locally on the
basis of global goals, visions, expectations and intentions for the
‘whole’ organisation over the ‘long-term future’ ...............................................456
18 Complex responsive processes: implications for thinking about
organisational dynamics and strategy................................................................. 486
References ...........................................................................................................519
Index................................................................................................................... 545

 

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