ERIC Identifier: ED457763
Publication Date: 2001-00-00
Author: Kezar, Adrianna
Source: George Washington Univ.
Washington DC. Graduate School of Education and Human Development., ERIC
Clearinghouse on Higher Education Washington DC.
Understanding and Facilitating Change in Higher Education in
the 21st Century. ERIC Digest.
A critical synthesis of research literature on the process of organizational
change at the institutional level is needed because higher education is being
asked to be responsive to an ever-changing environment. This work focuses on
providing the reader several key insights into the change process by (1)
presenting a common language for organizational change; (2) describing the
multidisciplinary research base on change; (3) highlighting the distinct
characteristics of higher education institutions and how this might influence
the change process; (4) reviewing models/concepts of organizational change
derived within higher education, comparing and contrasting different approaches;
and (5) providing principles for change based on a synthesis of the research
within higher education.
PROVIDING A LANGUAGE FOR UNDERSTANDING ORGANIZATIONAL
Some generic definitions of organizational change have been offered by
theorists. For example, Burnes noted that organizational change refers to
understanding alterations within organizations at the broadest level among
individuals, groups, and at the collective level across the entire organization
(1996). Another definition is that change is the observation of difference over
time in one or more dimensions of an entity (Van de Ven and Poole, 1995). But
these definitions fail to capture the assumptions inherent in different models
or theories of change. For example, cultural and social-cognition theories of
change would replace the word observation with the word perception in the second
definition above. Theorists exploring change through a cultural or
social-cognition perspective would examine not dimensions (typically
organizational structural characteristics such as size), but values or
organizational participants' mental maps. Because the language relating to
change differs, a common language is difficult to find. However, certain
concepts are common across various models, such as forces or sources of change
and first-order or second-order change. These common concepts are noted within
key sources of change literature such as Burnes, 1996; Goodman, 1982; Levy and
Merry, 1986; and Rajagopalan and Spreitzer, 1996. As these scholars studied
change, these concepts became critical points of concern in their analyses.
Forces and sources examine the why of change. First and second/second order,
scale, foci, timing, and degree all refer to the what of change.
Adaptive/generative, proactive/reactive, active/static, and planned/unplanned
refer to the how of change. Last, the target of change refers to the outcomes.
As a campus begins to engage in a change process, members of the organization
need to first examine why they are about to embark on the process, the degree of
change needed, and what is the best approach to adopt.
THEORIES OF CHANGE
Six main categories of theories of
change assist in understanding, describing, and developing insights about the
change process: (1) evolutionary, (2) teleological, (3) life cycle, (4)
dialectical, (5) social cognition, and (6) cultural. Each model has a distinct
set of assumptions about why change occurs, how the process unfolds, when change
occurs and how long it takes, and the outcomes of change. The main assumption
underlying evolutionary theories is that change is a response to external
circumstances, institutional variables, and the environment faced by each
organization (Morgan, 1986). Social systems as diversified, interdependent,
complex systems evolve naturally over time because of external demands (Morgan,
1986). Teleological theories or planned change models assume that organizations
are purposeful and adaptive. Change occurs because leaders, change agents, and
others see the necessity of change. The process for change is rational and
linear, as in evolutionary models, but individual managers are much more
instrumental to the process (Carnall, 1995; Carr, Hard, and Trahant, 1996).
Life-cycle models evolved from studies of child development and focus on stages
of growth, organizational maturity, and organizational decline (Levy and Merry,
1986). Change is conceptualized as a natural part of human or organizational
development. Dialectical models, also referred to as political models,
characterize change as the result of clashing ideology or belief systems
(Morgan, 1986). Conflict is seen as an inherent attribute of human interaction.
Change processes are considered to be predominantly bargaining,
consciousness-raising, persuasion, influence and power, and social movements
(Bolman and Deal, 1991). Social-cognition models describe change as being tied
to learning and mental processes such as sense making and mental models. Change
occurs because individuals see a need to grow, learn, and change their behavior.
In cultural models, change occurs naturally as a response to alterations in the
human environment; cultures are always changing (Morgan, 1986). The change
process tends to be long-term and slow. Change within an organization entails
alteration of values, beliefs, myths, and rituals (Schein, 1985). Some
researchers suggest using several models or categories, as each sheds light on
different aspects of organizational life (Van de Ven and Poole, 1995). The
advantage to multiple models is that they combine the insights of various change
theories. Bolman's and Deal's (1991) re-framing of organizations and Morgan's
(1986) organizational metaphors illustrate how assumptions from teleological,
evolutionary, political/cultural, social- cognition, and lifecycle models can be
combined to understand change.
UNDERSTANDING THE NATURE OF HIGHER EDUCATION ORGANIZATIONS: KEY
TO SUCCESSFUL ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGE
There are two main reasons it is
necessary to develop a distinctive approach to change within higher education:
overlooking these factors may result in mistakes in analysis and strategy, and
using concepts foreign to the values of the academy will most likely fail to
engage the very people who must bring about the change. In order to develop a
distinctive model, the following unique features of higher education
institutions need to be taken into account: *Interdependent organization
*Relatively independent of environment *Unique culture of the academy
*Institutional status *Values-driven *Multiple power and authority structures
*Loosely coupled system *Organized anarchical decision-making *Professional and
administrative values *Shared governance *Employee commitment and tenure *Goal
ambiguity *Image and success. Although not an exhaustive list, this represents
some of the key features of higher education institutions that affect
organizational change. (For a more detailed description of these
characteristics, see Birnbaum, 1991.)
In light of these distinctive organizational features, higher education
institutions would seem to be best interpreted through cultural,
social-cognition, and political models. The need for cultural models seems clear
from the embeddedness of members who create and reproduce the history and
values, the stable nature of employment, the strong organizational
identification of members, the emphasis on values, and the multiple
organizational cultures. Because there are no bottom-line measures for examining
performance in higher education, image and identification are extremely
important in understanding if change is occurring and how it occurs. The
relationships of image and identification to change seem to indicate that social
cognition is important to understand. Furthermore, the loosely coupled
structure, anarchical decision-making, and ambiguous goals make meaning unclear,
and social-cognition models' emphasis on multiple interpretations may be
important to consider when examining and facilitating change. The shared
governance system, organized anarchy, conflicting administrative and
professional values, and ambiguous, competing goals also point to a need for the
interpretive power of political models. Evolutionary models are important for
understanding the impact of environmental factors on change, such as
accreditation, foundations, and legislatures in an interdependent system,
especially since these factors are growing in magnitude and influence. However,
even though a higher education institution is an open system, it may have
internal consistency and logic that can be damaged by the intrusion of external
HIGHER EDUCATION MODELS OF CHANGE: EXAMINATION THROUGH THE
TYPOLOGY OF SIX MODELS
An extensive review of all the research on change conducted
specifically within higher education, and within the framework of the six
theories outlined above, provides a set of insights about the change process in
this context. The cumulative evidence, so far, suggests that organizational
change can best be explained through political, social-cognition, and cultural
models. Political processes such as persuasion, informal negotiation, mediation,
and coalition-building appear to be very powerful strategies for creating change
(Conrad, 1978; Hearn, 1996). Social-cognition models illustrate the importance
of altering mental models, learning, constructed interaction, and other
processes for creating change (Eckel and Kezar, forthcoming; Weick, 1995).
Cultural models demonstrate the importance of symbolism, history and traditions,
and institutional culture for facilitating change on campus (Cohen and March,
1974; Kezar and Eckel, forthcoming). Evolutionary models highlight some key
characteristics of change, such as homeostasis, interactivity of strategies, or
accretion, that appear important to understanding change. Life-cycle models have
not, for the most part, been applied to higher education institutions, but show
promise for helping to develop explanations of how organizational change occurs.
There is mixed evidence about the explanatory power of teleological models, but
to date they appear to have limited support from the research in terms of how
change actually occurs in higher education and of efficacy for facilitating
change. Some strategies, such as incentives or vision, have proven successful
for creating change.
RESEARCH-BASED PRINCIPLES OF CHANGE
A complex set of
research-based principles emerges from this extensive review of the research.
These principles include:
* Promote organizational self-discovery
Be aware of how institutional culture affects change
Realize that change in higher education is often political
Lay groundwork for change
Focus on adaptability
Construct opportunities for interaction to develop new mental models
Strive to create homeostasis and balance external, forces with internal
Combine traditional teleological tools such as establishing vision, planning, or
strategy with social-cognition, cultural, and political strategies
Be open to a disorderly process
Facilitate shared governance and collective decision-making
Articulate core characteristics
Focus on image
Connect the change process to individual and institutional identity
Create a culture of risk and help people in changing belief systems
Be aware that various levels or aspects of the organization will need different
Realize that strategies for change vary by change initiative
Consider combining models or approaches, as is demonstrated within the multiple
models These will help you to develop a systematic and systemic process of
change that works with individuals, acknowledges change as a human process, is
sensitive to the distinctive characteristics of higher education, is context-
based, achieves balance of internal and external forces, and is open to
creativity and leveraging change through chance occurrences.
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