Rewiev: “Organizational Change And Development” by Weick & Quinn

(Annual Review Psychology, 1999)


What are the differences between episodic and continuous change?
What is the point of view that an observer should adopt in order to comprehend the differences and to notice the implications on events caused by an episodic change or by a continuous one?
These are the core questions that Weick and Quinn want to answer in this academic article. To do so, they rely on theories of other researchers, through which their thesis is developed and supported.
Aimed at capturing the attention of researchers and theorists belonging to this field of studies, the article is divided into five parts. These are the introduction, the description of change as a genre of organizational analysis, the episodic change, the analysis of the continuous change and the conclusion. Every topic is discussed with thesis supporting the authors’ core idea.
According to them, ongoing adjustments are the essence of organizational change and their analysis should be done on a micro level in order to notice and identify each of them.

In this part, different concepts and definition of change are highlighted . They differ because of the different level of analysis used to describe them.
Remarkable is , for example, the typology crafted by Van de Ven & Poole(1995) . They divide basic process theories of change into four parts, each one characterized by a different event sequence and a different generative mechanism. These are Life Cycle, Teleological, Dialectical and Evolutionary .They are classified along two dimensions: the unit of change and the mode of change. According to the authors, this division is crucial to understand the inter-relation among motors and necessity for balance. In this view, the change occurs due to a mismatch between the prevailing conditions and one of the motors activated.

This type of infrequent and, to some extent, dramatic change occurs during periods of divergence, when the equilibrium conditions are altered by external or internal events. Fundamental processes are inertia, triggering of change and replacement.
Inertia, according to Miller’s research (1993, 1994), is “ the unintended consequence of successful performance”. This would lead successful organizations not to adjust with the changes occurring into the external and internal environment. In this sense, inertia creates the tension that allows episodic change to happen.
Triggers of change are linked with five sources associated with internal and external changes.
Through replacement, then, “one entity is sequentially substituted by a second that takes its part”. (Ford & Backoff 1988)
In conclusion, change is said to be not a linear movement. In this sense, interesting is then Lewin’s change model interpretation which resembles “Newtonian Physics, where movement results from the application of a set of forces on an object”.(Marshak)

Under this definition are grouped changes that are said to be cumulative and evolving. In this sense, small continuous adjustments cumulate and create substantial change.
The point of view required to observe these ongoing adjustments is a micro perspective, followed by the assumption that everything has a non- stop change. According to the authors, the best way of analysis is to describe the ideal organization, which suggest that continuous change is made up by repeated acts of improvisation, translation and learning. Indeed, Orlikowski describes this evolution as a “process where there is no beginning or end point, where there are “just recurrent and reciprocal variations in practice over time”.
Moreover, key points within continuous change are issue of continuity- linked with organizational culture- and issue of scale- linked with the micro- level of analysis. The former, furthermore, refers to culture as a mean that preserves the know- how of adaptation.

The last concept expressed by Weick and Quinn reports two considerations of change. Both of them may be accepted. The first highlights that failures are motors which enable change to start. The second suggests that change has neither a proper starting nor an ending point, since it is a non- stop process. In general, what should be done is to recognize and accept the dignity and the importance of isolated ongoing adjustments on a wider perspective and over the long run. Two theories are also said to be relevant to understand organizational change. The first stresses the idea of organizational inertia and its characteristics. The second describes change as a spiral or open-ended trajectory.
According to the authors’ point of view, a shift in terminology is needed. Not the word change but the term changing, in fact would best describe the inter- connections between small adjustments in the micro- analysis of facts/ acts and greater changes over the long run.

This article is well written and easy to comprehend, even if it addresses mostly scholars and experts of this field of research. The arguments expressed follow a well- structured way of analysis and are supported by researches and/ or theories of other eminent experts. The terminology is specific only in the parts that require a more specific description and in some passages metaphors or ironic assumptions are used as well. Hence, the reader is able to follow and understand the text well.
However, on a more detached level of analysis, there is a substantial displacement. In fact, Weick and Quinn report mostly arguments in favor of their thesis, almost forgetting the ones that disagree with their statements. Thus, it is not an objective analysis but a text aimed at convincing the readers to support their core idea, without giving any other different perspective.
Yet, the article is really interesting and gives a good overview of the most accepted theories in the field of organizational change. People who want to know more about this topic should read this article because it is, to some extent, highlighting and captures the readers’ attention from the beginning to the end.


One response to “Rewiev: “Organizational Change And Development” by Weick & Quinn

  1. Reading this review made me wonder whether lifelong learning should be considered an episodic change or rather a continuous change.
    On the one hand, we are facing a new social movement that is becoming increasingly popular in Western countries and seems to resemble more and more a marketable commodity rather than a phenomenon that promotes a self- evident good, where studying per se is admired and not perceived in ”rates of return”.
    On the other hand, learning is an essential part of the human life and as Einstein put it: if you stop learning you start dying. As individuals grow older then change and learn new roles that they play in society, they acquire a new status and therefore learn. Since scholars have constructed several life cycles, I believe it is not a mistake to assume that as we change our roles in life, by simply growing older, we learn and therefore lifelong learning is a continuous change.
    Ultimately, however, the value of the phenomenon (and I have happened to learn that discussing its’ value can be a very controversial issue) and also its’ nature depends on what aspects are being analysed and the perspective that it being adopted. The claim that lifelong learning is a self evident good, especially in the times and society we live in, is too simplistic, I find.


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