Participation, individual development, and organizational change: a review and synthesis
William A. Pasmore
The purpose of this review is to identify and explore issues associated
with the use of participation in conjunction with Organization Development
activities. We maintain that the misunderstanding of participative
processes places significant limitations on the success of
Organization Development interventions and upon acceptance of the
field as a whole. To remedy this situation, we suggest that practitioners
pay more attention to combining individual and organization development
efforts and that researchers devote more energy to exploring the
effects of mediating variables on participation outcomes. We recommend
the concept of organizational citizenship as a more inclusive
framework for research and practice concerning participation in organization
“Progress for democracy lies in enhancing the actual freedom, initiative
and spontaneity of the individual, not only in certain private and
spiritual matters, but above all in the activity fundamental to every
man’s existence, his work.” Eric Fromm, 1941.
“If there were a nation of gods, it would be governed democratically.
So perfect a government is unsuited to men.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau,
Reviews of the Organization Development (OD) literature by Friedlander and Brown (1974), Beer and Walton (1987), Mirvis (1988, 1990), Sashkin and Burke (1987), Porras and Robertson (1987) and Woodman (1989) testify to the growth and maturation of the field. From its earliest beginnings with T-groups, sensitivity training, and Grid OD, the field has become a recognized, if not universally accepted, academic discipline and has provided managers with helpful tools for planning and facilitating organizational change. Research and intervention in OD now spans the spectrum between individual development and global change, addressing topics ranging from improving interpersonal skills to transforming macro-systems. The expansion and maturation of the field that is the product of over 50 years of research, active experimentation, and learning, has given the discipline a firm foothold in our society and in many other regions of the world. It offers more varied, systemic, relevant, and powerful interventions than in its earlier years. Research data to support the efficacy of interventions and to fill out theories of human change in organized settings is accumulating rapidly. With continuing interest on the part of organizations, research funding agencies, and students, the field seems much more established and secure today than it did just 15 or 20 years ago, when each assemblage of pioneers in the area evoked the same two questions: “What is OD?” and “Should the field continue to exist?”
Today, the new challenges facing the field are to continue its development rather than to stagnate, to develop mechanisms for monitoring admission to the profession and the quality of practice by professionals, to expand the applicability of interventions by taking into account differences in cultures among groups and internationally, to gain credibility among powerful groups and agencies influencing societal and international relations, to address issues of global social concern, to develop more powerful explanatory theories, and to produce paradigmatic research.
But there are some old challenges to be addressed as well. One in particular is to address the issue that more than any other has been at the same time the essential strength and fundamental weakness of the OD paradigm; that is, the question of whether or not it is feasible for people to participate in the full range of decisions regarding changes that affect them. It will no doubt seem backwards-looking to many readers to reconsider the underlying assumptions regarding participation in organization development (OD). Yet, with each new intervention, each new focus, and each new expansion of the field to address ever more important opportunities for social and organizational improvement, questions regarding participation are raised anew.
Woodman (1989) pointed to the participation issue in his recent review of OD in this journal:
Despite the centrality of the participation construct to organizational
change theory, our understandings and assumptions regarding participation
are often simplistic. People will participate, given the opportunity,
in organizational changes that affect them; people prefer participation
to non-participation; and so on. On the contrary, Neumann (1989)
estimates that approximately two thirds of a work force typically
choose not to participate in organizational change efforts when provided
the opportunity. (208).
Dachler and Wilpert (1978) reach a similar conclusion after a thorough review of the participation literature: “No clear set of questions, let alone a set of answers, which begin to define the nature of the participation phenomenon are discernable.”(1)
And in the most detailed and critical review of the participative decision-making (PDM) literature to date, Locke and Schweiger (1979) maintain:
The consistency with which the results of PDM studies fail to show any
clear trend with respect to effect on productivity (and to a lesser extent
with respect to effects on morale) leads to only one possible conclusion–there
is a great deal we do not yet know about the conditions
under which PDM will |work’. (316).
In this article, we wish to challenge and add to some of the fundamental theories underlying the discipline in order to point to what we believe are necessary changes in practice and interesting opportunities for research. Specifically, we will address the issue of preparing people to participate in change–an issue as old as the field itself–and suggest that many of the current failings of the field can be traced to misconceptions concerning the efficacy of our existing theories and practices in this area. If the field is to face and meet its current challenges, it must come to grips with what it is doing with and to people, and toward what ends “development” is ultimately aimed. We will argue here that individual and organization development are inseparable–two sides of the same coin–and that the goal of organization development must therefore be the sustainable development of both individuals and organizations through ongoing processes aimed both at meeting organizational goals and at giving meaning to the human experience.
The important messages we wish to convey in this article include the following:
* When participation is effective, it produces important beneficial outcomes
individuals and organizations.
* Participative competence is required if participative efforts are to result
in beneficial outcomes for individuals and organizations.
* Many individuals are not prepared adequately to participate in organization
* Currently popular organization development interventions, such as
total quality programs, self-directed work teams and sociotechnical
systems interventions are predicated on effective participation.
* Many failures or disappointments in organization development may
be traced to ineffective participation.
* Individual development and organization development should go
hand in hand.
Participation in Organization Development
As the quotes by Fromm and Rousseau suggest, the struggle between the desire to involve people in meaningful decisions that shape their lives and doubt in peoples’ capacity to participate in these same decisions has been a part of human history. Indeed, Plato addressed this struggle in The Republic and other writings. The field of OD did not create this controversy, but it has inherited it. OD’s values (see, for example, French & Bell, 1973) include the empowerment of participants at all levels of organizations to take part in making decisions that affect them. Yet the uneven track record of OD captured in the reviews mentioned previously attests to the fact that current mechanisms for involving people in decision making are at best imperfect. One cannot conclude based on any reasonable review of the literature regarding participation in organizations that simply involving people in decision making will produce positive benefits to either those involved or the organization as a whole. We would go so far as to argue that currently popular interventions, such as self-directed work teams and quality programs, continue to fall short of their full potential in many instances due to a failure to recognize the complexity of the participation process.
The many pitfalls and complexities of participation in organizations have been captured in graphic detail by Kanter (1983), who concludes that:
Participation is a way to involve and energize the rank-and-file; it is not
a single mechanism or a particular program. And it is certainly not the
latest new appliance that can be purchased from a consultant or in a do-it-yourself
kit, assembled, plugged in, and expected to run by itself
There are a large number of perils and problems, dilemmas, and decisions,
that have to be addressed in managing participation so that it produces
the best results for everyone. (243)
The mixed track record of participation in OD, and of OD interventions in general, may be attributable to a failure to understand what conditions are required to sustain effective participation in organizational change. In this article, we review the literature on participation in OD and suggest that a more complex synthesis of several streams of literature may provide a useful framework for research and intervention in this arena. We begin by examining the history of research concerning participation in OD. We then turn to a discussion of the underlying purpose of participation and its origins in early democracy. We next define several levels of participation in order to clarify the behaviors and outcomes associated with different kinds of participative acts. We then turn to a discussion of three moderating variables that we believe influence the effectiveness of participation in organizational change: organizational receptivity, individual ego development, and knowledge availability. Then, we review the literature dealing with participation in organization development activities, and suggest that the lack of preparation for participation by managers and organizational members may account for the mixed results that have been reported. Finally, we offer a strategy of combining individual and organizational development activities and propose the concept of organizational citizenship as a new framework for examining participation in organizational change.
Participation in Practice
Many credit Lewin (1948, 1951) with discovering the importance of participation in changing attitudes. In a series of experiments involving changes in food preferences, Lewin demonstrated the superiority of participative discussion over lectures or direct appeal as a means of changing attitudes.
After Lewin’s experiments, and following the classic Hawthorne studies (Roethlisberger & Dickson, 1939), participation became the focus of a number of early experiments in OD, the most noted of which were those conducted in the Harwood Manufacturing Company by Coch and French (1948). The explicit goal of these studies was to investigate what could be done to reduce workers’ resistance to job changes. It had been observed that workers in the plant who were transferred to a new job learned at a slower rate than workers who were hired and placed on the same jobs for the first time. Alex Bavelas had demonstrated in the same plant that group decision techniques resulted in very marked increases in the rate of relearning. Building on this finding, Coch and French assigned workers to participative and non-participative experimental groups to determine whether group discussion concerning the new jobs had an impact on relearning. In analyzing the results of their experiments, Coch and French concluded:
It is possible for management to modify or to remove completely group
resistance to changes in methods of work and the ensuing piece rates.
This change can be accomplished by the use of group meetings in
which management effectively communicates the need for change and
stimulates group participation in planning the changes. (531)
However, the effects of participation were not without variation. Coch and French noted, as did Lewin, that the strength of identification with the work group influenced the rate of relearning achieved following group discussion.
Since the Harwood experiments, the investigation of participation has involved a search for additional variables that could explain the mixed outcomes observed in practice. The strong bias on the part of researchers in favor of participation has supported continuing research and theorizing despite the lack of convincing evidence that participation “works” (Locke & Schweiger, 1979).
Vroom (1960) investigated the impact of personality variables on self-reported effects of participation using a sample of 108 middle managers in a parcel delivery company. Vroom noted that individuals with a high need for independence and a low need for authoritarianism seemed to benefit most from participative opportunities. He also argued strongly that participation was most beneficial when combined with programs designed to increase individuals’ skills and abilities.
Lowin (1968), in reviewing laboratory, observational, and field experiments involving participation added to the list of mediating variables. His list included the extent, relevance, importance and visibility of participative activities; the difficulty of issues being addressed; the extent of social pressure for participation; the clarity of goals to be achieved through participation; the linking of financial rewards with participation; the amount of directly useful information available to individuals; the extent to which individuals control the factors that influence outcomes; the lack of pressure to make a decision; and the number of levels included in the process.
Dachler and Wilpert (1978), in a review of participation a decade later, reach similar conclusions and note that the results of participation research seem confusing because researchers approached the subject with different interests in mind. Dachler and Wilpert also note that there is evidence to support concerns about the ability of individuals to engage in effective participation, although the state of research in this area leaves much to be desired.
Locke and Schweiger (1979), in a comprehensive critical review of experiments involving participative leadership, group decision making, goal setting, and organizational change, reach the conclusion that support for the positive effects of participative decision making is at best mixed. Like Lowin (1968) and Dachler and Wilpert (1978), they conclude that success in participative decision making (PDM) is not guaranteed and that mediating factors must be considered.
According to Locke and Schweiger, contextual factors determining the effectiveness of participation include knowledge of participants (not all participants are of equal knowledge or ability, and decisions should be made by those who are best qualified to make them); motivation (need for independence, need for achievement, job involvement, commitment to organizational goals); organizational factors (all factors external to the participating employee); task attributes (routine versus non-routine); group characteristics (group conflict, groupthink); leader attributes (degree of threat to the leader, skill in the use of participative techniques, leader personality, level of interaction with employees); and other organizational factors (time available, size, rate of change).
In a more charitable review, Sashkin (1984) distinguishes four types of participation: participation in setting goals, making decisions, solving problems, and in making changes in the organization. It is the latter form of participation that most concerns us in this article. Sashkin maintains: “The evidence of 50 years of action research clearly, consistently, and strongly demonstrates the effectiveness of participative management.” (7). Further, “I argue, with research to back me up, that participative management has positive effects on performance, productivity, and employee satisfaction because it fulfills the three basic human work needs: increased autonomy, increased meaningfulness, and decreased isolation” (11).
Like Argyris (1957), Sashkin holds that traditional (non-participative) organizational arrangements interfere with the satisfaction of the basic human work needs and that failure to satisfy these needs results in psychological and even physical injury.
More recently, meta-analyses by Miller and Monge (1986) and Wagner and Gooding (1987) have added further clarity to the variables that mediate outcomes in participation research. Miller and Monge included the results of 47 studies of the effects of participation on satisfaction and productivity in their analysis; they determined that the mean correlation between participation and satisfaction was .34, and between satisfaction and productivity, .15. They further concluded that participation was not more effective for workers versus managers, that participation in field studies was more likely to produce positive outcomes than participation in laboratory experiments, and that participation in goal setting does not have a strong effect on productivity.
Wagner and Gooding (1987), analyzing data from 118 individual correlations between participation and outcomes, determined that methodological issues seemed to moderate findings. Overall, the correlation between participation and participation outcomes (defined as task performance, decision performance, motivation,
satisfaction and acceptance of consequences) was .32. Those studies that relied on strictly perceptual measures of both participation and participation outcomes at a single point in time showed a much stonger correlation (.39) than those that used multiple measures (.12). Wagner and Gooding also concluded that group size, task interdependence, task complexity, and performance standards were not strong moderators of participation-outcome relationships.
Although Wagner and Gooding indicate that their results suggest that participation programs in industry may not produce strong objective outcomes, they also note that sociotechnical system interventions studied by Guzzo, Jette, and Katzell (1985) and Locke, Feren, McCaleb, Shaw, and Denny (1980) did demonstrate positive results because other changes in compensation and job design accompanied and reinforced the introduction of participation. Pasmore and King (1978) reached a similar conclusion in comparing interventions that involved techno-structural components versus strictly human processual components. Thus, it seems that participation and organizational change should go hand in hand if improvements in objective outcomes are to be achieved.
One shortcoming of the research on participation not mentioned by the authors cited above is that there have been no measures of the readiness of employees to engage in participatory activities. Although we would not expect excellent performance in a technical task without adequate training and preparation for employees, there appears to be an assumption that all employees are naturally prepared and ready to participate given the opportunity. In fact, we believe that a lack of training, preparation, and readiness may severely limit the positive effects that participative interventions might otherwise produce. Hence, we must regard our existing research regarding participation-outcome linkages as incomplete rather than conclusive.
If the field of OD is to move ahead, greater sophistication concerning this most basic engine of social change must be achieved. The mediating variables identified by Lowin (1968), Dachler and Wilpert (1978), Locke and Schweiger (1979) and Neumann (1989) must be taken into account more consciously in our research and practice. In addition, because it is unlikely that conditions for participation will ever be perfect, we believe it is especially important to help individuals develop the courage necessary to confront what is wrong with the systems they live in and to overcome barriers to their participation in system improvement. To develop and exercise the skills and courage needed to be an active participant in organizational change under less than ideal conditions is what we shall call organizational citizenship. This definition is much broader than the use of this same terminology by Smith, Organ, & Near, (1983), whose treatment of organizational citizenship is primarily related to dependability, helpfulness, and conscientiousness. Here, we use the term to denote the active participation by individuals in the transformation of the system in which they work.
To clarify our position and offer support for research on the concept of organizational citizenship, we offer a review of classic and current literature on participation in organizational change, beginning with the underlying purposes for participation. Then, we return to a discussion of the pitfalls of participation as currently practiced and suggest that citizenship be considered as a more robust platform for intervention and research in this area.
Philosophic and Democratic Roots of Participation in Organizational Change
The origins of democracy can be traced to the Greek city-state as discussed in the writings of Plato in The Republic. Plato held that the best interests of the city state would be served by the direct participation of citizens via the polis in matters of governance. Laws developed by citizens themselves were more likely to be understood, accepted and obeyed. At the same time, Plato held that ordinary citizens, due to intellectual limitations and vested interests, should not participate in all decisions; he would reserve certain critical decisions to philosopher-kings, who would be freed of personal interests and trained from an early age to be impartial and wise. The Greeks restricted access to the polis to citizens, those they felt had the right and capabilities to participate in heroic dialogue. Barbarians, slaves, and those who did not hold land were excluded. The Greeks feared that should the polis become too large, it would become too difficult to allow each person to be heard and to create the conditions for conferring upon each speaker the respect due to him by other “true” citizens.
In contrast, De Tocqueville (1835/1956) in his observations of democracy in America, clarified the promise of American democracy, in which potentially every citizen could be a full participant. He observed that citizens respected laws that they themselves helped to create and administer; that the active involvement by many in government avoided the manipulation of the government by the few; and that a true belief in the equality of self-interests resulted in a state of mutual concern and the avoidance of anarchy and oppression. As a consequence, De Tocqueville perceived American citizens to be more actively involved in government, more energetic, and more concerned about the welfare of others than in other democracies. It is in hope of creating a more energetic, active, and effective organization that many managers turn to participation as an intervention, and sometimes as an end in itself.
In this article, we wish to focus on the question of why managers who do seek to employ participation for organizational improvement often find themselves frustrated with the results they achieve and even with the willingness of organizational members to become involved in these activities. We share the puzzlement of these managers concerning the difficulty of invoking participative behavior in the country described by De Tocqueville as the most perfect setting for democracy yet achieved. What are the psychological motors that drive human activity and commitment, and how is this energy channeled toward collective action that produces beneficial results? To answer these questions, we turn first to consideration of the the purpose of participation, through examination of the works of Arendt (1958) and Argyris (1957,1964). Next, to address the questions of participation at an organizational and societal level, we review Etzioni’s (1968) discussion of the requirements for an “active” society.
Arendt (1958), in The Human Condition, discusses viva activa, which consists of three fundamental human activities: labor, work, and action. She defines labor as that which we do to survive; work as what we do beyond what is necessary to survive in order to contribute to the world around us; and action as that which we do beyond labor or work that gives meaning to our lives.
Arendt begins her discussion of action with reference to the fact that action of significance is always public in nature, requiring an audience of those able to appreciate its excellence. Arendt notes that the Greek polis was created to make action of excellence possible and memorable. The polis offered a remedy for the futility of action and speech that might otherwise be forgotten with the passage of time. The polis provided the citizen a place to exercise and experience the effects of power; that is, the translation of thoughts and ideas into deeds that could compel the behavior of others, for “Power is actualized only where word and deed have not parted company” (200).
Thus, according to Arendt, one finds meaning in life through action, which requires authentic participation by citizens in the public realm. The search for meaning through action requires courage because of its public nature; in fact, Arendt labels the decision to participate as the “original courage,” in which one leaves one’s private hiding place and shows who one is, disclosing and exposing one’s self (187).
Arendt goes on to say that participative acts have consequences, not the least of which are the transformations of situations that can lead in turn to the transformation of the participant’s own life, perhaps in ways that were quite unintended. The web of human relationships in that we exist influences us in many ways, and the actions we take which disturb the web of relationships ultimately shape our future as well.
The product of action is therefore the creation of life stories, stories that are characterized by glory and fulfillment of the intention and experience of living. Action is the result of, and at the same time the creator of, “the human condition.” The glory of acts, no matter how small, is that they transform both the actor and others in ways that reveal the collective potential of human togetherness. The effect of actions is determined not only by their difficulty or passion in execution, but in the common meaning given to them by the collection of people they affect: “the smallest act in the most limited circumstances bears the seed of the same boundlessness, because one deed, and sometimes one word, suffices to change every constellation.” (190).
Here, in a few passages, Arendt has defined the nature and goal of all social existence–to act in a way that one is recognized for one’s actions–that life has meaning, not self-manufactured, but bestowed by others worthy of the respect of the actor.
We might view participation in organizations as providing opportunities for people in the modern world to find meaning in their lives. The organization is the parallel to the polis, providing the forum in which individuals can leave their individual hiding places and through acts of courage, demonstrate excellence in the presence of others who are able to judge the quality of their actions.
This view is supported by Neumann (1989), who suggests that courage is required to participate in organizational change:
Subordinates also need encouragement and support for unlearning the
dependency shaped over a lifetime in hierarchies…. To do so requires
breaking through all one has learned about how to survive as a subordinate.
To assert one’s personal authority in the context of hierarchy takes
Organizations composed of individuals who are engaged in acting with excellence are at least theoretically more active, effective, adaptable, creative, and energetic than those composed of barbarians and slaves who simply follow orders from those above. Organizations that fail to create the conditions for speech and citizenship also fail to use the innermost motivation of their members; that is, to live lives with meaning and glory.
The practical implementation of the solution recommended by Arendt is made difficult by the fact that organizations are composed of many versus single actors. Increasing freedom for some would seem inevitably to lead to the reduction of freedom for others. It is this dilemma which Etzioni addresses in The Active Society (1968). The solution proposed by Etzioni lies in the joint transformation of individuals and social collectivities: “…no man can set himself free without extending the same liberty to his fellow men, and the transformation of self is deeply rooted in the joint act of a community transforming itself” (p. 1-2) Like Arendt, Etzioni believes that what a people make of themselves is the product of an “active orientation”: “To be active is to be aware, committed, and potent.” (4-5). But because actors never act alone, actions are never without constraints and counteractions: Freedom to act is not without constraints. There is no action without counteraction, and each generation’s action faces the remains of earlier generations’ failures as well as their successes. Social action often spells conflict, loss and sorrow.” (5)
According to Etzioni, the challenge for an organization or society is to remove the constraints that block the active expression of individuals, and to place control of the collectivity in the hands of participants. Although a difficult task, the goal of creating an active society or organization that taps the energy of its participants is a powerful and worthwhile one.
In summary, the origins of participation in organizations spring from the historic understanding of the contributions of democracy and participation to the health and well being of individuals and societies. Effective participation helps individuals to write life stories worth living and societies to fulfill the dreams of their citizens. This would hardly be worth noting, were it not for the fact that so many “participative programs” in industry seem to ignore these fundamental truths in favor of a shallow or inauthentic participation that has a limited impact on those who take part. Shallow or inauthentic programs are “safe” and easy to administer, but seldom tap the kind of energy and spirit described above. At the same time, it is recognized that effective participation requires active citizens who are prepared to accept the challenges and difficulties associated with the participative act. As noted by Arendt, Neumann, and Etzioni the participative act requires individual courage and the collective will to overcome difficult barriers to authentic involvement.
Unfortunately, as noted by Argyris (1957), organizations in our society have been managed in ways that destroy participative competence on the part of many individuals. Consequently, many people avoid rather than seek opportunities for meaningful participation. The reasons for this have been explored by Fromm (1941), to whom we shall turn shortly. Here, however, it is important to state that the implications of our current approach to managing organizations has significant implications for the future of our democratic society; if organizations destroy participative competence, can authentic participation at a societal level be maintained? And, on a more limited scale, can we expect to achieve positive results from participation-based OD interventions when organizational members have lost sight of the ultimate meaning of participating?
The Participative Act
What emerges from this review of the literature dealing with the foundations of participation is that participation serves a dual purpose–to transform social systems on the one hand, and to develop or transform individual participators on the other. To create a life of meaning” requires that one helps to design a social system that permits the attainment of individual goals; but, it is through the act of participation itself that the goal of self-fulfillment is accomplished.
Yet not all participative acts are likely to result in systemic or individual transformation. We would like to suggest that there exists a continuum of participative acts, ranging from the lowest level acts of simply joining and participating in a system (conforming), to the highest level act of designing the system itself (creating) or even transcending the system to help to create a more hospitable environment for the system to inhabit. In between conforming and creating/transcending are several other levels, including contributing (helping to improve the existing system), challenging (attempting to change the system slightly while retaining the existing structure and distribution of power), and collaborating (seeking to involve or support others who share the agenda of changing the system while retaining its essential characteristics). Each of the five levels of participation asks more of a person and carries with it both more risk and greater potential rewards.
Participation in OD has typically involved only the first two levels of conforming and contributing. Because OD is sanctioned by those in power, it rarely involves an invitation to change the essential nature of the system or the distribution of power within the system. Civil disobedience, social activism, and revolution involve successively higher levels of participative action.
The higher the level of the participative act, the more likely it is to result in both systemic and individual transformation; hence, it is not surprising that the track record of OD is mixed, given that it is based upon lower levels (less powerful modes) of participative action.
Organizational Receptivity to Participation
Argyris (1957, 1964) viewed participation primarily as a means to an end–the integration of individual and organizational needs. Argyris noted that the needs of normal, adult human beings and the arrangements in traditional organizations were opposed, at considerable costs in terms of motivation and effectiveness. The needs of normal, healthy adults, according to Argyris (1957), are to develop from passive infants into active adults, to move from dependent to independence in relationships, to increase one’s range of effective behaviors, to understand complex problems and opportunities and to see them as challenges, to develop a long term time perspective, to move from a position of subordinancy to equality, and to gain autonomy over one’s behavior.
What most individuals encounter at work, however, is a situation that does not meet their needs. Argyris reviews the impact of principles of formal organization on the adult, which include task specialization that produces a lack of challenge; chain of command, which increases dependency and shortens time perspectives; unity of direction, which reduces ego involvement; and span of control, which produces passivity.
Argyris posits that the conflict between adults and traditionally designed organizations will grow as individuals mature, resulting eventually in the evocation of defense mechanisms such as withdrawal, apathy, and disinterest. To avoid or overcome these consequences, Argyris advocates changing the structure of the organization and increasing opportunities for meaningful participation.
Thus, Argyris views participation as a means of helping individuals to become more active, more independent, and more equal. Along with changes in job responsibilities and time orientations, these changes would help to close the gap between individual needs and organizational experiences, leading to greater self-actualization and higher levels of performance.
Likert (1967) incorporated similar thinking into his proposals for “systems 4” organizational design and effective group decision making; Likert’s “systems 4” offered the first direct link between organization design and the management of participative processes. Underlying the “systems 4” organization is the “principle of supportive relationships”:
The leadership and other processes of the organization must be such as
to ensure a maximum probability that in all interactions and in all relationships
within the organization, each member, in the light of his background,
values, desires, and expectations, will view the experience as
supportive and one which builds and maintains his sense of personal
worth and importance. (1961: 103).
The practical implications of Likert’s systems 4 organization included many of the processes that are taken for granted in our work with organizations today, such as attention to group process as a means of increasing decision quality, clarifying responsibilities for decision making, and expanding the range of skills shared by members of an interdependent team.
Like Argyris and Likert, McGregor (1960) maintained strongly that managerial beliefs and choices influence the performance of their subordinates. He contended that traditional systems of management were based on conceptions of the average worker as permanently arrested in the adolescent stage of development. “Theory X” views were based on the “least common human denominator, the factory |hand’ of the past” (43).
McGregor’s views on participation, despite his contention that many managers underestimated the ability of workers to engage in meaningful decision making, are particularly interesting for our analysis:
Some proponents of participation give the impression that it is a magic
formula which will eliminate conflict and disagreement and come
pretty close to solving all of management’s problems. These enthusiasts
appear to believe that people yearn to participate, much as children
of a generation or two ago yearned for Castoria. They give the impression
that it is a formula which can be applied by any manager regardless
of his skill, that virtually no preparation is necessary for its use, and
that it can spring full-blown into existence and transform industrial relationships
Strong support for McGregor’s concerns regarding participation is provided by Neumann (1989), who investigated the reasons why workers in a manufacturing plant chose not to participate in programs designed to gain their input. Neumann pointed to several shortcomings in the systems of participation that are commonly used in organizations today. Her analysis makes it clear that even quite able and reasonable individuals would find it difficult to participate meaningfully within these participative systems and that the “rational” choice of many individuals in the plant she studied was therefore not to participate.
In her insightful analysis, Neumann (1989) discards theories that hold that the major impediments to participation come from deficiencies in individual personalities and instead examines the situational factors that influence choices individuals make regarding their level of involvement. Neumann proposes three “clusters” of deterrents to participation: (a) Structural, including organizational design, work design, and human resource management policies (e.g., the “real” decisions are reserved for those at the top); (b) Relational, including how participation is managed, the dynamics of hierarchy, and the individual’s stance toward the organization (e.g., rank and status continue to be more important than knowledge or competence); and, (c) Societal, including primary and secondary socialization experiences, ideology, and politics (e.g., deeply held values of not demonstrating disloyalty are confronted by participation).
Neumann notes that a combination of these factors can lead to a situation that is overdetermined against participation by the majority of people, even though the intention of those designing participative programs is just the opposite. The solution to this problem, according to Neumann is not to “blame the victim,” but instead to examine the system of participation that has been created to see if managers really want to “walk their talk” regarding employee involvement. A similar conclusion was reached by Dachler & Wilpert (1978), who contend that participation cannot be expected to produce positive results when the issues discussed are irrelevant to task performance, when people don’t understand the organizational context, and when the effectiveness of performance is beyond the control of the employee.
Lowin (1968) notes also that pattern-maintenance in hierarchical organizations tends to work against effective participation. People are selected to fit into the existing hierarchical structure (Lowin suggests that their attitudes must match those of the supervisors who are doing the hiring). Information on standard operating procedures and policies will reinforce the power of the system over the individual. Messages that would change the power structure have a difficult time working their way up the existing hierarchy. Parallel communication channels are usually either not available or ineffective. Lowin points out that, as a consequence, subordinates often lack information necessary to participate in a competent fashion.
According to Kanter (1983), inauthentic participation is very likely to occur when leaders create participation programs to be “nice to people.” She notes that such efforts are easily identified by the fact that they are undertaken in conjunction with currently faddish programs and that their expected outcomes are vague.
Thus, as with participative acts themselves, the readiness of the organization to support authentic participation varies along a continuum. We would like to suggest that the levels of this continuum include, from lowest to highest: control (closed to any influence from the bottom up); commitment (open to influence that does not challenge the essential nature of the system or distribution of power within it); alignment (a negotiated state that recognizes the interests and values of both those in power and those at lower levels); co-creation (an authentic invitation to create a system that is new to both those traditionally in power and those traditionally at lower levels); and transcendence (openness to examining the relationship of the organization to its environment, its fundamental purpose and even its existence).
Again, most OD interventions historically have focused on the lower two levels of this continuum. Even the phrase high-commitment organization means little more than gaining workers’ commitment to the existing system and distribution of power within it. As with the first continuum as well, the more one moves up the ladder of organizational receptiveness, the more likely it is that the resulting acts of participation will result in significant changes in the system.
One the one hand, it would seem straightforward to invite people to engage in higher-level acts of participation in an atmosphere of authentic receptivity to systemic transformation. Success in creating these conditions, however, may still not produce the transformation in systemic performance desired. Individuals, even given authentic opportunities for participation, sometimes retreat from them. We next turn to a discussion of the psychological bases for participation and suggest that ego development and higher level participation must go hand in hand. Participation and Individual Development
Why do people vary in their taste for involvement in decisions that affect them? In his classic work, Escape from Freedom, Eric Fromm (1941) attempted to explain how citizens of Nazi Germany could abandon their individual and collective freedom to follow an authoritarian leader. His conclusions hold import for all societies and for those who would endorse participation in organizational settings.
Fromm notes that the struggle for individual freedom requires a faith in ourselves and in the worth of life itself, but modem organizational life has its costs, including the alienation of individuals from themselves through intensive demands for conformity and obedience to authority. Life in organizations threatens one’s sense of self-worth and even the confidence one has that life is worth living:
To put it briefly, the individual ceases to be himself; he adopts entirely
the kind of personality offered to him by cultural patterns; and he therefore
becomes exactly as all others are and as they expect him to
be….The person who gives up his individual self and becomes an automaton,
identical with millions of other automatons around him, need
not feel alone and anxious any more. But the price he pays, however, is
high; it is the loss of his self. (209).
To overcome this alienation, a person must be able to express his or her own thoughts on issues that are significant and that make life worth living. Yet to do so is difficult when one is trained to doubt one’s thoughts and accept the thoughts of superiors, peers, the media, mass advertising, educational systems, political leaders, noted authorities, one’s parents or relatives, the church, and even friends. The freedom of speech is meaningless, according to Fromm, if all we carry in our heads are the thoughts of others.
The requirements for psychological preparation for participation are consonant with models of adult ego development. Loevinger’s (1976) model of adult development consists of eight stages or levels of ego development: impulsive, self-protective, conformist, conscientious-conformist, conscientious, individualistic, autonomous, and integrated. Full participation, as we envision it, would require the development of individuals to at least the stage of conscientiousness, but more advanced developmental stages would theoretically add quality and meaning to participative acts. Prior to the conscientious stage, individuals are more concerned with fitting in” than with establishing their individual identities or standing up for their own points of view. In addition to conformity, individuals in the pre-conscientious stages are easily influenced by stereotypes and cliches, winning and losing, blaming external circumstances for failure; they demonstrate little introspection or emotional awareness and tend to ignore or suppress individual differences. Individuals in the conformity stage would hardly fit the mold of “active citizen” described by Etzioni; to the contrary, these individuals seem more like the non-participants described by Fromm, who escape the freedom of their responsibility as citizens.
In contrast to the conformity stage, Loevinger discusses the conscientious stage as characterized by living according to one’s own standards; seeing rules as general guidelines rather than absolutes; recognizing exceptions and contingencies; engaging in complex reasoning; being concerned with mutuality in relationships; valuing achievement; seeing real choices; having long-term goals; and being more aware of oneself and the broader social context. Even higher stages of development are characterized by the ability to recognize inner conflict, respecting others’ autonomy, viewing life as a whole, responding to abstract ideals such as equality and justice; tolerating a great deal of ambiguity, and reconciling inner conflicts in order to develop a consolidated sense of identity.
Loevinger’s framework is but one of several models of individual development; the frameworks provided by Kohlberg (1969) or Torbert (1989) could easily be substituted here. Also, our conceptualization of individual development is consistent with the growing literature on self-esteem (Pierce, Gardner, Cummings, & Dunham, 1989), self-efficacy (Wood & Bandura, 1989) and personal engagement (Kahn, 1990), all of which, we believe, are related to effective participation.
We propose a continuum of ego-preparation for participation that combines the work of Loevinger, Fromm, and others into a five level scheme: ego regressive (the system has destroyed participative competence and natural inclinations to become involved in shaping decisions affecting one’s future); ego potential (one is prepared to participate in low-risk decisions as sanctioned by the system); ego-prepared (one is ready to take part in discussions that involve some conflict and self-definition); ego-involved (one is prepared to help change the system, and recognizes the importance of understanding both one’s own and others’ needs in this process); and ego-committed (one is prepared to put one’s future and even life at stake to help bring about the fundamental transformation of an important system; one develops a high level of self-efficacy and a time perspective that stretches beyond one’s own lifetime).
Once again, participation in OD has called for little more than the first two stages of individual development. And, as before, more significant individual transformation is likely to result from engagement in participative acts that call for higher levels of ego development. Knowledge Availability
According to Jaques (1961, 1976) individuals differ in their cognitive-complexity. Those with higher levels of cognitive complexity are able to manage uncertainty more easily than others through the use of judgment and reasoning. According to Jacques’ theory, organizations should seek to match the individual to the thinking requirements of the job; in particular, more complex decisions should be handled by those with appropriate cognitive abilities.
Although we don’t agree entirely with Jaques’ standpoint because of his tendency to pigeon hole people into narrow developmental tracks, we do concur that participation in complex decisions is difficult if one lacks relevant information or knowledge. Hackman and Oldham (1980) share this perspective; they include the skills and knowledge pertinent to the work to be performed as a moderating variable in the effect of enriched job design on motivation. Individuals without the necessary skills or knowledge to perform enriched tasks will find such tasks frustrating and demotivating.
Thus, we can hypothesize that knowledge pertinent to the decision under consideration affects a person’s ability and inclination to participate in a given situation. As with the previous variables affecting participation outcomes, we propose that knowledge availability can be arrayed along a continuum from uninformed (lacking relevant knowledge or skills to participate effectively in the decision at hand); to aware (having very general knowledge about the decision but lacking specific relevant expertise, information or skills); to knowledgeable (possessing a minimum level of competence to engage in the decision); to creative (able to transcend the situation and apply knowledge from other fields or situations to help re-configure the problem); to wise (knowing what knowledge to draw upon or approach to take to achieve positive outcomes in challenging situations). Preparing People to Participate in Change
The development of individuals and organizations have in the past been two separate activities; but organizations are composed of individuals and we feel that it is time that we recognized that developing organizations requires the simultaneous development of the people who make them up–as well as their interpersonal relationships, which is what makes organizational life different from solitary existence. Furthermore, given the classic formulation by Lewin of person as a function of both personality and environment, it is apparent that the nature and limits of individual development will be influenced if not determined by the organizational context in which that development occurs. Therefore, we submit that there can be no sustained organizational development without individual development and that individual development is predicated upon the creation of an organizational context in which (a) people can experience, reflect, experiment, and learn, (b) opportunities for participation are genuine, related to important matters, and (c) individuals are permitted to achieve distinction and personal excellence through courageous action.
The development of organizational citizens is a new frontier for the field of OD. Despite decades of relying on people to participate effectively, it is only now becoming clear how much interventions are affected by the relative abilities of individuals to engage in participative activities. The time has come to focus more attention on preparing people to participate in change.
What would be required, based upon models of adult development, to prepare people for organizational citizenship? Clearly, in order to reach the conscientious stage of development or beyond, people must be provided with opportunities to test their reasoning and judgment skills in the context of decisions that matter. These opportunities should create conditions similar to those for adult development: namely, (a) varied direct experiences and roles; (b) meaningful achievement; and (c) relative freedom from anxiety and pressure. Thus, opportunities to develop participative abilities must be in the context of direct participation in a wide range of decisions that affect people’s lives in organizations; must provide people with feedback that helps them to gauge their level of achievement; and must be done in an atmosphere of trust and support that eliminates unnecessary risk or pressure. Lectures on participation will not substitute for the real thing, as noted by Lewin (1947):
To understand what is being talked about the individual has to have a
basis in experience–as a child in a student council, in the hundred and
one associations of everyday life; he has to have some taste of what
democratic leadership and the democratic responsibility of the follower
mean. No lecture can substitute for these first-hand experiences. Only
through practical experience can one learn that peculiar democratic
combination of conduct which includes responsibility toward the
group, ability to recognize differences of opinion without considering
the other person a criminal, and readiness to accept criticism in a matter
of fact way while offering criticism with sensitivity for the other person’s
Organizational members who participate on design teams during sociotechnical systems interventions (Pasmore, 1989) encounter conditions that are nearly ideal for the development of organizational citizenship. They are selected to represent their peers in an important endeavor with significant implications for the future of the organization; they are provided with training in how to approach their task, but not given answers to the problems they have to solve; they are called upon to use higher level reasoning to arrive at transformational solutions to long-standing problems and to take advantage of previously unrecognized opportunities; they are expected to challenge the status quo and the views of their superiors; they are asked to communicate what they are thinking and doing in public to their peers as well as those above and below them in the organization; they are involved in a group that typically develops extremely high-performance standards and that monitors the contributions of each group member closely; and they are provided support to reduce unnecessary risks of failure through the presence of consultants who act as sounding boards and a steering committee with decision review authority. Unfortunately, in our observation, it is often the case that members of design teams are the only organizational members to develop participation skills during a sociotechnical systems intervention. Others watch from a distance, are involved only peripherally, and hence are unprepared to live in the systems envisioned by design team members.
Some quality interventions (particularly quality circles), though providing much more widespread involvement, often restrict participation to less systemic issues, thereby reducing opportunities for people to think systemically and develop the abilities associated with the conscientious stage. In fact, the careful training, guidance, and limits placed on most quality programs reinforce behavior at the conformist or at best conscientious-conformist stage of Loevinger’s framework.
To provide more people with significant opportunities to develop participative skills requires attention to Etzioni’s formula for the active society; that is, to create conditions under which people are self-conscious and knowing, committed to the achievement of clear goals, and have access to levers of change that allow the resetting of the social code. The organization must be malleable and responsive to its members, who are able collectively to create conditions that enable each person to script a life worth living. Members, in turn, must gradually develop, through first-hand, group-based learning experiences involving significant real issues, the skills and courage needed to be active and knowledgeable participants in change. These learning experiences must be voluntary; as Weathersby (1981) notes, doors can be opened for people, but they must walk through them themselves. The exact form and content of these learning experiences should be a topic given priority attention by researchers and practitioners in OD. And, once learned, these new competencies must be supported by organizational arrangements and processes that value and use the contributions people prepare themselves to make.
Each of the four variables of ego development, level of participative act, organizational receptivity, and knowledge affect one another and the outcomes of participation. Figure 1 illustrates just one of the combinations of these variables, that of the level of the participative act and the stage of ego development.
In Figure 1, we show with the bold arrow that ego development and the level of participation we request from an individual or group should go hand in hand. If the level of the participative act involves more complexity and risk than the individual is prepared to assume, the individual will feel over-taxed by the situation and may choose to either not participate or withdraw completely. On the other hand, if the level of an individual’s development exceeds that demanded by die participative act, the person will feel under-taxed and perhaps alienated. If unable to create new and more challenging opportunities for participation, the under-taxed individual may resort to either voice (speaking or acting out) or exit (leaving the system), in the terminology of Hirschman (1970).
Each of the other combinations of the four variables works in the same way (knowledge-participative act; ego-organizational receptivity; knowledge-ego; participative act-organizational receptivity; organizational receptivity-ego; knowledge-organizational receptivity). Each pair of variables, and in fact all four simultaneously, should move in the same direction at roughly the same time. Although the intentional manipulation of one variable in order to pull the other along is possible, we hypothesize that effective participation is more likely to result from the coordinated movement on each dimension, as indicated in Figure 1.
It is indeed impossible to conceive of organization development that does not affect the life stories of individuals; or of organization development that is not based upon the “original courage” of individuals leaving their private spheres of security to advance ideas supporting change. Individual and organization development are not two separate activities. They are one and the same. To the extent that we treat them separately, we are at best ignoring the reality of what we are about and the potential power of linking the two together more closely; at worst, we frustrate individuals by asking them to undertake acts of courage they are not prepared for or that the organization is not prepared to support. When we approach these activities together, consciously and explicitly, we tap into the emotional energy that is the required catalyst for all human change to occur and use that energy to support organizational transformation. Organizational change and individual change are synonymous and complementary, and when approached together consciously, provide the potential for a synergystic reinforcement of one another that can produce truly significant and lasting changes in the thinking, feeling, and sense-making of individuals as well as the practices, structures, processes and arrangements of organizing.
In the past, when we have paid attention to individual needs at all, we too often simplified our understanding of individual needs by applying such frameworks as Maslow’s hierarchy or McClelland’s need for Achievement. Although such needs are universal, they miss the dynamic, emotion-laden nature of needs in process: that is, the changing saliency and contextual relevance that some needs take on compared to others over time. What is self-actualization today is old hat tomorrow; the standards for self-actualization are constantly changing, both in light of our individual experiences and in reference to what others around us do and achieve.
The moving target of human need fulfillment cannot be hit by one-shot interventions or one-time opportunities for participation or once-in-a-decade changes in organizational arrangements. Need satisfaction is a process, and our interventions into human and organization development must take this fact into account. Our interventions should create processes that allow individual and organization development to occur simultaneously, continuously, and in the context of a fluid set of structures and arrangements that allow individuals to develop and test their new skills against real and important evolving organizational challenges and opportunities.
Managers need to understand that OD interventions that have the potential to make the biggest difference in both human development and bottom line performance are based on the same fundamental truths that led us to consider democracy to be a superior form of governance in our society. Although it is true that many institutions in a democratic society can function quite well without adopting democratic values, it is also true that organizations that fail to understand the true importance of democracy will never achieve their full potential. For the true meaning of democracy is the discovery of potential, both in its individual and collective forms.
Managers who cling to theory X and point to limitations of their employees as justification are only admitting to the difficulty of developing employees as organizational citizens. The difficulty of the task does not negate its importance or value, however. OD practitioners have let managers and employees down either by selling interventions that expected too much from people too soon or interventions that expected too little for too long.
The developments in the arena of global competition have driven the slack out of our organizations and taken our current organizational arrangements to their limits of performance. To compete in the future, we need to tighten our belt one more notch; not by cutting more jobs out of our organizations, because there simply are no more that can be cut; nor by working harder, because there is no more to give. The next notch requires that we finally achieve the promise we have held out all along–to develop and tap the potential of organizational members. Technical training and exposure to total quality methods is a part of this process, to be sure; but the only way to retrieve the value of knowledge placed in the heads of employees is to create systems that support people in finding their voice and sharing the wisdom they possess. For this, researchers and practitioners must turn their attention once again to participation and to the creation of processes that support the development of true organizational citizens.
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