Organizational Consultation: An Appreciative Approach–IV. Change and Stabilization
Any planned change effort (at least at Level One) involves some attempt to modify the speed with which any transitions or transformations in the organization are currently taking place. Conversely, stabilization (and Level Two change) often involves reflection on the impact of these transitions and transformations and involves attempts to minimize variability in this speed. It is not an attempt to prevent the ongoing transition or transformation. A corporation, for instance, has instituted a major performance management program. This initiative requires all managers, directors and vice presidents to identify and provide quarterly reports on specific performance goals. The corporate leaders may wish to adopt a stabilization strategy that prevents other pressures acting on the corporation from provoking other changes that might distract from the performance management initiative. The administrator of a large urban hospital decides to devote most of her attention during the coming month to insuring that a new billing system is being properly installed in a systematic and timely manner. All of these exemplify proactive, planned stabilization in an organization.
When is stabilization appropriate? After an organization has been exposed to repeated change that is either unplanned or has had a significant impact, a process of stabilization is usually appropriate. For instance, a company that has hired (and fired) four business managers over the past three years may want to clarify the role to be played by this person before selecting yet another new manager,. Similarly, a complex curricular reform process at a small liberal arts college usually should be followed by a period of stabilization during which monitoring and strengthening of the curricular reform occurs.
If an organization has remained relatively dormant for several years, then change may be recommended, though it will often be more difficult to achieve than when an organization has created a precedent for change. A significant paradox is revealed in this recommendation, for it is precisely under conditions when change seems easiest to initiate that stabilization is most appropriate, and vice versa. A corporation running a fast-food chain that has been very successful for the past five years may be very resistant to any institutional soul-searching, even though everyone knows that success in this business is short-lived, if one doesn’t keep pace with the competition. Similarly, the director of a social service agency who has brought in a new business officer every year for the past three years may find it quite easy to gain board approval for appointment of yet another new business manager. Such a decision, however, may be much less appropriate than the stabilization-oriented decision to retain the current manager and look elsewhere or more deeply into the source of the problem.