Organizational Consultation: An Appreciative Approach–IV. Change and Stabilization

Organizational Consultation: An Appreciative Approach–IV. Change and Stabilization

The leaders of many organizations, such as Jill, are inclined to respond to these changes by themselves introducing changes into the system. These changes are likely to be minor, for most leaders believe that minimal change is less likely to create either adverse reactions from those who resist change or to create negative consequences if the change turns out to be less successful than was expected, or if the change yields unanticipated and unwanted results.

Disjointed Incrementalism

This strategy of initiating small, minimal, Level One changes in response to changing environments is sometimes known as disjointed incrementalism. These are short-sighted, piecemeal response to complex social processes. As an example of disjointed incrementalism, we can point to the tendency of many corporations, social service agencies, and educational institutions to turn to new consumers when feeling a financial pinch. A small liberal arts college, for instance, responds to its enrollment crisis by recruiting, for the first time, lower-middle class students, minority students, and vocationally-oriented students. While such attempts are laudable in terms of increasing the accessibility of college to the underserved, these colleges have often introduced these changes without an accompanying campus-wide analysis of the likely impact of such a change on the college’s curriculum and without adequate faculty preparation for meeting the needs of these new students.

Similar stories can often be told of insurance companies that recruit major new user groups without adequately assessing the new manpower needs that this new group produces or community mental health clinics that seek to meet the needs of an underserved population without adequate preparation. Haphazard and ill-planned change in any organization thus produces a host of immediate problems that must be solved. In addition, this type of change often creates a climate that encourages additional incremental change. This vicious cycle of incremental change enacted in response to the consequences of other incremental changes can lead an individual or organization into serious and destructive commitments that were not initially intended.

Disjointed incrementalism and a reliance on Level One Change often reflects a strong bias toward action and an accompanying neglect of data collection, analysis and interpretation. An action-oriented plan for change in any organization that is based on an inadequate assessment of organizational needs and resources may yield desirable short-term change, but will rarely produce substantial long-term effects. Furthermore, one can’t determine what type of change, if any, has occurred as result of this effort—for such a program is conducted with little attention to the collection of information about current organizational characteristics and goals, Consequently, a successful change effort can rarely be reproduced in the same organization, let alone in another one, since we do not know either how the change occurred or if such an approach would again be appropriate in the same organization or elsewhere.


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William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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