Social Dynamic of Change

Already discussed is how social networks within the organization can spread those things learned while doing the work. It is also true these same networks can help propagate and perpetuate the corporate change initiatives. Change itself is a process of social transformation for the organization and for the individual, and as such it is incumbent upon the organization to acknowledge and understand this impact. Experience suggests many change initiatives fail or take a very long time to take hold.

Social and Organizational Norms

Social and organizational norms are the behaviors that are most commonly accepted or considered appropriate.* This is not to infer that the action is deemed either acceptable or appropriate by the individuals that comprise the group but are by the group itself. It also does not infer the opposite either. This is to mean that while a group or organization may act in a particular manner it

The social structure of the organization has a big impact on spreading and perpetuating the change

Figure 4.4 The social structure of the organization has a big impact on spreading and perpetuating the change.

may or may not reflect the norms of the individuals that comprise that group or organization. As an example, we have all seen people who act one way when in one setting and a different way when placed in another setting but doesn’t agree with either (Descriptive and Prescriptive norms)[1]. This behavior would be in line with Argyris’s espoused and action theory.[1] This dynamic has a major effect on how we must approach the act of changing or developing our organization. If a norm is what is considered to be accepted or appropriate, then we must look at who determines that to implement a change in this area. In this aspect of change the leadership is the primary change agent as that which is considered acceptable or appropriate is determined primarily by the leadership. That is not to say that there are not some societal influences on organizational norms, but that influence is not predominate.

I am sure that some of the managers who are reading this would be asking, “How do I change an established norm?” The first question is not how do you change the norm, but should be how was the norm established (see Bruce Tuckman)? This question will allow you to understand what actions to take to shift the norm. Did it become a norm because it was allowed to happen without any correction; was it the change of what was or is acceptable in the overall society now; or was it a shift in the organization itself?

Tlie organization’s social norms will influence the project norms, but not necessarily drive the project norms. We have been in projects that established their own norms, within some constraints, that are different from the overall organization.

Team dynamic is not static as demonstrated via Bruce Tuckman's team development model

Figure 4.5 Team dynamic is not static as demonstrated via Bruce Tuckman's team development model

Acceptance of Actions

If an action is done that is not in alignment with the current organization norms and no action is taken to provide some form of feedback as to its unacceptability, then that can be taken to mean that it is acceptable. This then and commonly is promulgated as the new norm for that activity or that individual at a minimum. The application of norms must also be equal; this means that for any group there should not be one norm for part of the group and another for a different section of the group. That would not make it a norm. This division of norms in and unto itself negates the norm for both groups and creates an atmosphere of animosity or ambiguity.

In our experience, projects can often develop a permutation of the organization’s norms. The less bureaucratic level of formalism with the project management activities, the greater the possibility the project norms can deviate from the organization’s norms. We are not suggesting that a project can have a radically different set of norms than the organization, only some local adaptation, subtle alteration to the orgranizational norms.

Societal Changes

As societal norms change so do the norms or at least the norms shown by businesses change. A good example would be that of sustainable resources. Society has become

Societal cultural norms influence organization norms, and subsequently project norms

Figure 4.6 Societal cultural norms influence organization norms, and subsequently project norms.

more concerned with resource management and leveraged their consumer power to show companies of this concern. And thus, many companies have shifted to being centered around resource management, if not at least on the surface for the consumer to see. We must also address that not all the positions held by society, the group outside the company, are acted upon in such a manner as the example above. There are many cases where this group acts counter to its own words: another example of Argyris’s espoused and action theory.[3] [4] An example of this would be when the consumer disagrees with how a company does something, but due to price and availability they continue to buy the product of said company. At this point you are probably asking, “What does this have to do with organizational change?” and to answer that question we must look at the makeup of the organization and what their goal is.

The makeup of the organization is important because everyone brings their own norms in the beginning of their employment based upon those norms previously established in their lives. The norms that are brought may or may not enhance the organization; it is only through an open and honest dialog between the employer and employee(s) that this can be determined. This open and honest dialog is referred to as the mental model[4] or as I have referred to it in previous chapters, the open mental model. It neither accepts nor rejects the position (norm) of another but seeks to understand the basis for it to determine how it will aid in the growth of both the individual and the organization.

The goal of the organization comes into play in what type of organization it is, a learning organization or not. If the organization is not one that employs the learning organizational and developmental model, then the norms brought by the people who compromise the organization will have little to no meaning. This in most cases will promote worker dissatisfaction through lack of interaction.

Organizational Shifts

In line with societal changes upon an organization organizational shift in our context is a change that occurs due to a change in the management structure. We have all been a part of an organization that has had a change in the managers and thus a change in how the organization peruses its goals. While the overall goal of the organization may or may not change, the manner in which is taken to achieves the objective will adapt as learning and environmental factors require. This is predominately due to the new management’s desire to align the organization with their perspectives. While as we stated this is commonly associated with new management it can also be related by new employees at lower levels. The norms they bring to the organization will have to be addressed in one way or another. These norms should not be dismissed without understanding if they would improve the organization or not. And the individual who brought those new norms should be provided some justification as to why or why not they are accepted. This would be a motivational aspect of developing an individual and reinforcing the organizational norm, new or not.

Social Change and Trauma

It should be well understood that well engaged team members improve the probability of desired changes taking place and even taking hold. So what sort of things can get in the way of getting well engaged team members? In earlier chapters this has been discussed, but what has not been reviewed are the social portion of the change management that may make or break the change objective.

Change is generally not a rational process. Why do people change? Let me offer these statements as part of a change theory. People change because:

■ They become aware of some conditions, factors, or circumstances that make them less content.

■ They experience these conditions, factors, or circumstances as occurring outside their current ability to control.

■ They become aware that others, whom they respect, are experiencing this discontent and inability to control the events.

■ They also become aware that someone or some group whom they respect has proposed a way to deal with this shared experience of discontent and inability to control.

■ They become aware of a groundswell of support, especially among people whom they respect, for this new approach.

■ They join their respected peers in support of this new approach[6]

The author goes on to conclude that for most people change is a collectively social and emotional transformation.

One way to assuage the emotional aspects of the change is to include the team members or employees in the change, that includes identifying what needs to be changed, and the planning for how to go about work of bringing the desired change to fruition. Afterall, the change will not take root or grow without the motivation and heavy involvement of those likely significantly impacted by the change, the employee or team member.

Organization change has been compared to the stages of death. It is possible that our team members may be going through some of these steps when it comes to changes in the organization. Changes do not impact singularly, but often some significant portions of the company.

■ Denial

■ Anger

■ Bargaining

■ Depression

■ Acceptance

Social Change and Epidemics

We can learn considerably about the social component of change. The book Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell* explores the social reasons why some things seem to quickly establish and become a big sensation. These key players are identified as:

■ Connectors: people with a special gift for bringing the world together. These people provide a social glue to the organization.

■ Mavens: people who accumulate knowledge; these people are socially motivated to share knowledge and want to help others with decisions. Mavens are teachers

■ Salesmen: are people with the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced by what we hear.

It is also possible to look at the adopters to change similarly to how new technology products are introduced. In Information Week’s article, 5 Social Business Adopter Types: Prepare Early (the table below is derived from that article[7] [8]), we can see that we have varying degrees of work depending on growth toward accepting and making the change we desire to see in the organization to take root.





Adopts because it is new, these are explorers.


Early adopters

Opinion leaders, like innovators in quick to adopt but concerned about reputation and perception.


Early Majority

Seeks productivity and practice benefits over reputation.


Late Majority

Expects considerable help and support before they are willing to make the change.



Slow to adopt, resists change and forced to make the move and adopt the change.


  • [1] Dannals, J. E., & Miller, D. T. (2017, November 10). Social Norms in Organizations.Retrieved February 4, 2019, from /acrefore-9780190224851 -e-139f Burke, W. W. (2015). Organization Development: A process of learning and changing. Place ofpublication not identified: Pearson.
  • [2] Dannals, J. E., & Miller, D. T. (2017, November 10). Social Norms in Organizations.Retrieved February 4, 2019, from /acrefore-9780190224851 -e-139f Burke, W. W. (2015). Organization Development: A process of learning and changing. Place ofpublication not identified: Pearson.
  • [3] * Burke, W. W. (2015). Organization Development: A process of learning and changing. Place ofpublication not identified: Pearson.
  • [4] Kleiner, A., & Senge, P. M. (1994). The Fifth discipline fieldbook. London: Nicholas Brearley.
  • [5] Kleiner, A., & Senge, P. M. (1994). The Fifth discipline fieldbook. London: Nicholas Brearley.
  • [6] Scholtes, P. R. (1988). The Leader's Handbook: Making things happen, getting things done. NewYork: McGraw-Hill, page 221
  • [7] * Insert tipping point reference
  • [8] last accessed 1/28/ 2019
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