Strategic change and clashes of cosmologies in a higher education institution: a case study

Diefenbach, Thomas (2005). Strategic change and clashes of cosmologies in a higher education institution: a case study. In: The Fifth International Conference on Knowledge, Culture and Change in Organisations, 19-22 Jul 2005, Rhodes, Greece.



International University (IU) is a very large and successful West-European university. Like many other public universities it is confronted with the introduction of 'new management' in order to make it much more 'business-like', i.e. market-, cost- and efficiency-oriented. This qualitative case study primarily concentrates on the perceptions and understandings of IU's academic and administrative senior managers. For this, 20 semi-structured interviews were carried out with most of its senior managers. In addition, internal documents and academic literature on change initiatives contributed to a better foundation of the findings. The idea of the paper is threefold: 1. To reveal the different perceptions, interpretations and under-standings of IU's senior managers ('cosmologies') about issues of strategic importance, 2. To describe some major conflicts between these competing knowledge systems and political debates that happened during the introduction and implementation of the new strategy, 3. To understand on which basis claims for moral authority and legitimacy are being made. For this, the following areas were of special interest: Perception and interpretation of the business environment; Main strategic objective to make the organisation more 'business-like' in the sense of market-orientation and based on the principles of new management; Adaptation to the challenges of the environment through deep-cutting organisational changes and the institutionalisation of the idea of change; Aim of increased organisational efficiency through standardisation and centralisation of activities; Performance measurement, especially financial indicators and quantitative data as tools for measuring, monitoring, comparing, and increasing individual, group as well as organisational performance These strategic objectives relate further to organisational and cultural issues, namely: 1. power and control, 2. idea of the organisation, 3. decision-making and action, 4. cultural change. The case study reveals fundamentally different understandings and interpretations of most of the strategic objectives and organisational issues amongst several groups of senior managers. It seems that the proposed objectives and changes do not provide final solutions but raises more questions and problems.

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