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Allen, R. (2019). Transformational and Digital Change: A UK Perspective. Organ. Soc. Dyn., 19(2):143-167.

(2019). Organizational and Social Dynamics, 19(2):143-167


Transformational and Digital Change: A UK Perspective

Rob Allen

This article is based on a qualitative interpretivist methodology that helps to analyse, interpret, and explain the meanings that executives and consultants (as social actors), construct regarding so called transformational and digital change in the corporate setting. It explores change interventions through a psychodynamic perspective that recognises many of the forces operating in an organisation may be “under the surface” and may need to be made explicit if collective progress is to be made.

The author has attempted to produce research that is relevant to both practitioners and scholars by following some suggestions of Toffel (2016) to bridge the potential gap between perceptions and workplace realities, including conducting site visits, practitioner interviews, and working as a practitioner. The study is exploratory in nature and was primarily concerned with discovering what management practices (if any) are used by executives and consultants in the operationalisation and implementation of transformational and digital change and what (if any) were the implications. It hopefully provides a stimulus for further research. Qualitative interviews and site visits were conducted with executives, consultants, and workers in ten large UK companies who had all taken the decision to instigate multi-million-pound “transformational change” and “digital transformation”. The companies operate across a range of sectors including manufacturing, retail, financial services, food and beverage, and facilities management.

This study finds that executives and consultants search for tools and techniques to deliver effective change capability, change leadership, and project management of change. These imply order, rationality, stability, and manageability in change that often takes place amidst absurdity, irrationality, uncertainty, and disorder.

Digital transformation is underpinned by new technology, driving new business models, and new “agile” and “iterative” processes, and “dare to fail” ways of working, but it was a century-old doctrine that provided the framework for change. Executives and consultants explicitly and implicitly advocated and enacted the primary functions of management as outlined by Fayol (1916); they were obsessed with accountability and control. Despite the rhetoric of agile and iterative approaches, they were wedded to top-down mechanistic management.

The espoused visions, values, principles, and behaviours, were often counterbalanced by the shadow organisation, the covert processes, coalitions, secret alliances, and counter-values. Narcissism and Machiavellian behaviour was rife.

In conclusion, this article calls for a move away from mechanistic management to enlightened management, a concept based on the work of Nonaka (2008) that values individuals and interactions over processes and tools. This may go some way to ameliorate the impacts of change at the individual level and bridge the chasm between espoused culture and the living hell of organisational reality.

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