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Organizational Change and the Importance of Embedded Assumptions


  • *This paper draws upon and extends previously published material in I. Palmer and R. Dunford (2002) ‘Who says change can be managed? Positions, perspectives and problematics’, Strategic Change, 11, pp. 243–251, and in I. Palmer, R. Dunford and G. Akin (2006) Managing Organizational Change, Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Irwin.

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‘Managing change’ appears a simple enough term. However, no common ontological assumption underlies either the notion of ‘managing’ or that of ‘change’. In this paper, we identify different assumptions about both what it means to manage and the nature of change outcomes. From these assumptions we derive six different images of managing organizational change: directing, navigating, caretaking, coaching, interpreting and nurturing. We show how each image is underpinned by different organization theories. We then take each image and show how the differing ontological assumptions about managing and change outcomes are associated with different research agendas. We illustrate this by focusing on three elements commonly associated with managing organizational change: vision, communication and resistance.