Weighing up change: A grounded theory explaining the reponse of middle managers to organisational change
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Although the phenomenon of organisational change is the subject of a large body of theory, relatively few studies have been conducted from an interpretive perspective (Wilson, 1992). The purpose of this study was to develop a substantive theory of how middle managers respond to organisational change, using the grounded theory methodology (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Grounded theory is an inductive methodology concerned with understanding action from the perspective of the actors involved. The study was conducted in the context of local government and was bound within a single large council. The primary method of data collection was interviews. Data were collected from twenty-five middle managers over a two-year period following the launch of a major organisational change programme within the council. The data were analysed using the constant comparative method and theoretical sampling. The core variable accounting for most of the variation in the way middle managers respond to organisational change is Weighing Up, a process of the for-and-against evaluation of change. Weighing Up is conditional upon both the content and process of change. Middle managers assess the extent to which the change will meet their own psycho-social needs and, to a varying extent, the needs of others. The outcome of the Weighing Up process is an emotional state, typically some combination of the primary emotions of pleasure, anger, and apprehension. The behavioural responses of managers to change are dependent on this affective state. These responses vary across a range from active support to disaffection and exiting the organisation, and they have organisational consequences for the implementation of change. The study contributes to the understanding of organisational change in three ways; (i) it confirms previous studies that show that managers evaluate or Weigh Up change; (ii) it suggests that the response of managers to organisational change is as much emotional as rational, and; (iii) it draws attention to the importance of non-work experiential careers as an important factor in the evaluation of change.