Theories of organizational learning, evolution and adaption address the question of why and how organizations change. The need for organizational change can be triggered by a number of internal and external factors – disruptive technologies being one potent force. Increasing globalization, new technology platforms, changing competition, open markets and fast-paced product cycles, means that many news companies are finding that relentless, continuous change is a crucial capability for survival.
Newspapers have traditionally been very profitable businesses, but also rigid, hierarchical organizations, with sharp job divides around functions and specialized tasks. As is typical of mature organizations operating in stable environments, news organizations have focused on efficiency gains through incremental improvements of existing processes. Managers favor projects that sustain and replicate the core business rather than allocate resources to explore new vehicles for growth. Successful organizations tend to disregard practices, people and structures regarded as peripheral to their current recipe for success – in effect breeding inertia. Organizational inertia is characterized by the following:
- Dense, tightly coupled interdependencies among subunits
- Efficiency as a core value
- Focus on short-run adaption rather than long-run adaptability
- Institutionalization as a restraint on action
- Powerful norms embedded in strong subcultures
- Imitation as a major motivation for change
In 1985, Tushman and Romanelli proposed the punctuated equilibrium model of organizational evolution, which sees organizations progress through convergent periods punctuated by reorientations that demark and set bearings for the next convergent period. These convergent periods are characterized by incremental changes, short-time adaption, effective performance, and organizational alignment. This would seem to fit with the characteristics of inertia proposed above, suggesting that convergence leads to inertia. A reorientation occurs in the event of a discontinuous change, where strategies, power, structure and systems are fundamentally transformed. The introduction or emergence of a disruptive technology would seem to fit into this model.
Tushman and O’Reilly (2004, 1996) later argued that to counteract inertia, organizations and managers must become ambidextrous, balancing the need for both exploratory and exploitive activities. Organizations must strive to be both evolutionary and revolutionary; pursue both incremental and discontinuous activities. Managers must be like “jugglers” that balance these contradictory needs, creating a culture that celebrates both stability and change.
The project will apply the punctuated equilibrium model to investigate how “reorientations,” or discontinuous changes, have disrupted strategies, power, structure and systems, and to which extent organizational inertia affects innovation in news organizations.