The fog of change: Opacity and asperity in organizations

The fog of change: Opacity and asperity in organizations

By
Michael T. Hannan, László Pólos, Glenn R. Carroll
Administrative Science Quarterly . September
2003, Vol. 48, Issue 3, Pages 399-432

Initial architectural change in organizations often induces other subsequent changes, generating lengthy cascades of changes in subordinate units. This article extends a formal model of cascading organizational change by examining the implications for organizational change of the limited foresight of those who initiate such change about unit interconnections (structural opacity) and the normative restrictiveness imposed on architectural features by organizational culture (cultural asperity). Opacity leads actors to underestimate the lengths of periods of reorganization and the associated costs of change, thereby prompting them unwittingly to undertake changes with adverse consequences. Increased opacity and asperity lengthen the total time that the organization spends reorganizing and the associated opportunity costs; and the expected effect of an architectural change on mortality hazards increases with the intricacy of the organizational design, structural opacity, and the asperity of organizational culture. We illustrate the theory with an interpretation of the 1995 collapse of Baring Brothers Bank.