The contribution of soft systems methodology to the achievement of change in organisational culture

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Pattison, Elizabeth Mary
  • Subject: HD28

This PhD was motivated by the perceived need to assist organisations to be more\ud successful in achieving change in organisational culture. Soft Systems Methodology\ud (S SM) was chosen as the framework for the study because of the researcher's ten years'\ud experience with the approach, and the wealth of literature suggesting its appropriateness\ud for organisational change projects (eg Checkland 1981, Checkland & Scholes 1990).\ud The aim was to achieve a deeper understanding of how SSM can assist cultural change\ud and what other factors are important. Both literature and practice indicate that the\ud participants' views of what happens in an SSM project are vital, since they will be\ud charged with implementing the change, and yet this viewpoint was not represented in the\ud literature of SSM. This research presents the participant perspective.\ud Action research was chosen and two in-depth case studies were carried out. Interviews\ud with other experienced SSM researchers/consultants augmented the data gathered via the\ud case studies.\ud The major contribution of the research was to extent the theoiy of SSM and\ud organisational culture by:\ud • The conclusion that SSM can contribute to cultural change in organisations, where\ud cultural change is understood to involve a change in roles, norms or values relating to\ud the primary purpose of the organisation (ie in SSM terms - a change in\ud Weltanschauungen). This view was validated by the sponsor and participants of the\ud case studies, and tested in real business consultancy projects.\ud • The identification and ranking of what factors had contributed to this changed\ud Weltanschauungen, from the perspective of the sponsor and participants.\ud Considerations impacting on the general applicability of the research findings were\ud identified and explored, ie an organisation's degree of receptiveness to cultural change,\ud the role of the facilitator, and the way SSM is applied.\ud In addition the research:\ud • Tested the use of a mix of Mode 1 and 2 of SSM.\ud • Highlighted that SSM project facilitators and clients tend to select each other based\ud on trust and shared values. This can lead to the SSM project reinforcing the client's\ud values.\ud • Tested an inter-linked group of techniques introduced by the researcher to strengthen\ud the participative approach to using SSM.\ud While acknowledging the limitations of action research and surveys, as well as the\ud researcher's bias, it is considered that in organisations which display a general\ud receptiveness to cultural change, the approach used in the case studies, and the SSM\ud learning described, should prove useful in assisting the process of cultural change.
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