Encouraging strategic change by using complexity based principles: a case study of the Open University

McMillan, Elizabeth (2005). Encouraging strategic change by using complexity based principles: a case study of the Open University. In: Richardson, K. ed. Managing Organizational Complexity: Philosophy, Theory and Application. Managing the Complex. USA: Information Age Publishing, pp. 505–519.

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This chapter tells of a major strategic organizational change intervention that took place at the Open University in the UK over a four year period. This provides a longitudinal case study which offers valuable insights into the use of ideas from complexity in a complex, traditional public sector organization.
People both consciously and unconsciously used complexity based principles in order to loosen up the organization and push it towards behaving as a true complex adaptive system. The story of the program and the analysis of the research data demonstrate that complexity principles, especially self organizing principles, can be highly effective at both operational and strategic levels in encouraging organizational change and the emergence of complex learning.
A complexity based strategic change process may be encouraged by using two models: a 'Twelve Principles' model which describes how to facilitate such a process by using twelve interdependent approaches; and a 'Transition Strategy' model (McMillan,2004). These suggest ways in which to integrate traditional strategic approaches with learning organization principles in order to move towards a complexity style organization.

Essentially it began as a ‘deliberate’ strategic intervention but as time went on it evolved into a more ‘emergent’ strategy (Mintzberg and Waters 1989) with a number of complexity based features. This demonstrates how it is possible to integrate a complexity approach to strategy with traditional strategic approaches and learning organization principles.

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