Organisational Change to the Rhythm of the Beat…


Changing the way we do things is quite hard. Just try to park your car in a different spot than you are used to at work! When you have many people together, as in an organisation, it is much harder still. Some argue that Organisations should change continually to perform; others argue that periods of relative stability are key to performance. These times of stability will then be followed by intense organisational change.  This contrast is referred to as the change-stability paradox.

And this brings us to Thomas Merton (you did not see that coming, did you?). This Anglo-Amercian writer and mystic said:

“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.”

Recent empirical research demonstrates that the rhythm, intensity, and frequency of organisational change are important for the performance of organisations.

In dealing with organisational change:

  • We need to consider the length of the change periods and the length of stability periods determining the rhythm of change and stability. Regularly changing companies demonstrated better long-term performance then out-of-beat changing companies;
  • We need to consider the level of dynamism of the environment because rhythm is even more positively related to performance for companies operating in highly dynamic environments (so maintaining some stability in the midst of rapid changes is more important than merely keeping up with external changes);
  • We need to consider the frequency of change as increasing change frequency is generally negatively associated with performance;
  • We need to consider the change magnitude as this is negatively related to firm performance (except for companies which have faced frequent crises in the past).

The researchers indicate that with a regular rhythm neither change nor stability is maximised. This reduces the risks of too much stability and loss of change routines (getting stuck), and of excessive change (no routines and information overload). Periods of stability have initiatively a positive effect on performance. However, as the period of stability lasts this turns negative. The same is true for periods of change.

A regular rhythm of change and stability periods with similar duration is key! Companies which alternate change and stability in a regular rhythm have a significantly better performance than companies different types of rhythm (short stability, longer change, or longer stability, shorter change).

Following Thomas Merton then, we can conclude that organisational happiness (performance) is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.

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