Achieving routine in organizational change

13 April 2004

Today’s reading is:

Pondy, L. R., & Huff, A. S. (1985). Achieving routine in organizational change. Journal of Management, 11(2), 103–116.

I thought I’d have a look at how popular (that is, well cited) was yesterday’s (monster) reading, A quick skim on EBSCO Host showed that it had been cited over 113 times (not bad I thought). So, I’ve had a look at all the articles that used The structuring of organizational structures reading and picked a selection. So here is the first one (of several that I?ll read over the coming week). I’ve decided to do them in historical order, earliest to most recent; there is no rhyme nor reason for this order, other than I like historical flow. So, with no further ado, on to my summary of the article.

The background of this article is that Pondy and Huff have been looking at decision making in a school district for four years. This is article is based on one of those decisions—I expect somewhere there are more articles based on other decisions that were taken there.

Organisations make undertake significant changes in their operations. However, the magnitude of the change may not be apparent until after the change has been undertaken. According to the authors, one view of change, put forward by March, is that change can be treated as routine. And so, the “article therefore explores the routines as an achievement of management” (italics in original, p. 104). So, how the drama of significant change be avoided? How can it be presented in a way that is seen as routine?

Drawing largely on the work of (Ranson, Hinings, & Greenwood, 1980), the authors suggest that there are two things to consider. First, those who wish to minimize change in an organization’s structure must seek to de-emphasis or counteract changes in interpretations, power or context, and to resolve or smooth over apparent contradictions in values/interests or situational context? (Pondy & Huff, p. 114).

Second, for those who wish instead to maximize1 “ the proper strategy is to induce changes in context, power, or interpretive schema, or to highlight or introduce contradictions in values or situations context” (Pondy & Huff, p. 114). This is facilitated by the fact that organisations do have routines, and thus the routines can be exploited to signal either the routine nature of the change, or to emphasise its non-routineness.

Thus for the Pondy & Huff, “the task of administration is two-fold: first, to construct a repertory or library of routines; and second, to make use of those routines for routinizing the new and unfamiliar” (p. 114). “Routines are eoliths, tools that are shaped by the uses to which they are put – the point of this article is that administrators are both tool-makers and tool-users” (p. 115).

So what are my thoughts on this? Well firstly there Darl has talked (and written) about the need for continuity in organisations. I don’t recall if he drew on this work—but there are some strong links between his work and Pondy & Huff, and back to March, too.

But, more importantly, when is change ‘big’? The answer to that, seems to be when people thing its big (And that is the same answer to the questions “When is a class big”). The power of treating big changes as routine (or usual) is impressive. When a lot of ambiguity exists around a change, the managers (or in the case I’m think of, the lecturers) can successful present it as routine and in doing so, shape the interpretive schemas of those affected by the change. Thus, as posited by Ranson, & co., the change can be accomplished without drama.

Consequently, I regard this as a very practical and useful article.

to that questions is back in Ranson, Hinings, & Greendwoods article.


Pondy, L. R., & Huff, A. S. (1985). Achieving routine in organizational change. Journal of Management, 11(2), 103–116.

Ranson, S., Hinings, C. R., & Greenwood, R. (1980). The structuring of organizational structures. Administrative Science Quarterly, 25, 1–17.

  1. Why might someone want to maximise structural change? The answer [return]