Historical Social Research

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Mark Lemon, John Craig & Matthew Cook, Looking In or Looking Out? Top-down Change and Operational Capability [Abstract]

Strategic intentions reflect the aspirations of an organization. They can also be translated into targets for the rest of the organization and structures, procedures, measures and associated rules introduced to meet them. Drawing upon insight from social systems theory, and case study evidence from the telecommunications industry, this conceptual paper suggests that the ensuing implementation processes can conflict with the principles and objectives of actors at operational levels and lead to behaviors that can hinder the pursuit of those high level goals. This misalignment, or pathological autopoiesis, is manifest through a restructuring in which the organization becomes the environment for operational actors who in turn focus upon the “translation” of imposed conditions into their own psychic and social needs. In effect the organization turns in on itself and away from the need to acquire information about, and respond to, its own environment, a condition that is fundamental to the resilience and survival of any system.