Organizations and Change Over the Years
The contemporary, world-wide organizational environment is radically different from its predecessors. We have witnessed significant “ch-ch-ch-ch-changes” in both the operating environment and the systems and networks contained within (Bowie, 1971, track 1). “Perspectives on organizations have become vastly more complex and differentiated during the second half of the twentieth century” (Scott & Davis, 2007). This affects the organizations, the individuals with the organizations, and the disciplines and approaches within the organizational studies. “Organizational studies is thus like a cosmopolitan port city, where traders from diverse lands mingle, haggle, and make exchanges” (Scott & Davis, 2007).
These changes may deliver benefit(s), but not without cost. “Change can be hard. This is a profoundly true statement” (Bowie, 2011). To better understand the changes that have occurred over the years along with the associated benefits, risks, and costs, further exploration is required. A discussion regarding the changes across the environment and an array of supporting systems may help to clarify specific elements of each categorical change (i.e., environmental- or system-based) and to lend understanding concerning the effects of each as well.
For the purposes of this discussion, components of the environmental construct will include market space expansion, the integration of temporary labor, rising levels of worker education, and access to expert resources.
Market Space Expansion
First and foremost, the macro environment in which all organizations exist and operate has expanded rapidly and tremendously over the past 40 years. The “playing field” is much larger, having grown from local, regional, and/or national levels to an integrated international network. “In 2017, global growth is estimated to have reached 3.0%” (Balk et al., 2022). The smaller, lower-level networks of the past may have been easier to manage and simpler to study due to the discrete nature of the environments compared to the market space today. For example, the culture, laws, and accepted practices in the United States are less diverse than the same attributes assessed at a planetary level (a representative open system).
The environment has changed, and successful organizational structures have adapted with it. The contemporary macro environment may be best described as an open system. The nature of the inclusion of the environment, “the ultimate source of materials, energy, and information, all of which are vital to the continuation of the system”, as an active primary variable is a key differentiator for this system perspective (Scott & Davis, 2007). An open system “does not dissect an organization into smaller parts to study individually and then recombine it, hoping for the best result. It encourages one to consider parts as well as interconnection among the parts, as embedded in their external environment” (Jung & Vakharia, 2019).
The most relevant parts within this (world-wide) macro environment, this new, seemingly ever-expanding playing field may be the players and their attributes, including but not limited to temporary labor, the education level of the average employee, and the availability and access to expert resources.
Temporary Labor. Over the past several decades, we have witnessed the rise of the “temp” (temporary labor) agency, and thus, some decline in the proportion of the international workforce containing full time employees. The primary capability these staffing agencies afford their clients is risk reduction: the client organizations do not manage the personnel at an administrative level (but do at the operational level), do not provide benefits for these personnel, and are relieved of the scouting, recruiting, and hiring processes required for full time personnel. In the supply chain industry, many firms share a “reliance on temp agencies to directly bringing on all workers and training them across all warehouse tasks” (Loewen, 2018).
This integration of two workforces, the internal salaried and hourly employees and the external temporary staff, introduces a new set of natural systems and associated risks into established workplaces. “A natural system view defines organisations as ‘collectivities whose participants are pursuing multiple interests, both disparate and common, but who recognize the value of perpetuating the organization as an important resource’” (Hansen et al., 2021). The core risk associated with this integration is the lack of internal management control. The unions and associated networks formed between temporary workers, between temporary workers and full-time employees, and between temporary workers and management have the potential to improve productivity, streamline communications, accelerate decisions, etc. It is important to note, however, that with the proliferation and adaptation of new social and work systems, variation in processes, methods, and in the end, results, tends to increase. This reduces predictability and increases the complexity of the system, both of which further complicate and increase managerial requirements.
Average Worker Education. The average worker today possesses more formal education, including training associated with secondary, higher education, and technical schools, than those in preceding decades, and this includes government organizations as well. “Since the late 19th century, the U.S. government has invested in educational initiatives for the adult population as a matter of national interest” (Roumell et al., 2019). This evolution of the work force provides additional capabilities to the host organizations, but also introduces another strata or division of potential natural systems, a stratum based solely on level of education. This is not likening education to skill level, knowledge, or intelligence, but simply the completion of academic requirements in a training program (e.g., college courses) provided by a recognized institution. These players also introduce complexity into the internal organizational environment due to the subject matter each worker has embraced, subject matter that is being further diversified on a constant basis due to the apparent sales “push” effort many educational institutions engage to increase revenue, not necessarily the quality of the programs provided.
Availability of Expert Resources. The consulting profession has expanded rapidly. These subject matter expert-based firms (and individuals) provide access to professional and technical expertise and experience that an organization might not posses within its own four walls. The benefits associated with contracting firms of this type include risk reduction (i.e., the consultant is a certified, recognized, and proven resource), cost reduction (i.e., the consultant does not receive benefits and typically works in limited, defined durations), and accelerated project completion cycles (i.e., the consultant can typically hit the ground running). As with temporary labor, a consultant may be included in this class. Consultants do form new, often natural systems within the organization. However, these structures and networks are short-lived, serving a temporary need and achieving the desired discrete, non-continuous goals.
Systems and Networks
As the environment has changed, the systems and networks utilized within its framework have adapted as well. This includes but is not limited to communication systems, data capture and analytics systems, and integrated supply chain networks.
We have witnessed significant changes, indeed revolutions, in the technology sector. The most apparent examples for any organization regardless of industry may include communication systems. The telephone was joined by the facsimile (fax) machine. The computer joined the team along with the internet and email platforms it provides access to. The mobile phone, large and clunky at first (e.g., the “suitcase” phone) but now streamlined and armed with numerous applications, has stepped in. Our computers have been further developed to include instant messaging and virtual meeting platforms. This discussion must also include administrative communication systems such as the Warehouse Management System (WMS) and Enterprise Resource Planning System (ERP). These systems have opened the door to seemingly unending combinations that in turn form ad-hoc and designed communication systems for use within and between organizations and individuals.
The primary advantage these systems provide is clear – increased accessibility to information. The cost of these systems, however, is often not explored nor understood. Some technology, including laptop computers and cell phones, operate within an extremely flexible and open system (e.g., access to the internet, other organizations (including competitors), and more. This may conflict with established rules and regulations within the organization at a structural level. Consider an organization that predominantly demonstrates the rational system perspective.
In the rational systems perspective, rationality refers to “the extent to which a series of actions is organized to lead to predetermined goals with maximum efficiency. Rationality refers not to the selection of goals but to their implementation” (Scott & Davis, 2007). A potential conflict in system perspectives may arise in an organization of this type as new technology is introduced and integrated. While Information Technology (IT) systems are inherently rational (e.g., programmatic systems governed by predetermined logic and fixed rule and outcome scenarios), the practical application and/or utilization of these systems is not. Consider individual preferences which conflict with system- or (rational) organization-based rules.
A company may have rules and procedures regarding data sharing, in this example, a limitation to only use a protected server folder or other depository (e.g., GitHub, Microsoft OneDrive, etc.) when transmitting this information. A certain Vice President of Sales, however, demands that his employees respond with data requests via email to accelerate individual representative’s sales cycles. The formation of this natural system within the rational system may cause conflicts that in turn, require the formation of additional systems (both organizational and IT) to resolve any harmful effects (e.g., confidential or proprietary data emailed to the wrong person).
Changes in communication systems may be driven by internal needs (e.g., updating existing technology) or the environment itself (e.g., new technology is developed and available). Regardless of the source, the driver for the change, "organizations need to plan the change carefully in order to create a well-structured working environment and a well-balanced working schedule to reduce stress and uncertainty" (Allaoui & Benmoussa, 2020).
Data Capture and Analytics Systems
Communication systems are certainly not the only organizational IT resources that have changed. Data capture, storage, and analytics systems have been upgraded, too. In the field of statistics alone, calculations have moved from paper and pencil to highly automated and interactive software solutions (e.g., JMP, Minitab, or R Studio). This change has been so extreme that the curriculum for the courses associated with statistics must be updated every one-to-two years to keep pace with technological advances.
As the systems change, the data is typically reconfigured in its storage structure to best meet and support the programming efficiencies gained within the new technologies. This type of behavior is expected and predictable to a degree, but also requires the rigor of rational systems coupled with the flexibility of open systems – a difficult balance to achieve. While rational systems require maintenance, open systems are “capable of self-maintenance based on a throughput of resources from their environment, such as a living cell” (Scott & Davis, 2007). These systems include strong ties throughout the environment as “the ultimate source of materials, energy, and information, all of which are vital to the continuation of the system” (Scott & Davis, 2007). This inclusion of the environment as an active primary variable is a key differentiator.
Integrated Supply Chain Networks (Open systems)
As communication systems have advanced, suppliers and customers all over the world have gained increased access to a diversified and specialized set of potential partners (and competitors). Supply chain networks range from extremely focused local systems all the way to those that function on a planetary level. “The collaborations (between organizations) have increased significantly during the past couple of decades, along with the increasing international competition” (Pathak, 2018).
Advantages associated with this expansion are clear for each party. Suppliers gain access to new customers, typically despite national boundaries, and customers can now shop for the best product and the best quality and best price (hopefully) in an ocean rather than a pond. The disadvantages are not always as discernable. The biggest of these disadvantages within a supply chain network is the physical separation between the supplier and the customer, or the physical distance the supply chain covers.
Manufacturers in the United States, for example, may order subcomponents from a manufacturing firm, perhaps even a partner, in China. The Economic Order Quantity (EOQ) for each order may require the purchase of several shipping containers-worth of product. Thus, the customer must wait for the entire order to be produced, batched, and shipped, and also for the “float” time the cargo ship will endure while crossing the ocean (typically three-to-four months). To accommodate this arrangement, the customer is forced to order enough materials to cover any schedule gaps that may arise due to production delays, shipping delays, product quality issues, etc. This type of contract has extremely little flexibility and does not allow the customer to respond to their own customers with any degree of speed and may reduce consumer confidence and lead to lost revenue and sales. In this instance, the changes in the supply chain network provided more burden than benefit. This sentiment is fairly prevalent among manufacturing firms in the United States and could be driving the search for localized partnerships and smaller, simpler networks.
"Changing highly interdependent settings is extremely difficult because, ultimately, you have to change nearly everything…you can rarely move just one element by itself" (Kotter, 2012). We return to the concept of positive change being hard. Although some may argue that we are constantly in a state of change, significant or disruptive changes can be met and completed successfully through careful planning and management. God provides the talents to accomplish the task, but it is critical to remember that “all of your talents should be used for the good of the kingdom” (Merida, 2015). Christian leaders have responsibility beyond this world, responsibility to use the talents (e.g., skills, resources, etc.) provided by God to enact effective change that reflects His glory to Him. “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (English Standard Version Bible, 2001, Matthew 25:29). In the present, the contemporary environment, the way Christian leaders support and execute positive change may build a bridge between faith and business, one that should have never fallen.
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