Monday, May 4, 2009

The Rhythms of Change

Changing the way we think about change is important, but trying to understand the underlying rhythms of change is important as well. I did my dissertation on factors that influence the perception of change in community colleges. I reviewed the literature and research on how organizational change occurs and how it is perceived from nearly every angle I could imagine. However, one model of change that really informed my study and anchored my thinking was the punctuated equilibrium model by Tushman and Romanelli (1985).

The researchers described various organizational life cycles and the extent to which they are healthy for the organization. They posit that organizations go through natural periods of equilibrium (very steady periods of little change) that are periodically interrupted by points of punctuation (large-scale change) - taken together, this makes up the foundations of their punctuated equilibrium model. They continue that if the periods of equilibrium last too long, the organization can drift into entropy and decay. Similarly destructive, if an organization experiences too many periods of continuous punctuations, fatigue and negative energy can also lead to drift and decay.

In contrast, a healthy organization can move from a state of equilibrium to punctuation and emerge stronger and healthier as it experiences the next period of relative equilibrium. When the next punctuation occurs, it's generally shorter because the organization is better-equipped to handle it. Over time, as the organization becomes stronger and more effective, the periods of equilibrium are shorter so the punctuations come quicker, but they are less significant because the organization is better equipped to respond and absorb the associated changes. The strength and collective ability that develops within the organizational culture minimizes the effect of staff turnover and other shifts that can decrease momentum and inhibit effectiveness.

The combination of implementing our Strategic Plan and responding to the current enrollment demands seems to have created a period of punctuated activity for us. I am very proud of how faculty and staff are responding during this time and believe we'll emerge from this stronger and more effective than ever. If we maintain our collective focus on our mission of promoting student success and community involvement through a commitment to excellence and a spirit of service, I am confident that the punctuated equilibrium model will come to life for many years to come at MVCC. If you have any thoughts or reflection on this post, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.