Commenced in January 2007
Frequency: Monthly
Edition: International
Paper Count: 72348
Weathering the Storm: Presenting a Framework for Navigating Unplanned Change in Organisations

Authors: Natasha Winkler-Titus, Nicole Hayes, Dieter Veldsman

Abstract:

We live in Confucius’ interesting times, and Coorperider (2020) said that the 2020’s may be the decade of last chances. Every sector and industry are experiencing seismic change, and the experience is that of continuous motion and unprecedented disruption. This paper presents empirical research exploring how two organisations managed through disruptive unplanned change events, and we propose a pragmatic framework guiding the navigation of unplanned change. With the nature and pace of change shifting, this has an equal knock-on impact on organisational change processes and how these are navigated. Schwarz and Bouckenooghe (2021) have challenged scholars to shine a renewed spotlight on the vast change literature. Instead of confirming old models in new contexts, researchers must start conceptualising “new ways of modelling change” (p.6). While planned change infers a managerial response based on anticipated events which can be accommodated in the management systems, unplanned change stems from unanticipated events or crisis and requires a different management response. Nevertheless, most approaches to change continue to adopt the same models and continue to make the same mistakes. The application of complex adaptive systems theory to human social systems have enriched traditional management theories, but they still require more structured methodologies and methods to support more generic organisational analyses. Complex adaptive systems theory has been applied predominantly in planned instances of change management to analyse collective behaviour emergenceand to study narratives of change. The purpose of this paper is to introduce a novel approach to navigating through forced unplanned change utilising a framework derived from the theory of complex adaptive systems. An interpretivist paradigm was followed in a case study following grounded theory methodology of analysis, and data was collected at two time points at two organisations experiencing disruptive, unplanned change events. Viewing unplanned change through the lens of complex adaptive systems theory provides the opportunity to understand unplanned change as a navigational and iterative occurrence that draws from the dialogic OD perspective. The study culminates in a framework providing a conseptualisation of how unplanned change can be navigated through the iterative and non-linear domains of survival, sensemaking, and sustainability through iterative phases of containing, mobilising, stabalising and shaping the context of these domains. This occurs in the context of the macro-environment and the historical narrative that informs the institutional memory of the system. This aligns with the understanding of complex adaptive systems where the pattern of interaction is understood to be complex, thus requires sensemaking, emergent, and evolving, which is contained through survival and informed by agents in the systems and their connections, which relates to sustainability.

Keywords: organisational change, complex adaptive systems theory, unplanned change navigation, sensemaking

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