Change management: how the organization is put together

As part of my posting about change management theory, I want to introduce the model of the organization proposed by Henry Mintzberg, and talk about how this is important to understand when planning a change management strategy – I also add in a cheeky bit from a White Paper (So Now You Know Why 70% of Change Initiatives Fail?) I was kindly sent by Dutch Holland of Holland Management Coaching.

Mintzberg is one of the big names in the MBA business, perhaps only surpassed (wrongly in my view) by Michael Porter. In a 1991 Sloan Management Review article (The Effective Organization: Forces and Forms – behind a paywall), the great man proposed that organizations were subject to seven forces, each organization having its own balance between the forces, what he called its configuration.

The forces are:

  • Direction (or vision)
  • Efficiency
  • Proficiency
  • Concentration (focus on a particular market or customer segment)
  • Innovation
  • Co-operation (working together)
  • Competition (politicking, confrontation)

The first five are types of priority an organization might have, the last two are about ways of working. The specific organizational configuration is stable, but can – and usually does – get out of whack with the real world. For example, an organization that becomes too dominated by efficiency, may fail to innovate and see quality suffer due to neglected proficiency.

The first implication for change management is that there are likely to be two pressures at work:

  1. The strength of each force evolves and the balance within the organization changes, with perhaps one (or more) forces becoming too dominant (as in the example above)
  2. The industry success factors change, meaning a different balance of forces is required to succeed

The second implication for change management is that changing these forces can be stressful, difficult and likely exacerbate conflict and competition at the expense of co-operation.

This means that a change strategy must:

  1. Understand the current configuration
  2. Understand the desired configuration
  3. Propose a plan for conversion from current to desired states
  4. Understand and plan for the potential shift from co-operation to competition, and how to return to the desired state (whatever balance between co-operation and competition is desired) *

I like this model, I think it offers useful insight that aids the development of a change strategy and plan, although I’d also acknowledge that it’s pretty difficult to measure the configuration (both current and desired) with any accuracy, so the model offers structure and direction rather than an exact analysis of what needs to change.

I wanted to bring in the Holland White Paper because I felt it added a useful dimension in helping to convert this model from theory to action. The Mintzberg approach brings insight at the strategy level, the Holland “formula” adds some structure at the tactical level.

Holland argues, courting controversy, that there is a “change formula” that must be used to ensure effective change.

I think this is a misnomer. It is not a “formula” for change, but a useful definition of an organizational structure (hence its inclusion here).

Holland proposes four “moving parts” that must each be addressed for a change plan to be effective.

These parts are:

  • Vision
  • Work processes (how things are done)
  • Facilities / Technology (tools)
  • Performance systems (job descriptions, objectives, rewards, recruitment, promotion etc.)

A formula would state what actions must be taken that add up to successful change, this model instead illuminates which areas we must address in order to succeed.

So a change plan which seeks to convert the organization from one configuration of forces to another, must act upon four organizational areas: vision, work processes, tools, and performance systems.


* Sometimes an increase in competition (conflict, politicking) is necessary to make change happen. It’s not always a negative, it’s a tactic the Change Manager can use.


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