Change Management MGMT625
LESSON # 13
THEORIES OF CHANGE IN ORGANISATIONS
4. Evolutionary Theory of Change
First thing we know is that it is also the concept of evolution which is also equated with change.
Darwin, the famous biological scientist is known as the leading protagonist of this theory. The term
organic evolution means how a living organism grows and shrinks over time. We are also familiar with
the debate between mechanistic versus organic organization. Therefore the question is; are organization
like living organism follow principles of natural evolution? The metaphor is borrowed from biology,
and as in biological evolution change proceeds through a continuous cycle of variation, selection and
retention. In context of organization these terms have the following meanings:
Variation refers to the creations of novel forms of organisations are often viewed to emerge by blind or
random chance. Variation may be strategic or structural or operational in nature for e.g. Innovation in
organisational functional areas. Implied here is the relationship of organization and its environment
changes over a period of time. Changes in strategy and structural activities characterise this relationship
or in other words, organizations continue to define and redefine its relationship with environment.
Therefore external change leads to change in strategy which eventually culminates in change of
structure. For example, growth (opportunity) in industry (part of environment) will result in the growth
objective (increase in sales) of organization, will lead to in manpower (HR) and hence will lead to
change in management form/practices. Imperative might be the transformation of autocratic style to
participative style of decision making. In other words a single organization cannot grow indefinitely and
still maintain its original form. Variation is bound to be there and this variation depends on adaptive
capacity varies (of technology, capital, trained personnel, etc)
Selection of organisation occurs principally through the competition of scarce resources and the
environment selects entities that best fit the resource base of an environmental niche. Some organisms
or variants perform better as changes occur in environment while other die or become extinct.
Retention involves forces (including inertia and persistence) that perpetuate and maintain certain
organisational forms. Retention serves to counteract the self-reinforcing loop between selection and
The same concept is known as evolutionary thinking. Now change managers, CEOs and consultants
want to make organization as an evolutionary organization. The evolutionary thinking is described to
entail the following features:
All events are time bound
No such thing/phenomenon is absolute
Focus on historical particular for explaining causation
Study of context is important
The theory also accounts for diversity of the organic world.
Account for variations in organizational strategy and its structure
Therefore evolution explains change as a recurrent, cumulative, and probabilistic progression of
variation, selection and retention of organisation entities (forms and practices). Organization mutates;
mutation in biological terms means change in genetic character which means transformation in genetic
codification. Change in genetic character is a matter of random variation (chance). In context of
organizational innovation in different functional areas of organization (managers in various
departments) in a random manner discover efficient and effective ways of management. The discovery
of such changes could relate to two broader categories; systemic change and operational change.
Systemic change addresses the issue of effectiveness while operational level change is concerned with
efficiency improvement. Typically organizations have growth as strategic objectives; and the
relationship between control and growth is more pronounced according to most of the management
Change Management MGMT625
consultants. This is considered to be inversely related with each other. For higher level growth
organization control has to be relaxed and decentralized. Another way to look at an evolving
organization is to study entrepreneurship especially how do smaller organizations transform themselves
into a large organization? Organizations cannot grow with single or constant management style or
organization structure and hence variation in organization and organization structure is bound to occur.
The same thinking is related with what is known as concurrent engineering. By going for management
audit one tends to evaluate forms and practices which are needed and those which are considered
redundant and futile, in production or manufacturing process.
There are two theoretical approaches further within the evolutionary school which differ in terms of
how traits are inherited, the rate of change and unit of analysis. One is Darwinian approach which
believes that organization traits are inherited through inter-generational processes. Darwinian theorists
believe in continuous and gradual process of evolution. While there are scholars who follow
Lamarckian line, and argue that traits are acquired within a generation through learning and imitation.
Most analysts believe that Lamarckian view is more applicable and appropriate than strict Darwinism in
context of organisation and management, especially on the acquisition of traits. This is more in line with
learning capability of an organization.
Unit of Change
Evolution theories operate on multiple entities, that is on intra-organisational, organisational,
population, communities as against OLC and teleological theories which operate within single entity.
Evolutionary forces are defined in terms of the impact they have on populations and have no meaning at
the level of the individual entity.
Mode of Change
Evolutionary theories incorporate a prescribed mode of change, which is of continuously evolving
character. Evolutionary theories rely on the statistical accumulation of small individual events to
gradually change the nature of the larger population.
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