Create Critical Momentum

Posted by Kathryn Schwartz on March 01, 2014
Organizational Practices

Create Critical Momentum

The dissolution of paths demands critical momentum. That refers to the point when moving force is greater than the force of inertia. Reaching momentum requires valuable resources from organizations. Therefore, organizations should build common understandings and norms among their members in order to acquire necessary resources and eventually use them as generators of moving force. In addition, the magnitude of such momentum should be significant enough to overcome the resistance of old paths (Garud & Karnoe, 2001). Picture a huge, heavy flywheel. Now imagine that your task is to get the flywheel rotating on the axle. The great mass of the flywheel does not move at all despite of your effort. A few hours later, you finally realize that you cannot move the flywheel by yourself. So you call your close friends and explain to them why you need to move this flywheel, and why you need their help. Now you and your friends push together. Finally, you get the flywheel to move forward! 1 The momentum of new paths begins with this first movement of the flywheel. However, this momentum does not mean that organizations have already succeeded in building new paths.

The momentum only means that they have obtained theinitial steps for new paths and they need to continuously move their organization to move forward.

Make Evolutionary Organization Change

Previous literature argued that organizational change must be implemented rapidly to break the current paths (e.g., (Miller & Frisen, 1984; Romanelli & Tushman, 1994). This position assumes that all elements of an organization should be changed simultaneously(Amis, Slack, & Hinings, 2004). Rapid change is essential for creating a new path for organization because it can createcritical momentum in which all parts of an organization pull together in a common direction (Amis et al., 2004). Furthermore, radical transformation reduces resistance among organizational memberswho feel that their power is threatened by reorientation(Tushman & Romanelli, 1985).

However, this revolutionary view on organizational change has somelimitations. First, this whole notion of sharp bursts of change requires a lot of a firm’s valuable resources. Revolutionary transition is based on the wide simultaneous changes across all organizational elements. Firmsshould spend substantial time, resources, and attention to pursue revolutionary change process over all organizations. Dramatic change through the entire organization increases complexity for coordination and conflicts among functional departments, which might pursue their own interests.

Second, radical changes make it hard for organizations to obtain consensus from their key stakeholders. To sustain and accelerate momentum for new paths, it is essential to draw support and participation of internal and external members who provide resources and make efforts for the new paths. However, strong pressures for rapid transitions might galvanize greater resistance from actors who cannot see a clear link between their interest and the proposed reorientation. According to Amis et al. (2004: 16),“rapid change across entire organizations is not only insufficient to bring about radical change, but may even be detrimental to its outcome”. In addition, theyfind that the initial bursts of changesin activity are followed by relatively slow progress toward the end point.

In contrast to revolutionary change, evolutionary change emphasizes an incremental and concentrated process. Proponents of evolutionary change focus on high impact elements (Hinings & Greenwood, 1988; Kanter, 1983), which have an important functional and symbolic role in organizations. The change in high impact elements sends actors a clear message that changes are being implemented (Amis et al., 2004). In addition, incremental processes may draw consent and participation from actors by giving them space and time to internalize new systems. The internalization of actors will sustain the consistency of changing activity across whole processes. However, if organizations arenot committed to create new paths in consistent and persistent ways and do not make such transitions in their core functions, gradual transitions might fail to create the required momentum to overcome inertia. Ultimately, this may result in the occurrence of limited peripheral and piecemeal changes. Therefore, it is essential for organizations to have explicit long term strategic plans about new paths and to adhere to them when they pursue the evolutionary approach. Table 1 summarizes the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary view and evolutionary view on organization change.

Table 1: Comparison between Revolutionary and Evolutionary View on Organization Change
table1Path Dependency and Organization-3

Watch Out for the Next Wave of Path Dependency

Organizations are on new paths andwill reap the fruits of their new practices. For example, the successful implementation of job enrichment programs in organizations can help increase the job satisfaction and motivation of their employees. Self-managed teams can generate creative ideas and improve production processes. Motivated by positive outcomes, companies will expand the scope of new practices to increase positive outcomes through pouring out more resources. Top management, impressed by substantial outcomes, can strengthen the credibility of these innovative organizational practices. Does this procedure sound familiar? Yes, it is exactly the same process for the formulation of path dependency. Every new path has the potential to lock organizations in, to a certain degree. Therefore, organizations should be mindful of deviating toward new paths and be prepared to create momentum forother paths while enjoying favorable outcomes. Such continuous efforts will keep organizations fluid and flexible.

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