The Management of Safety: The Behavioural Approach to Changing Organizations

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Harvard researchers Mayo and F. Roethlisberger supervised a group of five women in a bank wiring room.

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They gave the women special privileges, such as the right to leave their workstations without permission, take rest periods, enjoy free lunches, and have variations in pay levels and workdays. This experiment also resulted in significantly increased rates of productivity.

In this case, Mayo and Roethlisberger concluded that the increase in productivity resulted from the supervisory arrangement rather than the changes in lighting or other associated worker benefits. Because the experimenters became the primary supervisors of the employees, the intense interest they displayed for the workers was the basis for the increased motivation and resulting productivity. Essentially, the experimenters became a part of the study and influenced its outcome.

This is the origin of the term Hawthorne effect, which describes the special attention researchers give to a study's subjects and the impact that attention has on the study's findings. The general conclusion from the Hawthorne studies was that human relations and the social needs of workers are crucial aspects of business management. This principle of human motivation helped revolutionize theories and practices of management. Scott Categories : Behaviorism Hazard analysis Psychology. Hidden categories: All articles with unsourced statements Articles with unsourced statements from December Namespaces Article Talk.

Views Read Edit View history. Unlike individual readiness for change, organizational readiness for change has not been subject to extensive empirical study [ 17 ]. Unfortunately, simply calling for more research will not do.

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As two recently published reviews indicate, most publicly available instruments for measuring organizational readiness for change exhibit limited evidence of reliability or validity [ 17 , 18 ]. At a more basic level, these reviews reveal conceptual ambiguity about the meaning of organizational readiness for change and little theoretically grounded discussion of the determinants or outcomes of organizational readiness.

In the absence of theoretical clarification and exploration of these issues, efforts to advance measurement, produce cumulative knowledge, and inform practice will likely remain stalled. Although readiness is a multi-level construct, I focus on the supra-individual levels of analysis because many promising approaches to improving healthcare delivery entail collective behavior change in the form of systems redesign--that is, multiple, simultaneous changes in staffing, work flow, decision making, communication, and reward systems. In exploring the meaning of organizational readiness and offering a theory of its determinants and outcomes, my intent is to promote further scholarly discussion and stimulate empirical inquiry of an important, yet under-studied topic in implementation science.


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Organizational readiness for change is a multi-level construct. Readiness can be more or less present at the individual, group, unit, department, or organizational level. Readiness can be theorized, assessed, and studied at any of these levels of analysis. However, organizational readiness for change is not a homologous multi-level construct [ 19 ]. That is, the construct's meaning, measurement, and relationships with other variables differ across levels of analysis [ 17 , 20 ]. Below, I focus on organizational readiness for change as a supra-individual state of affairs and theorize about its organizational determinants and organizational outcomes.

Organizational readiness for change is not only a multi-level construct, but a multi-faceted one. Specifically, organizational readiness refers to organizational members' change commitment and change efficacy to implement organizational change [ 17 , 20 ]. This definition followed the ordinary language use of the term 'readiness,' which connotes a state of being both psychologically and behaviorally prepared to take action i.

Similar to Bandura's [ 21 ] notion of goal commitment, change commitment to change refers to organizational members' shared resolve to pursue the courses of action involved in change implementation. I emphasize shared resolve because implementing complex organizational changes involves collective action by many people, each of whom contributes something to the implementation effort. Because implementation is often a 'team sport,' problems arise when some feel committed to implementation but others do not. Herscovitch and Meyer [ 22 ] observe that organizational members can commit to implementing an organizational change because they want to they value the change , because they have to they have little choice , or because they ought to they feel obliged.

Commitment based on 'want to' motives reflects the highest level of commitment to implement organizational change. Like Bandura's [ 21 ] notion of collective efficacy, change efficacy refers to organizational members' shared beliefs in their collective capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action involved in change implementation. Here again, I emphasize shared beliefs and collective capabilities because implementation entails collective or conjoint action among interdependent individuals and work units.

Coordinating action across many individuals and groups and promoting organizational learning are good examples of collective or conjoint capabilities. As Bandura and others note, efficacy judgments refer to action capabilities; efficacy judgments are neither outcome expectancies [ 23 — 25 ] nor assessments of knowledge, skills, or resources [ 23 ].


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  • A theory of organizational readiness for change.

Change efficacy is higher when people share a sense of confidence that collectively they can implement a complex organizational change. Several points about this conceptual definition of organizational readiness for change merit discussion. First, organizational readiness for change is conceived here in psychological terms. Others describe organizational readiness for change in more structural terms, emphasizing the organization's financial, material, human, and informational resources [ 26 — 34 ].

In the theory presented here, organizational structures and resource endowments shape readiness perceptions. In other words, organizational members take into consideration the organization's structural assets and deficits in formulating their change efficacy judgments.

Second, organizational readiness for change is situational; it is not a general state of affairs. Some organizational features do seem to create a more receptive context for innovation and change [ 35 — 37 ]. However, receptive context does not translate directly into readiness. The content of change matters as much as the context of change. A healthcare organization could, for example, exhibit a culture that values risk-taking and experimentation a positive working environment e.

Yet, despite this receptive context, this organization could still exhibit a high readiness to implement electronic medical records, but a low readiness to implement an open-access scheduling system. Commitment is, in part, change specific; so too are efficacy judgments. It is possible that receptive context is a necessary but not sufficient condition for readiness. For example, good managerial-clinical relationships might be necessary for promoting any change even if it does not guarantee that clinicians will commit to implementing a specific change.


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The theory proposed here embraces this possibility by regarding receptive organizational context features as possible determinants of readiness rather than readiness itself. Third, the two facets of organizational readiness for change--change commitment and change efficacy--are conceptually interrelated and, I expect, empirically correlated.

As Bandura [ 21 ] notes, low levels of confidence in one's capabilities to execute a course of action can impair one's motivation to engage in that course of action. Likewise, as Maddux [ 25 ] notes, fear and other negative motivational states can lead one to underestimate or downplay one's judgments of capability. These cognitive and motivational aspects of readiness are expected to covary, but not to covary perfectly.

At one extreme, organizational members could be very confident that they could implement an organizational change successfully, yet show little or no motivation to do so. The opposite extreme is also possible, as are all points in between. Organizational readiness is likely to be highest when organizational members not only want to implement an organizational change and but also feel confident that they can do so.

What circumstances are likely to generate a shared sense of readiness? Consistent leadership messages and actions, information sharing through social interaction, and shared experience--including experience with past change efforts--could promote commonality in organizational members' readiness perceptions [ 19 ]. Broader organizational processes like attraction, selection, socialization, and attrition might also play a role [ 38 — 40 ]. Conversely, organizational members are unlikely to hold common perceptions of readiness when leaders communicate inconsistent messages or act in inconsistent ways, when intra-organizational groups or units have limited opportunity to interact and share information, or when organizational members do not have a common basis of experience.

Intra-organizational variability in readiness perceptions indicates lower organizational readiness for change and could signal problems in implementation efforts that demand coordinated action among interdependent actors. If generating a shared sense of readiness sounds difficult, that is because it probably is. This might explain why many organizations fail to generate sufficient organizational readiness and, consequently, experience problems or outright failure when implementing complex organizational change. Although organizational readiness for change is difficult to generate, motivation theory and social cognitive theory suggest several conditions or circumstances that might promote it see Figure 1.

Determinants and Outcomes of Organizational Readiness for Change. Included in separate document, per instructions to authors concerning figures. Drawing on motivation theory [ 41 — 43 ], I propose that change commitment is largely a function of change valence. Simply put, do organizational members value the specific impending change? For example, do they think that it is needed, important, beneficial, or worthwhile? The more organizational members value the change, the more they will want to implement the change, or, put differently, the more resolve they will feel to engage in the courses of action involved in change implementation.

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Change valence is a parsimonious construct that brings some theoretical coherence to the numerous and disparate drivers of readiness that change management experts and scholars have discussed [ 11 , 13 , 22 , 28 , 44 — 46 ]. Organizational members might value a planned organizational change because they believe some sort of change is urgently needed. They might value it because they believe the change is effective and will solve an important organizational problem. They might value it because they value the benefits that they anticipate the organizational change will produce for the organization, patients, employees, or them personally.

They might value it because it resonates with their core values. They might value it because managers support it, opinion leaders support it, or peers support it. Given the many reasons why organizational members might value an organizational change, it seems unlikely that any of these specific reasons will exhibit consistent, cross-situational relationships with organizational readiness for change. In fact, it might not be necessary that all organizational members value an organizational change for the same reasons.

Change valence resulting from disparate reasons might be just as potent a determinant of change commitment as change valence resulting from commonly shared reasons. For organizational readiness, the key question is: regardless of their individual reasons, do organizational members collectively value the change enough to commit to its implementation? Drawing on social cognitive theory, and specifically the work of Gist and Mitchell [ 47 ], I propose that change efficacy is a function of organizational members' cognitive appraisal of three determinants of implementation capability: task demands, resource availability, and situational factors.

As Gist and Michell [[ 47 ]] observe, efficacy is a 'comprehensive summary or judgment of perceived capability to perform a task. Implementation capability depends in part on knowing what courses of action are necessary, what kinds of resources are needed, how much time is needed, and how activities should be sequenced.

Contingency Theory: Definition and Significance to Organizational Behavior

In addition to gauging knowledge of task demands, organizational members also cognitively appraise the match between task demands and available resources. That is, they assess whether the organization has the human, financial, material, and informational resources necessary to implement the change well. Finally, they consider situational factors such as, for example, whether sufficient time exists to implement the change well or whether the internal political environment supports implementation.

When organizational members share a common, favorable assessment of task demands, resource availability, and situational factors, they share a sense of confidence that collectively they can implement a complex organizational change. In other words, change efficacy is high. Change management experts and scholars have discussed other, broader contextual conditions that affect organizational readiness for change.

For example, some contend that an organizational culture that embraces innovation, risk-taking, and learning supports organizational readiness for change [ 48 — 51 ]. Others stress the importance of flexible organizational policies and procedures and positive organizational climate e.