Micro Patterns of Organizational Change in Universities

Some weeks ago, we briefly talked about governing organizational change in universities. Our initial ideas already got accepted for presentation at the Higher Education Research Conference in Zürich. Nonetheless, we’ve been busy finalizing a first draft of the entire paper over the holidays. Here’s the abstract that we just submitted to this year’s conference of the Academy of Management:

Universities are facing increasing institutional pressure to change due to government efforts of New Public Management. Research on higher education institutions broadly suggests that it takes governance, leadership, and management alike to cope with the now perceived misalignment of organizational structures and environmental demands. Unfortunately, organizational change is notoriously difficult to govern since decision making remains ambiguous and anarchic. We address the research gap between broad and deterministic macro modes of governance, leadership, and management on one hand and the micro modes of ambiguous and anarchic decision-making processes on the other hand. Relying on the concept of universities as loosely coupled systems, develop theoretically grounded patterns of temporary micro patterns of tightly coupled strategic issues and governing bodies that facilitate organizational change in universities. We substantiate this micro foundation with three years of longitudinal data from the university senate of one of the largest German universities. Our research findings suggest six micro patterns in organizational change: Agenda building, sense making, three micro patterns of devising, and one of debriefing. In contrast to the macro modes of New Public Management, these micro patterns allow a more fine-grained analysis within four stages of organizational change. Governing change thus entails a bottom-up approach based on micro patterns of tightly coupled strategic issues and governing bodies, not a top-down management of hierarchy and process.

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