Studying the ontology of change in organisational transformation reveals a set of intersections whose chain of causality is complex. A realist ontology views change as located outside of human perception (Moses & Knutsen, 2012) a position that limits human knowledge to post-Kantian physical mediations between the object and their interpretation. Change results from causality, and direct observations of the cause-effect mechanism also remain outside of human capability (Hume, 1748; Moses & Knutsen, 2012). Within this view, the nature of change may be seen as alternately as evolutionary, as being radical (i.e. temporally swift or structurally altered), as being of a first or second (or third and so on) order containing dependencies on temporally prior changes and so on (Stickland, 1995). Countering this view is the nominalist position where objects exist only within human cognition (Moses & Knutsen, 2012). This creates serious limitations on the descriptive power expressing change and “the use of metaphor and analogy represent a useful palette from which to draw images and descriptive labels” to express change (Stickland, 1995, p. 55). Much writing about organisational change and leadership is nominalist in nature relying heavily on metaphor, yet arguably, it can be simultaneously seen as realist in its insistence on direct causal link between leader action and outcome. This contradiction highlights the often unacademic rhetoric in leadership theory.
It also allows for straw men arguments where false analogies are created in order to attack their deliberately weak construction. Academic distinctions can be useful if, in the course of the analysis, insights are generated that help add new knowledge to existing issues. Norhia and Beer’s (2000) ontological distinction between Theory E and Theory O, likewise, may prove of value if their analysis highlights new differences that in turn allow better understandings of organisational change or leadership theory. Yet even in their article, they argued for a synergy of the theories, and very soon others pointed out that the styles needed to be integrated (Kippenberger, 2000).
The question of utility centres on two aspects. Is the Theory E/ Theory O actually valid, and does knowing about the differences help in the creation of better systems? The second question is answered already by the original authors who point to a combination of theories as being more productive (Norhia & Beer, 2000). The first is invalid in Japan for two reasons. The metaphor of the “bottom line” (Holbeche, 2006) as the driving force behind Theory O does not find resonance in Japan. The life-long employment culture of Japan results in businesses reassigning staff who are unproductive rather than terminating their employment (Sugimoto, 2014). While profits have some importance, they are not the ultimate driving force. The Confucian paternalistic culture aims to protect all members of theingroup even if productivity and profitability gains are sacrificed (Samovar, Porter, McDaniel & Sexton Roy, 2015). Ontologically, therefore, claiming that Theory E exists is problematic in the Japanese context. The Confucian element may seem to suggest that Japan can be characterised by Theory O, with its focus on building the individual and the human aspects of an organisation. However, this is also problematic because the implication inherent in Theory O is that it also is founded on strengthening the baseline profit (Amann, 2016).
These problems are exacerbated when applied to higher education management. I won’t develop that thought here as space is limited. However, I will support Wolfgang’s idea of a Theory H and invite him to apply Latour’s actor-network theory to ecology building in higher education. That would be a useful study.
Amann, W. (2016). Re: Week 6 Discussion. [Forum Post]. https://elearning.uol.ohecampus.com/webapps/discussionboard/do/message
Holbeche, L. (2006). Understanding change theory, implementation and success. Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann.
Hume, D. (1748). An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Project Gutenberg.
Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Szociologiai Szemle. Oxford: Oxford University Press. http://doi.org/10.1163/156916307X189086
Moses, J. W., & Knutsen, T. L. (2012). Ways of knowing: Competing methodologies in social and political research (2nd ed.).Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Nohria, N., & Beer, M. (2000). Cracking the code of change. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved on August 17 2016 fromhttps://hbr.org/2000/05/cracking-the-code-of-change
Samovar, L., Porter, R., McDaniel, E. R., & Sexton Roy, C. (2015). Intercultural Communication: A Reader (14th ed.). Boston: CengageLearning.
Stickland, F. (1995). The nature and dynamics of change: a systems approach to exploring organisational change. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City University London). http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/7777/
Sugimoto, Y. (2014). An Introduction to Japanese Society, Second Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.http://doi.org/10.1080/03637756509375425