The Social Character of Organizational Change: Strategizing as Emergent Practice
Burger, Martinus Charl
Increasingly, researchers on strategy are turning away from the highly abstracted and de-humanized components that seem to typify the macro approach to strategy. This movement is at least partially brought about by a philosophical recognition that the emergent and unpredictable nature of organizational life is fast exposing the constraints of an approach to strategy that is based on the values of rationality, predictability and control. In this thesis I argue that organizational change in general and the act of strategizing in particular can be thought of as a social, transformative and emergent process as opposed to the overly orderly, rational, formative and/or humanistic views on strategy presented by systemically oriented theorists. I draw on the theory of complex responsive processes of relating as espoused by Stacey, Griffin and Shaw (2000) and specifically on Stacey’s (2003, 2007) substantial contribution to the field of strategic management. By utilizing a reflexive research methodology I describe the arduous social and emergent process of transformation in my practice and identity (observable in subtle changes in disposition, language and assumptions) as I begin to act into the understanding of strategizing as an ongoing, incomplete, social process. In doing this, I am suggesting that the narrated accounts of our shifts in practice due to us knowing differently are important contributions in the process of transforming our theories on and beliefs around strategy. These accounts should not be seen as premature attempts at methodological frameworks, but rather as explorative participation in the emergent transformation of a radical, social approach to strategizing. I engage critically with the notion of strategy-as-practice and suggest a review of the fundamentally rational and formative assumptions still prevalent in the work of researchers like Johnson, Melin and Whittington (2003) and Samra- Fredericks (2003). Whilst acknowledging the role of culturally mediated dispositions in the ongoing transformation of organizations advocated by Chia and Holt (2006) and Chia and MacKay (2007), I argue for the paradoxical and therefore simultaneous occurrence of habitual and mindful actions by people strategizing as opposed to the authors’ suggestion of a predominantly mindless experience of organizational change. Finally, I turn to Stacey’s (2007) question as to why people continue to make long-term forecasts if their usefulness is so obviously limited. Whilst understanding his frustration, I argue that there is value nevertheless in engaging in strategy making albeit not for the rationalist reasons usually stated. In my view the real value of strategising is to be found in two areas: first in the social activity that goes into creating these documents, and second: the documents not only serve as markers in an ongoing process of strategising; they also give us a way of ‘going on’ and taking the next step.