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By Bright Manjengwa (September 2012)

Twitter: @BC2PN
Email: btmara.bm@gmail.com
Strategy Formulation

Lewin and Complexity theory

Change management is the process by which an organisation gets to its future state
(Lorenzi, 2005). Change is inevitable, the market changes, customer demands and
technology to support the business changes. However, change is not always within
the control of the organisation (Vroom, 1993)
Lewin (1951) believed that permeation of democratic values prevent social conflict in
all facets of life, setting the platform for planned change through learning. He unified
the planned change in the four elements of Field theory, Group dynamics, Action
research and 3 step model for change. In this planned change he concedes that
systems are not static but in quasi-stationary equilibrium which requires constant
change when field factors change.
Lewin (1951)) stated Change and constancy are relative concepts (with) mere
differences in the amount and type of change.
Field Theory
The behaviour of a group is mapped out by the totality of complexity of the field in
which it is expressed. The status quo in organisation change is perceived to be held
together by certain forces. The incremental or transformational changes are subject
to the forces within the field. The force field analyse where change only occurs by
varying either or both of the restraining or driving forces.
The UK government have been accused of not listening to its electorate and
responded by asking the electorate to vote for commissioners of police. The driving
force was to get political mileage by appearing to listen to people concerns
Field theory have been criticised for enabling only incremental and not more
transformational change (Parchom, 2006). The nave exclusion of power and politics
and its perceived top-down approach to change management has its relevance in
decline to effective application (Stacey, 2003)
Group Dynamics
Central to all, was Lewins (1951) view that the group to which an individual belongs,
is the bases for his perceptions. Lewin identified that individual behaviour is a
function of the group environment or field (smith, 2001). Group dynamics stresses
that group behaviour rather than that of individuals should be the main focus of
change. It is easier to manage organisation change if the behaviour of its Workers

Union is harnessed than the individual employees. Isolated individuals are

constrained by group pressures (Lewin, 1951). . Schein (1988) concurs that by
focusing on group norms and roles, disequilibrium is created and change can be

Action research
Action research is a process where research leads to action and action leads to
evaluation and further action (Lewin, 1951). It is a result of a learning process. It
draws from both the field theory to evaluate the forces that focus on the group to
which the individual belongs and group dynamics to understand the group behaviour
when subjected to these forces. For successful organisational change the process
must be both participative and collaborative by all those concerned (French & Bell,
1990). Research in the Metropolitan Police by inquiries after the Brixton riots in 1981,
led to the action plan of how it interacted with minority groups. Re-evaluation of the
action by a later Mcpherson Inquiry into Stephen Lawrences death in 1993, identified
that the Metropolitan Police had still not changed since the Brixton riots.
However, power and politics derails implementation. As in the force field theory to
maintain the quasi-stationary equilibrium status, the opposing forces at the desired
state must be preserved otherwise it will eventually fall back into the old position.
Hence the next level of planned change of 3 step model of change.
3 step model
The three step model involves unfreezing organisation behaviour, change the
behaviour to the desired state and refreezing the new behaviour.
Unfreezing is about helping stakeholders understand change is required. The force
field analysis comes into play. Fear of failing to meet goals or standards may be
drivers to change (Schein, 1995). Tesco is in the process of restructuring because of
declining market share. At the unfreezing stage, change effort must be
communicated to gain acceptance for change and the resultant benefits. Employers
will propose redundancy packages to those who want to leave, assure employment
to those who fear to lose their jobs and training to those in doubt of their capabilities
in the new changed environment (Longo, 2011). It is here the issues of resistance to
change and counterbalancing of restraining forces are considered. Lewin (1951) did
not believe it would be easy or that the same techniques could be applied in all
Changing behaviour stage, catapults movement from the old behaviour to the desired
state. New structures, processes and cultures are implemented in alignment with
goals and vision of the desired change. Change here, can be incremental or
transformational. All forces at work are considered to identify and evaluate available

options through action research based learning approach. The impending elections of
commissioners of police is the transformational change in the UKs police service.
The final stage of refreezing seeks to stabilise to a new quasi-stationary equilibrium
for the new behaviour to be safe from regression. The new behaviour needs to be
internalised and to become standard company practice (Porter et al. 2006).
Legislation of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 seeks to pave
way to refreeze the changes by providing the legal frameworks of police service
requirements. Kanter (1991) argues that the business world is ever changing and
refreezing suffocates flexibility in the Lewins model. However, Lewin (1957)
recognised that any change could have been frequently short-lived (Longo, 2011).
Complexity Theory
Complexity theory portrays organisations as complex, dynamic, non-linear selforganising systems (Stacey, 2003). This theory encompasses various theories, ideas
and research from different disciplines in the natural sciences (Stacey, 2003). It notes
that dynamic, non-linear systems operate where the laws of cause and effect do not
hold but can be explained by the concepts of chaos and order, edge of chaos and
order generating rules.
Chaos and order are twin attributes of dynamic, non-linear systems and with chaos, a
hidden order may be concealed. Stacey (2003) identified stable equilibrium,
explosive instability and bounded instability. When an organisation stays in stable
equilibrium it will eventually, loose its competitive advantage as happened to Kodak
the film photographic company. It failed to move with times into the digital world
despite developing the first digital camera in 1992 but failed to launch it for fear of the
cannibalisation of film (BBC, 2012). Motorola operated in explosive instability in an
effort to compete with Nokia and Apple and ended up going under with over priced
products such as Xoom, the iPad equivalent.
In bounded instability organisations are poised at the edge between order and chaos.
Stacey (2003) assets that operating at the edge of chaos gives organisations
opportunities to be innovative. Limited chaos in complex organisation is facilitated by
order-generating rules. They allow self organising systems to operate and remain at
the edge of chaos. The card payment Visa bears the elements of edge of chaos and
is self organising. It evolves with time and technology.Operation at the edge of chaos
and the resultant order-generating rules incorporating both positive and negative
feedback loops make organisations or systems non-linear and dynamic.
Rosenhead (1998) argues that since complexity approach acknowledges
unpredictability of results then its application by managers will be futile as they
cannot forecast an outcome and any change should be left to chance. Furthermore,
agility of thought based on the fostering of diversity is a prerequisite for an
organisations longer term success. Stacey (2003) astoundedly refers to natural
sciences as the basis of complex analogy but natural systems and social and

organisational systems are intrinsically different but based on computer simulations

(Rosenhead, 1998).
The lack of empirical evidence not from natural sciences but from social sciences
about creativity at the edge of chaos, versus controlled extinction in a quasistationary equilibrium cannot apply to the management of organisations (Rosenhead,
Reliance on the edge of chaos is heralded as one cause for the collapse of the
banking industry during the 2008/9 recession. Order- generating rules that abound
self-organising system are by no means a new concept but a reassertion of Adam
Smith (1767), metaphor of self-organising markets by an invisible hand (Rosenhead,
Common Ground
The common ground between Lewins planned approach and the complexity
approach appear in democracy and power, the third kind of change ie. the one
between incremental and large scale transformational change and order-generating
Lewins group based and learning approach as expounded through Action research
recognised the behaviour forces that are not predicted that compares to the chaos
and order in complexity theory.
Lewin (1951) recognised that organisations or field are in a state of quasi-stationary
equilibrium which is similar to the order-disorder state in complexity theory.
Change efforts and self-organising groups of planned change have common ground
with the self organising systems that operates at the edge of chaos.
Action research as a learning process has similarities to the order-generating rules.
Field theory and Group dynamics are concerned with identifying existing ordergenerating rules whilst Action Research and three step model are concerned with
developing and implanting new order-generating rules (Burnes, 2004)
Over the last 30yrs Lewins planned change has been challenged and seen as
outdated and irrelevant to todays organisations by the emergence of complexity
theory. Lewins planned change is a composition of all linked up theories of Field
theory, Group dynamics, action research and 3 step model of change. Democracy
was the centre of planed change.
On the other hand according to Smith (2005) Complexity theory implies that causes
of events cannot be known and that forecasting and planned change is doomed to
fail. Despite varying interpretation of the different theories significant similarities have

been drawn between Lewins work and complexity theories (Burnes, 2004).Planned
change is the implementing vehicle for complexity approach to change (Burnes,
Complexity theory provide rational arguments against rationality, as well as
forecasting with great confidence the impossibility of forecasting and planning the
absence of planning (Rosenhead, 1998). This analysis leads to complexity advocates
having to apply forms of planned change to facilitate the process of complexity
approach (Rosenhead, 1998; Burns, 2009). Rosenhead goes further to dismiss the
bases and inferences made by complexity theorists as either lacking direct empirical
evidence or not correctly interpreting Lewins planned change.
Ethical responsibility is lacking in complexity approach with edge of chaos and order
generating rules heavily focusing on innovation with little regard to social
responsibility which is embedded in planned approach. (Burnes, 2009). Trade union
power has increased over the years hence, governments around the world had to
accord considerable input from these bodies in changing political landscapes. The
emergent or complexity approach have been accused of promoting unethical
behaviour as was the case of the banking industry that operated at the edge of chaos
to promote risk banking behaviour that resulted in the 2008/9 recession.
Democratic approaches dating far back to Taylor (1911) of a fair days pay for a fair
days work are still applied successfully in todays organisations. Criticism of planned
change as quaintly linear and static, appears lack of understanding of Lewins
planned change as he recognised that organisations or systems are not static but in
quasi-stationary equilibrium that is ever changing.
Complexity theory is rapidly developing but still young and an imperfectly integrated
field and its analogy in the field of management is questionable. However the
situation could well change as complexity theory develops further. Therefore,
creativity and rationality are mutually supportive rather than exclusive (Rosenhead,