An Emerging Paradigm in Management Thinking

The world we live in keeps on changing at an intense rate. This rate of change challenges our individual ability to keep up with it. Organisations are forced to change more rapidly and radically than ever in order to survive and outwit the competition. The organisations we work in are changing in terms of their strategies, their structures, their systems, their boundaries as well as their expectations of their staff and their managers. The quantum of change in organisations has been on a steady rise over the past two to three decades, and this rate of change is set to accelerate at dizzying pace.

To see that the pace of change does not outpace our capacity to deal with it, leading change becomes a paramount concern for the managers and all the enterprising individuals in general within an organisation. The management guru John Kotter asserts the overwhelming importance of corporate adaptability. A need for change is not always predictable, and in the modern fast-paced world, it will be necessary for organisations to remain flexible and always on high alert to readily implement change. Kotter (1996) regrets that many people are still clinging to the twentieth-century “career and growth model.

” He observes: A strategy of embracing the past will probably become increasingly ineffective over the next few decades. Better for most of us to start learning now how to cope with change… It is in the context of continual change, growth and adaptation that the science of “complexity” becomes important. In terms of what they offer to a holistic theory of change, among other things, the ideas of chaos and complexity have massive implications for modern management. To a large extent, the dominant paradigms in systems thinking to management have been characterised by the stable equilibrium approach.

They have emphasised efficiency, effectiveness, and control to the exclusion of everything else. Even when reference to disorder, unpredictability, chance, dialectical evolution, etc, is made, there has been a lack of as coherent a theoretical framework within which these “erratic” aspects of organisation can be studied, understood, and integrated into the broader organisational philosophy. Such a framework is supplied by the complexity theory, which is being increasingly regarded as a new paradigm of thought in business management.

Since the 1970s and 1980s, there has been a slow, growing alignment of complexity theory with business and management practices (Gharajedaghi 1999). Complexity theory is fundamental in allowing us to move away from bureaucracy to the more fluid, organic, relationship-centered organisational structures that are more appropriate to the ethos of the modern generation. Bureaucracy is past-oriented in many ways, and innovation is thoroughly future-oriented. At its very root, the entrepreneurial process of innovation and change is at odds with the administrative process of ensuring repetitions of the past.

Structures and practices that may work well for the perpetuation of the known are not generally conducive to the process of innovation. In their book, The End of Bureaucracy & the Rise of the Intelligent Organisation, Pinchot and Pinchot (1993) note that bureaucracy is no more appropriate to the sophisticated work culture of today than serfdom was to the factory work of the early Industrial Revolution. If hierarchy was central to the traditional organisation, the lack of hierarchy is key to the modern innovative organisation.

As for division of labour, Jaffee (2001) observes that, In the postbureaucratic organisation, social and functional integration takes precedence over differentiation and specialization. The postbureaucratic organisation is much flatter , with fewer levels of managers. Most work will be horizontal knowledge work performed by multidisciplinary teams. Rather than satisfying their immediate supervisor (vertical relationship), team members concentrate on satisfying he needs of the next person in the process (horizontal relationship).

Teams will be given considerable autonomy and will be expected to carry out the intent of the company’s mission and vision (Martin 1997). Project managers and network managers will replace most of the middle managers and functional staff in the traditional bureaucratic-style organisation. These new dynamic structures within an organisation become contexts in which self-organisation is expected to occur (Morgan 1997). From seeming chaos emerges — spontaneously, as it were — a deeper level of order.

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