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Organizations and Change Over the Years

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.


Environment

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.