Turn downsizing into smaller issue

Theory and Method in Organization Studies - Industrial and Organizational Psychology - The Organization in Crisis - Organizational Change and Development - Introduction to Organizational Behaviour. First edition
February 28, 2003

Organisations are the central theme of these five books. Between them they consider theories of organisations, approaches to studying organisations and the individuals within them, the nature of organisational decline and its impact on employees.

Antonio Strati, for example, devotes the first two-thirds of his book to a review of organisational theory, and the final third to examining research methodologies and perspectives. His review of the literature is interesting and comprehensive - from Taylor and Weber to organisational "pathos", "logos" and "hypertext" - but the complexity of some of the material suggests that it is an intermediate, rather than an introductory textbook. This view is reinforced by the research and methodology sections. Though providing a useful overview of the most commonly used quantitative and qualitative methods, these could be irrelevant unless students are expected to undertake a research project. MA or first-year PhD students, however, may find this offers a useful and practical guide to social science research. It also provides helpful references for further reading.

In the earlier chapters, Strati injects some fascinating anecdotes and contextual detail. In his account of scientific management, for example, he describes how Taylor was summoned by a special house committee to defend his controversial theories. In his defence, Taylor argued that productivity was the best measure of a society's civilisation. This view is more widely held today than ever, and many of society's current problems can be traced to this materialistic and narrow evaluation of progress. Insights such as these make Strati's book a worthwhile and enjoyable read, although the reader will require some knowledge of the subject.

Societal and organisational decline is taken up by Ronald Burke and Cary Cooper in their consideration of downsizing, restructuring and privatisation. Their main theme is that these related transformations - along with globalisation, the erosion of job security, greater inequality and poorer mental wellbeing - are putting organisations into a state of crisis. In addressing these under-researched phenomena, the collection of articles is subdivided into four related themes.

The first looks at the impact of restructuring on employees and their organisations, with contributions illustrating the negative impact of restructuring and downsizing on profits and people. Several of the articles provide well-researched empirical evidence to support their arguments. Some of the key findings suggest that "survivor syndrome" - including high anxiety and low trust - is a pernicious and corrosive symptom of downsizing, with the potential to undermine individual and organisational effectiveness.

The second theme, new research directions, identifies familiar organisational phenomena such as downsizing, stress and job insecurity, but examines them using criteria such as gender, fairness and ethics. The findings, which are often inconclusive and sometimes contradictory, lead the authors to advocate more research. It is hard to disagree with them, since the effects of restructuring are likely to affect some groups of society more than others, and this inequality does raise important ethical issues.

The third theme focuses on the impact of downsizing on careers. The articles consider the changing nature of the psychological contract, the career prospects of middle-aged and older employees, and the erosion of social capital through job insecurity. Although the news is not all bad, there is considerable food for thought for individual employees subjected to downsizing as well as for managers charged with implementing large-scale job losses.

The final theme strikes a more pragmatic and constructive note by identifying measures for minimising the negative aspects of organisational restructuring. The articles suggest that methods of best practice can help managers lead organisations through "survivor sickness", cope with mergers and acquisitions and provide effective leadership through the downsizing process.

Overall, this is a worthwhile book that attempts, through empirical investigation and reflection, to shed light on some of the most serious and worrying employment trends of our time. The articles are of a high standard and fit together well under the established themes. It is clearly not trying to be a central course text but would make suitable reading for anyone studying organisational behaviour or development. It could also be useful for managers involved in or considering a programme of downsizing.

Its beauty is in its injection of realism, which serves as a refreshing if disturbing antidote to the overly simplistic and optimistic prescriptions encountered in traditional management and MBA-focused texts.

A second book edited by Cooper, this time with Edwin Locke, broaches many of the issues discussed in the context of organisational crisis. In this case, the overarching connection between the 13 contributing articles is the application of organisational psychology to specific organisational problems. Consequently, motivation, stress, organisational justice, team effectiveness, leadership, job satisfaction, goal-setting and performance are the main areas addressed. These are familiar themes, but there is a concerted attempt by the authors to link theory with practice - something my MBA students implore me to do. There is a wide range of empirical evidence, and this is useful since so many textbooks today describe psychological models and theories without reference to the relevant data or methodologies employed to support them. Overall, the book should make useful reading for anyone seeking to put some empirical and practical flesh on the theoretical bones of organisational psychology.

For those seeking an organisational behaviour course text, Helga Drummond's book enters an increasingly saturated market. Fortunately, our appetites for introductory OB texts appear to be insatiable, and this one is a useful addition. The book covers most of the main OB themes (motivation, culture, power, decision-making), although I was surprised by the absence of a chapter devoted to organisational structure. The book is distinguished by chapters on total quality management and the symbolic life of organisations. It also includes two chapters providing practical advice on how to study OB and how to research and write OB dissertations. For undergraduates new to the subject or social science research, these provide helpful information on issues ranging from exam preparation to the design of a research question.

I appreciated the way the book manages to avoid the cluttered and fussy style of many introductory texts although students who prefer their study books to be littered with boxes, summaries, models and diagrams may be disappointed. It would also have been useful to provide case studies, as these can illustrate the practical significance of OB theories. While the book is worthwhile, I would find it difficult to recommend it ahead of some established texts in the area.

The final book, edited by Bob Hamlin, Jane Keep and Ken Ash, continues to examine organisational change, but from a more practical and developmental perspective. This reflects the book's contributors, many of whom have many years of experience managing change in the public and private sectors. It is designed as a guide for managers, trainers and developers, although MBA and postgraduate students may enjoy reading the "real-world" case studies.

It asks some relevant questions such as: what is the role of the change agent, what is effectiveness and how do we evaluate it, and how do we evaluate change programmes? It draws on a wide range of empirical evidence from large and small organisations and generates numerous steps and guidelines intended to facilitate and improve the change process.

Several of the contributors in this book also pick up on the need to minimise uncertainty, stress and the erosion of employee loyalty.

It is, perhaps, a sad comment that all the books deal in one way or another with organisations and employees in distress. If this reflects a growing sense of realism in the literature, however, it can only be seen as a positive step in the right direction.

Christopher Stoney is lecturer in management, Imperial College London.

Theory and Method in Organization Studies: Paradigms and Choices. First edition

Editor - Antonio Strati
ISBN - 0 7619 6401 0 and 6402 9
Publisher - Sage
Price - £60.00 and £21.99
Pages - 233

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