The case for continuity

Even ethical, rational, well-designed and necessary change initiatives sometimes encounter cynicism and resistance.

Even ethical, rational, well-designed and necessary change initiatives sometimes encounter cynicism and resistance.

It's not because they're faulty, but "because managers and change agents expect organisational members to feign amnesia, to forget or deny their experience of the past, which often includes cyclic, failed or half-baked attempts at change".

Dr Darl Kolb, writing in a recent issue of the University of Auckland's Business Review publication, weighs in against the "new sacred cow" of organisational change for change's sake and argues for the better managing of continuity. For Kolb, a lecturer at the business school, managing continuity is about managing change where the desired state of newness is developed with a conscious recognition and incorporation of the core values, tradition and shared meaning from the "old" organisation. Change has become an overriding organisational and personal value for its own sake, he argues, citing research that suggests some managers create a sense of identity by becoming known as "change masters" or "pathfinders".

Managing continuity is about taking the permanence of organisational culture seriously, Kolb says, in part because constant change is exhausting.

Engaging long-term employees in the process can help. Each staff member at Amcor Food Cans, a close partner of Watties in Hastings for many years, for instance, says Kolb, told his or her "story" of joining the plant and how things had changed over the years. Some of the changes (workflow, wider data availability, incentives) that were being made to cope with new conditions -- expansion, tighter margins, higher quality and efficiency demands -- such as shift times were in fact a return to previous patterns.

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