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Emotional capability, emotional intelligence, and radical change
Academy of Management. The Academy of Management Review
Authors: Quy Nguyen Huy
Subject Terms: Organization theory
Classification Codes: 9190: US
9130: Experimental/theoretical treatment
2500: Organizational behavior
Geographic Names: US
A multilevel theory of emotion and change, which focuses on attributes
of emotion intelligence at the individual level and emotional capability
at the organizational level, is presented. Emotional intelligence facilitates
individual adaptation and change, and emotional capability increases the
likelihood for organizations to realize radical change. A mesolevel framework
is also presented, relating emotion-attending behaviors to 3 dynamics of
change: receptivity, mobilization, and learning. These behaviors, which
are termed emotional dynamics, constitute the organization's emotional
Copyright Academy of Management Apr 1999
I present a multilevel theory of emotion and change, which focuses on attributes
of emotional intelligence at the individual level and emotional capability
at the organizational level. Emotional intelligence facilitates individual
adaptation and change, and emotional capability increases the likelihood
for organizations to realize radical change. I also present a mesolevel
framework relating emotion-attending behaviors to three dynamics of change:
receptivity, mobilization, and learning. These behaviors, which I term
emotional dynamics, constitute the organization's emotional capability.
In the past decade, change has become a central focus of strategic management
research. There is a growing school of thought that internal organizational
capabilities, rather than generic positions or tactics, constitute the
real source of sustainable competitive advantage. However, theoretical
attempts to link largescale organizational change to changes in
processes of thought, feeling, and action have been modest. Change scholars
have tended to focus on microcognitive processes at an individual or group
level, whereas they have undertheorized linkages with radical organizational
change. In a recent review of the literature on managerial and organization
cognition, Walsh (1995) concludes that we know very little about the social
and emotional bases of change. How do they relate to each other? In this
article I respond to the call to explore the interaction of emotion and
strategic action by proposing a model that conceptually links the influence
of emotion to three dynamics underpinning radical change: receptivity,
mobilization, and learning. Based on the insights of organization theory
and the literature on change, I show that these change dynamics critically
impact the overall change process and outcome. Focusing on emotion illustrates
how attention to microdynamics can generate macro changes. Here, I propose
a link between various change dynamics and emotional processes at both
the individual and the organizational levels and use a meso framework to
bridge these two levels. Figure 1 summarizes graphically the multilevel
relationships that I present in this article.
More specifically, I discuss how various attributes of "emotional intelligence"
(Goleman, 1995; Salovey & Mayer, 1990) can facilitate change and social
adaptation at the individual level, and how attributes of "emotional capability"
can facilitate radical change at the organizational level. Radical (or
second-order) change has been defined as a discontinuous change in the
basic philosophy of one person-at the individual level-or of the shared
identity of members of the organization-at the organizational level (Reger,
Gustafson, DeMarie, & Mullane, 1994). This change is analogous to a "paradigm
shift" in scientific revolutions (Kuhn, 1970).
At the individual level, Salovey and Mayer define emotional intelligence
as "the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor
one's own and others' feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them
and to use this information to guide one's thinking and actions" (1990:189;
emphasis in original). An emotionally intelligent individual is able to
recognize and use his or her own and others' emotional states to solve
problems and regulate behavior.
At the organizational level, emotional capability refers to an organization's
ability to acknowledge, recognize, monitor, discriminate, and attend to
its members' emotions, and it is manifested in the organization's norms
and routines related to feeling (Schein, 1992). These routines reflect
organizational behaviors that either express or evoke certain specific
emotional states, and these behaviors I term emotional dynamics. I describe
six emotional dynamics to illustrate the emotional capability concept and
graphically summarize the relationships between the emotional dynamics
and various change dynamics in Figure 2. Although these six emotional dynamics
constitute the core of emotional capability, they may not be exhaustive.
Unlike emotional intelligence, emotional capability is not even partly
innate, can be developed over time, and does not necessarily require a
large number of emotionally intelligent individuals in influential positions.
I stress that emotional capability1 represents a necessary (but not sufficient)
condition for organizations to realize radical change.2 The model I present
here is grounded in a social interactionist perspective (Hochschild, 1979),
where I assume that human beings can effect radical change in organizations.
The proposed model addresses emotional issues that are engendered by change
at the organizational level, as opposed to emotions produced by intragroup
conflicts (Jehn, 1997). Finally, development of the model has required
eclectic borrowing from disparate literature streams, such as neurology,
sociology, psychology, and political science. In concert with more conventional
organizational culture and power theories, strategy research, and the
change literature, I attempt to expose an emotion-based, conceptual foundation
for explaining why radical change is so difficult to realize, and how such
difficulties might be attenuated.
[IMAGE CHART] Captioned as: FIGURE 1
[IMAGE CHART] Captioned as: FIGURE 2
I organize the article into four distinct parts. First, I define the three
change dynamics and show how they can be both cognitive and emotional,
individual and organizational. Second, I explain why emotional dynamics
are important in the context of radical change. Third, I discuss the multilevel
implications of the relationships between emotional dynamics and change
dynamics within a mesolevel framework, and I elaborate upon each of the
six emotional dynamics that form the core of the proposed emotional capability
concept and relate them to change dynamics. Figures 1, 2, and 3 graphically
represent the model at different levels of detail. Fourth, I end by discussing
implications for future research. The Appendix contains a more elaborate
discussion of the nature of emotion both at an individual and an organizational
One can better understand how emotion affects a radical change if the change
process is divided into its various components. Based on the
models related to the creation of momentum for change, both at the individual
(Lazarus, 1993) and organizational (Dutton & Duncan, 1987; Dutton & Jackson,
1987) levels, I highlight in this article three critical processual challenges
related to the realization of radical change: receptivity, mobilization,
and learning. Figure 3 encapsulates the interplay between the three change
dynamics and the proposed change and its outcome. I emphasize that these
three dynamics may not be exhaustive. My purpose here is to propose some
theoretical underpinnings as to why, how, and when emotions play a role
in shaping the process of radical change.
At the individual level, receptivity denotes a person's willingness to
consider change. Analogously, at the organizational level, receptivity
refers to organization members' willingness to consider-individually and
collectively-proposed changes and to recognize the legitimacy of such proposals.
Receptivity is both a state and a process. At any fixed point in time,
receptivity denotes an interpretive, attitudinal state (both cognitive
and emotional) to accept the need for the proposed change. Receptivity
as a process shapes and is shaped by the continuous sensemaking and sensegiving
activities conducted among various members of the organization. Individuals
seek to develop a meaningful framework to understand the nature of the
proposed change and to influence each other toward a preferred redefinition
of the organizational reality (Gioia & Chittipeddi, 1991). A proposal for
radical change-a fundamental change in identity or basic philosophy-often
triggers strong emotional responses, which affect how the change is cognitively
construed, as well as the nature of ensuing actions.
Receptivity to change can be characterized by varying gradations of willingness
to accept the proposed change, from resigned, passive acceptance to enthusiastic
endorsement. Resistance to change represents the alter ego to receptivity
and can range from moral outrage, which can translate into such extreme
actions as vandalism and sabotage, to quiet cynicism and withdrawal behavior.
Some degree of receptivity to change is necessary for mobilization and
learning to occur.
At the individual level, mobilization refers to the concrete actions taken
by a person in the direction of change. At the organizational level,
refers to the process of rallying and propelling different segments of
the organization to undertake joint action and to realize common change
goals. The ability to mobilize hinges on the availability of adequate resources
(e.g., finances, time, and human resources), support structures, and systems
but, most important, the necessary commitment and skill sets to cooperate
during the change process.
[IMAGE CHART] Captioned as: FIGURE 3
Mobilization involves collaborative knowhow-that is, the organization-wide
capacity to implement change that cuts across departments, individuals,
and time (Simonin, 1997) and requires active collaboration among team members
that goes beyond simple agreement or compliance. Adherence to the spirit
of the change goals, rather than just to the letter, is necessary to overcome
unforeseen complications, and this necessitates deep understanding of the
change rationale and commitment that minimizes inconsistencies in
(Amason, 1996). Mobilization requires organizational commitment and effort
devoted to change actions, which is contingent on adequate receptivity
to the proposed change (Dutton & Duncan, 1987). Wide acceptance of the
proposed vision accelerates the change process (Larwood, Falbe, Kriger,
& Miesing, 1995).
Mobilization during radical change requires significant emotional energy.
In contrast to firstorder change, such as change in formal structures,
which often requires the action of a minority in the dominant coalition,
radical change that alters core perspectives and values often necessitates
wide mobilization. Noting that the main challenge for organizations is
often not a problem of choosing cognitively but of taking organized action,
Brunsson asserts that action calls for "irrationality" (1982: 36-42). Strong
motivations and commitments promote strong efforts to complete the action
in spite of great difficulties.
Radical change often involves major uncertainty; the consequences of different
alternatives are difficult to evaluate fully. During such periods, too
much analysis may breed increasing doubt and paralysis; warm emotionality
has to supersede cold rationality to enable coherent collective action.
An important change requires a leap of faith into the unfamiliar (Kanter,
1983), and an emotionally unifying purpose serves to minimize large divergences
among groups (Barnard, 1968). Having people committed to realizing a vision
is more important for its success than a well-thought-out strategy (Pascale,
1984), because concentration and passionate dedication are necessary to
achieve distinctive competence and success (Miller, 1993).
How does receptivity and mobilization interact? Lazarus's (1993) stress
theory clarifies the relationship between an individual's receptivity to
change and mobilization. Individuals go through a two-stage appraisal process.
Through primary appraisal they evaluate the significance of a new event
for their own well-being. If change recipients evaluate the potential
as harmful (arousing negative emotions), they are likely to be nonreceptive
to the proposed change, but if they construe it as an opportunity or a
challenge (positive emotions), they will be better attuned.
Through secondary appraisal individuals evaluate their own resources and
capability for dealing with the stressor. Coping responses depend on how
individuals construe their ability to respond: if they believe they have
adequate resources to deal with this new event, they are likely to respond
more actively. Individuals are motivated to act only if they perceive they
can bridge the discrepancy between goals and performance (Westen, 1985).
Thus, primary appraisal determines the extent to which an individual is
receptive to change, whereas secondary appraisal determines the extent
to which the individual mobilizes for change.
An analogous process occurs at the organizational level. A proposal for
radical change triggers an iterative process called "strategic issue diagnosis,"
which includes a cognitive and an emotional component (Dutton & Duncan,
1987). Influential organization members are more receptive of major change
if they interpret significant implications for the long-term viability
of their organization. High receptivity increases the likelihood for
which results from two major interpretations: (1) the urgency of taking
action on the issue as it relates to organizational performance or survival
and (2) the feasibility of dealing with the issue, which relates to perception
of issue understanding and capability (e.g., availability of adequate
The emotional dimension is involved when decision makers make evaluative
appraisals about the significance of the change proposal and label it an
"opportunity" or a "threat" (Dutton & Jackson, 1987: 82). These "hot" cognitive
labels have been called "affective tags" (Fiske & Taylor, 1984).
Beyond receptivity leading to mobilization, individuals and organizations
also can learn from the outcomes of the changes they enact, and learning
provides a feedback loop from the outcomes of behavioral change back to
receptivity. At the individual level, a person learns by thinking and then
acting, using the outcome of action to revise his or her belief system
(Kim, 1993; Weick, 1979). Neurologists have discovered that interactions
between emotion and cognition are closely intertwined (Damasio, 1994).
Emotion provides the primary feedback mechanism that alerts the person
that various set goals are not being achieved, and this, in turn, motivates
behavior (Westen, 1985). Emotion arouses dissatisfaction with the current
state of affairs when a person compares the newly perceived reality with
the template of prior expectations and finds there is a negative mismatch-that
is, finds that reality is worse than prior expectations. This mismatch
stimulates learning and change (Hochschild, 1983). The desire to minimize
uncomfortable feelings and maximize positive ones affects information processing
At the organizational level, an analogous process takes place according
to the organizational goal-action-outcome-learning feedback framework suggested
by Cyert and March (1992). An entity learns when it can be shown that the
repertoire of its potential behaviors has evolved through information processing
(Huber, 1991). Organizational learning takes place when successful individual
learning is transferred to an organization's shared belief system, which
includes the subtle interconnections of know-how and know-why that various
members have developed among themselves. As old organizational routines
are replaced and new ones executed, the shared mental model contains not
only the new routines but also knowledge about how the routines fit with
each other (Kim, 1993). Organizational learning internalizes and routinizes
lessons drawn from a variety of individual and collective experiments (Simonin,
1997). Radical change often involves a collective, interactional, and emergent
process of learning and sensemaking (Bartunek, 1984; Gioia & Chittipeddi,
The emotional dimension of organizational learning arises from the interaction
of affective components of organization receptivity (interpretation) and
collective mobilization (action) previously discussed. Dissatisfaction
with organizational outcomes can arouse uncomfortable feelings, leading
to further assessment and learning. Radical change of core beliefs and
values often starts with exposing and challenging deep-rooted assumptions.
Single-loop learning occurs when the error is corrected by changing the
behavior; double-loop learning requires change in the underlying assumptions,
which will then lead to change in behaviors, and this activates strong
emotions (Argyris, 1993). Organizational learning and change, therefore,
can be facilitated by the enactment of specific emotional dynamics, and
this constitutes the subject of the second half of this article.
These change dynamics are analogous at the individual and the organizational
levels. Balance is imparted to the change model with the introduction of
the feedback learning process. When people take action (i.e., mobilize),
they may find that the outcomes of their actions are not as they had hoped.
Ideally, under these circumstances, people (1) appraise and learn from
such outcomes; (2) grow receptive to alternative courses of action; and
(3) remobilize, taking action along a different and more promising course.
This continual learning process is necessary, because radical change is
by nature risky and unpredictable; the presence of learning dynamics helps
to improve the chance of its realization.
Balance is addressed in that mobilization deals with the assumed certainty
of the present, whereas learning deals with the perceived uncertainty of
the future. Continuous balancing is necessary, because secondary effects
of present actions often induce future imbalances. Mobilization may improve
current action focus, but it may also reduce the range of search behavior;
or it may induce optimism that will evolve into complacency, escalating
commitments, and eventual disaster (Miller & Chen, 1996). To counter this
pressure toward organizational simplicity, organization members must balance
mobilization with learning-from-changing dynamics that introduce variation
and adjustment. Effective learning processes capture early mistakes and
rectify them before they become insurmountable.
These three change dynamics are influenced by the emotion-attending behaviors
I call emotional dynamics, which I describe next.
Radical Change and Strong Emotional Responses
Why is radical change likely to arouse strong emotional responses? Radical
(or second-order) change refers to a fundamental, qualitative change in
the firm's philosophy or core perspective/identity, which may also affect
the pattern of strategic relationships outside the firm. Core identity
has been defined as the central, enduring, and distinctive characteristics
of the organization that a large number of members feel proud of and have
identified with personally (Albert & Whetten, 1985; Dutton & Dukerich,
1991). This deep change in core identity often requires concurrent shifts
in all other organizational dimensions, such as structure, systems, and
personnel, to preserve alignment. Thus, a radical change is often deep
and large scale (Ledford et al., 1989). The change causes not only a major
and pervasive redistribution of resources and power, which is already highly
upsetting in itself, but, by definition, demands a paradigm shift that
challenges members' most basic assumptions about the nature of the organization
(Bartunek, 1984; Reger et al., 1994). These assumptions define the domain
of socially constructed reality and provide a patterned way of dealing
with ambiguous, uncontrollable events (Schein, 1992). Organization members
have "emotionally invested" in these nonnegotiable assumptions that shape
their cognitive structures for sensemaking and meaning giving. Challenging
this source of cognitive and emotional stability is tantamount to attacking
core identity and, thus, could trigger strong defense mechanisms, such
as anxiety and defensiveness (Schein, 1992).
Advocates of personal construct theory (Kelly, 1955) predict a similar
emotional response to radical change. To the extent that the proposed change
is perceived as being in opposition to esteemed core values, the individual's
negative affect can be more intense than the affect aroused by lack of
cognitive understanding of the proposed change. Opposing concepts are likely
to trigger feelings of anger, threat, or fear (Festinger, 1957; Reger et
al., 1994). If the threat is perceived as benign, challengers of core identity
are considered lunatics and are ignored (Nadler & Tushman, 1990). In any
event, perceived disagreement on important issues provokes intense emotions
(Jehn, 1997), and, unfortunately, these negative emotions tend to spread
more rapidly than positive ones3 (Staw, Sutton, & Pelled, 1994).
The Emotional Dynamics
My focus here is on organizational behaviors that seek to address or arouse
certain specific emotions triggered by radical change or that are necessary
to effect such change. These behaviors, or emotional dynamics, become
routines over time. I present exemplars of these emotional dynamics and
how they facilitate change in the next section.
These behaviors can, in part, be operationalized by the resources (e.g.,
people, organized activities, expertise, budget, and time) that an organization
devotes to their enactment. The degree of an organization's ability to
execute effectively these various emotional dynamics determines its level
of emotional capability and, therefore, its likelihood of realizing radical
change. Table 1 illustrates that three dynamics are self-directed (i.e.,
expressing emotions) and three are other directed (evoking emotions). By
and large, these emotional dynamics also mirror the behaviors of an "emotionally
intelligent" individual; thus, there is relative isomorphism between the
individual and the organizational levels.
RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN EMOTIONAL DYNAMICS AND CHANGE DYNAMICS
Examination of various works in the literature related to emotion and change
reveals six emotional dynamics that act as antecedents to the change dynamics.
Figure 2 shows the emotional dynamics that constitute emotional capability
and how each construct influences a particular change dynamic. These emotional
dynamics constitute only exemplars and are not meant to be exhaustive.
Each emotional dynamic expresses or evokes a specific emotion, which can
be a state and a process, that is relevant in the context of radical change.
Link Between the Individual and the Organizational Levels: A Mesolevel
Framework In this model I construe organizations as patterns of coordinated
activities of interdependent parts, including people. An emotionally capable
organization does not necessarily require that most of its members be
intelligent-not even the individuals in influential positions. Indeed,
to the extent that people in organizations are trained and encouraged to
enact emotion-attending behaviors, the likelihood of realizing radical
change is increased. Organizational behaviors are, in part, dependent on
what organizations expect, reward, and support, and together these behaviors
arouse certain kinds of emotional states in situated contexts that can
facilitate or hinder receptivity to change, mobilization, and learning.
A mesolevel theory involves at least two levels of analysis-one relating
to the individual or group variables and the other to the organizational
variables. These two levels are linked through bridging propositions, and
these multilevel propositions aggregate the effects of lower-level variables
and relate them to higherlevel variables (cf., House, Rousseau, and Thomas-Hunt,
1995). Thus, I treat micro and macro processes jointly, and I examine their
interactions to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the behavior
in and of organizations.4
Figure 1 provides a simplified sketch of the multiple levels of analysis
discussed in this article. At the individual level, the model suggests
that an individual's emotional intelligence is positively related to the
individual's ability to change and adapt personally. At the organizational
level, the model suggests that an organization's emotional capability is
positively related to its ability to change. The more emotionally capable
an organization, the more successful will be its change efforts.
Linking the parallel organizational-level and individual-level models are
two meso constructs: (1) emotional dynamics (e.g., reconciliation that
expresses sympathy and encouragement that evokes hope) and (2) change dynamics
(receptivity, mobilization, and learning). The model suggests that individuals
and organizations that enact these emotional dynamics are receptive to
change, effective in mobilizing for change, and able to learn from the
results of their initial change efforts and, thereby, to adjust their course
if necessary. Emotional dynamics and change dynamics are meso constructs
because they are equally applicable to individuals and organizations. To
use House et al.'s (1995) terminology, emotional dynamics and change dynamics
Indeed, I have previously argued that the change dynamics as processes
are isomorphic at both the individual and the organizational levels. Similarly,
emotional dynamics constitute attributes of an organization's emotional
capability and are enacted through a specific set of organizational routines,
and, on a smaller scope, they also mirror individual or group behaviors
that arouse specific emotional states conducive to change. The same propositions
characterize equally an "emotionally intelligent" person and an "emotionally
capable" organization of persons. Moreover, these variables act as "bridges"
between the micro and macro levels. The propositions are multilevel within
a meso paradigm because they link two meso constructs-change dynamics and
emotional dynamics-and the proposed relationships are applicable to both
the individual and the organizational levels.
[IMAGE TABLE] Captioned as: TABLE 1
The vertical arrows in Figure 1 depict the multilevel effects. Emotional
dynamics induce certain emotional states at the individual level. At the
same time, the enactment of emotional dynamics shapes emotional capability
at the organizational level (left up-arrow) through the creation of emotional
states conducive to emotionally intelligent behaviors (left down-arrow).
Similarly, change dynamics characterize the process of personal adaptation
at the individual level (right down-arrow), while, at the same time, the
multitude of individual adaptation processes shapes the change dynamics
that influence the outcome of radical change at the organizational level
At least two conditions are necessary for effective enactment of emotional
dynamics and change dynamics at the collective level: appropriateness and
harmonious integration. It is possible that not every individual or group
in a large organization feels the same type of emotion with the same intensity
at the same time in response to the same event. As a result, different
groups may have different emotional responses, needs, or coping mechanisms
that need to be diagnosed and attended to according to the demands of the
Too much or too little of a good thing can be equally ineffective. Too
long or too much grieving over the abandoned values that a particular subgroup
did not care much for anyway breeds cynicism. The same emotional state
does not need to exist at the same intensity among all individuals in the
organization, nor is it necessary to expend organizational resources evenly
on everyone to achieve a particular change objective. An emotionally capable
organization understands the relationships between emotion and change,
institutionalizes routines that attend to emotions in situated contexts,
and selectively devotes appropriate resources to achieving organizationally
relevant objectives. Analogous to emotional intelligence at the individual
level, emotional capability incorporates a locally contingent quality:
a sense of appropriateness.
As with the cognitive perspective, the sum total of emotionally intelligent
individuals might produce an emotionally handicapped organization. To the
extent that these individuals attempt to use their emotional intelligence
as private tools to further their self-interests, each might try to outsmart,
or rather to "out feel," the other through emotional manipulation. The
net result could well be complete mistrust, cynicism, or alienation at
the organizational level. Cooperative actions would suffer as a result,
and change for the better would be unlikely. In addition, not all individuals
or groups necessarily feel the same emotions or use similar coping mechanisms.
As a result, they may not progress at the same pace, and this lack of
could generate unpredictable dynamics.
The range, timing, duration, and pace of situated emotion-focused behaviors
need to vary in consequence. Thus, internal harmonious integration of emotional
dynamics is a necessary condition for the organization's emotional capability
in the movement from the individual to the organizational level.
In the remainder of this part, I describe exemplars of emotional dynamics
that arouse certain emotional states conducive to change. For reasons of
parsimony, the stated multilevel propositions apply both at the individual
and the organizational levels; thus, the respective actors are implicit.
Because I construe radical change as an iterative process linking three
change dynamics (as shown in Figure 3), any emotional dynamic that affects
one particular change dynamic will also exert a rippling effect on all
the others. For example, since the learning change dynamic is linked to
receptivity, which, in turn, is linked to mobilization, the emotional dynamic
of experiencing that affects receptivity will also have a subsequent impact
on the mobilization and learning change dynamics.
Empathy and the Dynamic of Experiencing
At the individual level, empathy represents a central attribute of emotional
intelligence. It is a person's ability to understand someone else's feelings
and to re-experience them. Empathy determines the success of social support
and is a motivator for altruistic behavior (Salovey & Mayer, 1990). It
is demonstrated, in part, through heedful behaviors related to others'
feelings. In turn, others are more likely to be more receptive in considering
one's proposal for change as a spirit of sharing is established.
At the organizational level, emotional experiencing refers to the quality
of an organization's efforts to identify the variety of emotions aroused
during radical change, to accept and internalize them, and to act on a
deep level of understanding. These experiencing behaviors can involve organized
activities, such as training and coaching all organization members, and
especially change agents, to experience the same or other appropriate emotions
in response to others' feelings and to communicate or act on this internal
experience (Salovey & Mayer, 1990). Organization members can be trained
on the "ability to accurately 'read' the subtle social cues and signals
given by others in order to determine what emotions are being expressed
and understanding the perspective of the other individual" (Schmidt, 1997:
10). Demonstration of care and concern for one another constitutes the
basis for affect-based trust and is found to lead to better work performance,
possibly owing to better coordination under discontinuous conditions
1995). Focus on affective interpersonal cues is essential for quality of
decision making and implementation solidarity among team members (Amason,
These emotion-attending behaviors become salient during radical change,
especially for change recipients, because change is "disturbing when it
is done to us, exhilarating when it is done by us" (Kanter, 1983: 63).
Change agents who have at least partly experienced the recipients' emotions
are more aware that their change program can threaten the psychological
and social defenses of the change recipients. They are conscious that painful
or bad feelings can be projected onto change agents (negative transference;
Berg, 1979; Kets de Vries & Miller, 1984).
Even the most sincere change recipients can be ambivalent because of the
tension caused by contradictory motives and their discomfort in airing
them openly. Their sense of inner selfidentity and ego integrity are being
challenged. Emotional pain can become harmful if it is denied or derogated
as insignificant (Brockner, 1992)-dismissing emotional states as "irrational"
or illegitimate can drive change recipients underground. Change resisters
then could adopt a facade of rationality by invoking alternate reasons
that appear more legitimate. Once underground, this resistance to change
is no longer controllable; deeds may be quite different from professed
intentions, thus creating serious obstacles for the progress of change.
Acting on this emotional experience implies attending to small details
and projecting a sense of honesty, fairness, justice, and respect for those
affected by change (Brockner, 1992). The organization can establish
mechanisms-for example, informal communication structures to foster dialogue
and sensemaking during this threatening period. Emotional support structures,
such as psychological counseling services, self-help groups, Tgroups, and
single- and double-loop learning interventions, may help organization members
come to grips with the new reality. And emotional release can be effected
through displacement of aggression tactics, such as by insulting the objects
of anger in safe places or by joking. If these programs are made widely
available in the organization (and the more varied they are the better),
the more likely it will that the intensity of emotional pain will be attenuated.
Emotional experiencing also translates into sensitivity to the impact of
the timing, pacing, and sequencing of the various change actions so that
adequate emotional equanimity is maintained among those affected. As mutual
respect and emotional sharing set in, organization members will be more
likely to open themselves and listen more constructively to a proposed
Proposition 1: The higher the level of emotional experiencing, the higher
the level of receptivity to a proposed change will be.
Sympathy and the Dynamic of Reconciliation At the individual level, sympathy
is a less demanding emotional process than empathy, since it refers to
the ability of an individual to feel for the general suffering of another,
with no direct sharing of that person's experience (Goleman, 1995). Sympathy
is a precursor to the development of empathy, but unlike empathy, the person
can retain his or her private feelings while understanding those of someone
else. Sympathy is partly demonstrated by conciliatory behaviors.
At the organizational level, emotional reconciliation refers to the process
of bringing together two seemingly opposing values people feel strongly
about. Genuine efforts expended toward achieving a new synthesis and
increase receptivity to proposals for change. Reconciling apparent opposites
underlies Albert's (1984) conceptualization of change as a juxtaposition
of additions and deletions. The more the proposed change can be framed
and accepted by the recipients as an addition or an expansion of existing
values, the easier it is for them to accept the proposed change, and the
more continuity is perceived to exist between the past and the future,
the less the change is perceived as radical. However, the portion of the
valued elements of the past that must be "deleted" should be mourned to
With regard to handling additions, Schein (1992) observes that it is unlikely
that one can initiate cultural change by dismissing a basic constituent
assumption as wrong. A new synthesis has to be found that will retain both
the old and the new. This establishes a form of partial stability to allow
change to occur. Cultural change and personal transformation are codependent
and are akin to religious conversion; the shift to new values is mediated
by the bridging role of metaphor, "when for an instant a parallel is seen
between the familiar and the unfamiliar experiences" (Westley, 1990: 289292).
A cultural graft articulates and incorporates some positive elements of
the old culture with the new assumptions.
This new synthesis, subsuming the proposed change as an addition, has to
be accepted as meaningful by the organization's members. A process of
that bridges feelings about new and old values has to be conducted. Emotional
conversations between change agents and their targets to co-construct a
new meaning gradually increase understanding and receptivity to seemingly
controversial change proposals.
Beyond addition, change may also require deletion of certain cherished
values, so the unfreezing technique (Lewin, 1951) may be helpful. Mourning
of these past, abandoned values has to be organized (Albert, 1984). Thus,
one of the first steps toward achieving full emotional reconciliation is
adequate grieving. Tichy and U1rich (1984) prescribe a model of organizational
change inspired by the work of Bridges (1980) on individual change. "Endings"
come first, followed by "neutral zones," and finally "new beginnings."
The outcome of change is most critical in the neutral zone, when "individuals
feel disconnected from people and things of the past and emotionally unconnected
with the present" (Bridges, 1986: 249). This second phase is marked by
disorientation (the past is no longer appropriate, but the future direction
is not yet clear) and frightening disintegration (everything is collapsing).
At the extreme, letting go of all the attributes of the organizational
identity is equivalent to death and nothingness.
Passage from one phase to another is not automatic. Managing actively the
transition between the ending phase and the neutral zone is important.
In order to pass through this phase successfully, organization members
need sufficient time to reflect on the past and to develop new perspectives
for the future. They have to come to terms with such issues as what went
wrong and why it needs changing now, and they need to think about new
The mourning period is curvilinear, and the time allotted should be
too long nor too short. The organization has to encourage shared meaning
construction about the proposal for change, and it should help people find
their new roles in the new order and provide them with the means to develop
newly required competencies. Inclusion of all members should be encouraged,
and mistakes and losses openly acknowledged (Bridges, 1984). Emotional
release heals as it leads to greater awareness of repressed feelings and
gradually brings resolution and renewed receptivity. Change agents who
rush the rest of the organization through this meditative mourning phase
risk a backlash (Moses, 1987), for denying the emotional impact of the
pain and bypassing the catharsis and mourning phase may lead to an organization
paralyzed by survivor sickness and devoid of creative energy (Noer, 1993).
In summary, when organization members perceive change as an addition,
processes increase their receptivity to the extent that they can jointly
develop a meaningful bridge. When they perceive change as a deletion,
is more likely to increase if members are allocated adequate time and resources
to work through their emotional grief. In juxtaposition, the effectiveness
of various reconciliation processes hinges on an artful combination of
activities addressing various addition and deletion components that can
coexist in a proposed radical change.
Proposition 2: The higher the level of emotional reconciliation, the higher
the level of receptivity to a proposed change will be.
Love and the Dynamic of Identification At the individual level, the ability
to love is a sign of emotional intelligence; the process whereby emotions
are accepted and reciprocated is attunement, and this process begins early
between parents and children (Goleman, 1995).
At the organizational level, the emotional dynamic of identification refers
to the collective behavior whereby organization members express their deep
attachment to salient organization characteristics (Dutton, Dukerich, &
Harquail, 1994). These organization characteristics can include a number
of dimensions, such as core values, beliefs, myths, leaders, or any other
element that is deemed meaningful to particular individuals or groups.
Identifying is analogous to "falling in love"-that is, to the extent that
one's expectations are fulfilled and reciprocated, the initial attraction
ripens into a deep and abiding attachment. This identification process
is both cognitive and affective (Ashforth, 1998: 9).
Members in a collectivity stay together because there are mutual benefits;
among the most important of these are the emotional bonds that develop
over time in relation to selfidentified and shared organization characteristics.
Individuals will be motivated to identify more strongly when their organization
identities evoke positive affect, and to disengage if they produce negative
affect (Harquail, 1998). Identification aggregates personal feelings of
attachment toward the organization and translates into such attachment
behaviors as loyalty, defense of the organization's name and reputation
even outside work boundaries, or abstention from demanding immediate
for extra efforts. Indeed, emotional bonds have been found to determine,
in part, work structure and to influence the organization's norms and standards
(Berg, 1979; Van Mannen & Kunda, 1989).
Identification with salient organization characteristics shaping organization
identity supplies the stable structures to contain anxiety-a commonly shared
emotion (Jaques, 1974). Anxiety is "an emotion without a defined object"
(Hochschild, 1983: 209) and serves as a signal for the avoidance of a dangerous
situation. Proposed major changes to identity can arouse intense anxiety,
especially when a meaningful new identity is not present or not yet proven.
The stronger the significance of the current identity, the more intense
the emotions. Moreover, the more members positively value that identity
and evaluate the proposed change as incongruent with it, the more negative
their emotional reaction will be (Harquail, 1998). Group behavior can exhibit
childlike characteristics when members are facing uncomfortable situations
(Bion, 1959). In order to build a strong team spirit, they unconsciously
activate splitting defenses by idealizing the qualities of the team members
while projecting undesirable characteristics onto people outside the team.
Humans tend to avoid, dismiss, and deny warnings that increase anxiety
and fear by practicing selective attention and various forms of information
distortion; this is known as "defensive avoidance" (Janis & Mann, 1977).
Thus, paradoxical as it may seem, change requires a certain level of stability:
emotional equanimity-a state of evenness of mind-has to be present. In
order to maintain a sense of identity, individuals have to feel a basic
level of security and comfort, which is achieved by being strongly attached
to symbolic objects that bridge a person's internal and external worlds
(Winnicot, 1965). In the same way, a strong organizational culture allows
its members to affirm their sense of identity and personal security within
it. Therefore, proposed major changes tend to be perceived as highly threatening
to at least some elements of their personal core identity. Proud identification
with an organization is separate from attachment to power and prestige
and partly explains the slow rate of change in established institutions
(Bartunek, 1984; Chandler, 1990). Receptivity to proposed change is less
likely to be achieved quickly or easily, and more time and resources will
be needed to increase receptivity.
Proposition 3a: The higher the level of identification with the organization,
the lower the level of receptivity will be to any proposed change perceived
to threaten the organization's identity; thus, more resources will be required
to increase receptivity.
Emotional identification often translates into resilient loyalty to the
organization. Employees who experience positive identification are more
likely to stay longer with the organization. Influential members may delay
leaving an organization not out of material self-interest but from a more
altruistic concern that the organization might go from bad to worse if
they leave (Hirschman, 1970). Some members may postpone exit and suffer
in silence, hoping that the situation will soon improve.
Organizations with a high turnover rate, however, have difficulty accumulating
learning, since their experience base is eroding continually. This happens
because much of the organization know-how and know-why is tacit and involves
understanding and operationalization of the subtle interconnections between
routines that have been developed among various members (Kim, 1993). The
organizational memory contains idiosyncratic knowledge shared among veteran
members; this collective yet distributed memory enables revisions to existing
routines and the addition of new ones, thereby enabling organizational
To the extent that radical change does not require a complete destruction
of the past involving organizational memory and distinctive competence,
veteran members who remain loyal to the organization can help operationalize
new knowledge faster. Emotionality does not always impair cognitive processing
and group performance.
Proposition 3b: To the extent that radical change does not require a complete
destruction of the past, the stronger the level of identification with
the organization and the longer the organization members' tenure, the higher
their level of learning will be.
Hope and the Dynamic of Encouragement
At the individual level, hope is another attribute of emotional intelligence,
referring to the belief that one has both the will and the way to accomplish
one's goals, whatever they may be. Snyder et al. (1991) have found that
hope sets apart the academic achievements of students of equivalent intellectual
aptitude. It buffers people against apathy and depression, and it strengthens
their capacity to withstand defeat and persist in adversity (Goleman, 1995).
Brockner suggests that most of us are motivated by the "psychology of hope:
the expectation and wish that our future work situation will be better
than (or at least as good as) the present one" (1992: 26).
At the organizational level, the emotional dynamic of encouragement refers
to the organization's ability to instill hope among all of its members
during a radical change effort. Hope propels people into taking actions
that could improve their lot, it fuels their persistence, and, thus, it
sustains mobilization efforts. One means of engendering hope is by establishing
change goals that are meaningful for all members. Successful leaders emotionally
inspire followers through communication of vivid images that give flesh
to a captivating vision so as to motivate them to pursue ambitious goals.
When people believe that their actions will lead to positive results, they
will be more likely to initiate difficult and uncertain tasks: optimism
promotes persistence (Staw et al., 1994). Other encouragements can include
symbolic actions, such as frequent dialogue between change leaders and
organization members, attention demonstrated through allocation of quality
time and organizational resources, or such uplifting ritual devices as
rousing speeches and reward ceremonies to celebrate partial success.
The prescriptive and autobiographical literature on strategic change suggests
that mobilization can be achieved via charismatic or transformational leadership
(e.g., Nadler & Tushman, 1990; Tichy & Ulrich, 1984). During periods of
turmoil, people crave a charismatic leader capable of fulfilling their
emotional need for psychological safety-they crave assurance of a safe
path to the future (Conger, 1989). The followers' anxieties are projected
onto the leader in exchange for hope (Kets de Vries, 1990). In turn, these
leaders often use intense emotional expressivity to capture their audience
(Goleman, 1995). Starbuck, Greve, and Hedberg (1978) contend that the most
important work for top managers is "managing ideology"-not "strategy making."
Managers can shape an ideological setting that encourages enthusiasm, nurtures
courage, reveals opportunities, and, thus, brings new hope and life to
their organization. Proposition 4: The higher the level of encouragement,
the higher the level of mobilization to a proposed change will be.
Authenticity and the Dynamic of Display Freedom
At the individual level, emotional authenticity refers to a person's ability
to acknowledge, express, and be sincere about his or her feelings. It is
an attribute of emotional intelligence. Individuals who lose this ability
bury their real self, and a false self emerges (Hochschild, 1983). The
term alexithymia refers to psychiatric patients who are unable to appraise
and express their emotions (Salovey & Mayer, 1990).
At the organizational level, the emotional dynamic of display freedom refers
to the organization's ability to facilitate the variety of authentic emotions
that legitimately can be displayed (and felt) in the organization during
a radical change process.5 The converse is an alexithymic organization,
which controls the types or intensity of emotions that can be expressed
and felt through the oppressive use of culture and power. Whatever the
type organization, power can be subtly coercive when the organization exerts
influence on sensemaking and meaning interpretation (Lukes, 1974). Values
and preferences are shaped so that organization members cannot visualize
any better alternative than the status quo, and learning and exploration
of alternatives are bounded. The organization maintains order partly through
emotional underpinnings such as fear, guilt, or embarrassment. Also, a
failure to engage play-acting skills and to display representative emotions
is read as an act of insubordination or a sign of incompetence in strong
cultures (Flam, 1993). As a result, employees privately may feel trapped
and fearful. In front of powerful persons, individuals are likely to restrict
the range of displayed emotions to mainly positive expressions (Morris
& Feldman, 1996), since negative displays could be interpreted as cynicism
or detachment (Van Maanen & Kunda, 1989). Such restricted emotional sharing
and expression limit the high level of learning required during periods
of radical change.
A body of research does exist that associates negative emotional display
with poor group performance (cf., Jehn, 1997). This form of control might
be viable in a slow, evolutionary change environment, since it might facilitate
first-order change-speeding up execution by muting doubting critics. However,
the collective learning necessary during radical change could be impaired
by this type of control.
Duck (1993) suggests that the content of emotions (negative versus positive)
is not as important as how leaders deal with them. Leaders who deny emotionality
in the workplace will also block the emergence of new ideas from the base
of the organization at a time when creativity and contextual knowledge
are most needed to realize radical change. Organization members should
be encouraged to express their full range of emotions, without fear of
reprisal. As their capacity to make sense breaks down, disenchantment and
hurt should be allowed expression, and the leadership should deal with
it in an open and honest fashion (Bridges, 1984).
Controlling the variety of emotions expressed in the organization during
discontinuous transition periods may well lead to emotional acting, risk
aversion, cynicism, and covert resistance to the proposed change. Cynical
members might withhold the tacit knowledge necessary for organizational
learning. The more covert the resistance, the more chaotic the change process
will be, as resisters become indistinguishable from friends or the loyal
Members who are forced to continually enact a narrow range of prescribed
emotions are likely to experience emotional dissonance, which reflects
the internal conflict generated between genuinely felt emotions and emotions
required to be displayed. This, in turn, can result in emotional exhaustion,
leading to burnout, which Morris and Feldman (1996) define as a state of
depleted energy caused by excessive emotional demands made on individuals.
The resulting emotional numbness alleviates stress by reducing access to
feelings-the central means of interpreting the world around us (Hochschild,
1983)-and leads to low sensitivity to new ideas and experimentation.
This situation can degenerate into a vicious cycle. As the workload pressure
increases because of burnout or downsizing, more and more employees will
become tired from trying to compensate for work not done, which further
reduces the selfreflection time that is necessary for deep learning. This
frustrating state could be interpreted as a failure in change that depresses
further efforts at collective learning and change.
Proposition 5: The higher the level of freedom for organization members
to display authentic emotions during radical change, the higher the level
of learning will be.
Fun and the Dynamic of Playfulness
At the individual level, fun as an emotional state and process relates
to the motivated search for pleasant experiences and aesthetic appreciation,
and this constitutes another trait of emotional intelligence (Salovey &
Mayer, 1990). Intrinsic motivation is one of the necessary preconditions
for creativity, for it distinguishes what an individual can do from what
he or she will do (Amabile, 1988). From a neurophysiological perspective,
a feeling of elation permits the rapid generation of multiple images so
that the associative process is richer; a happy person indulges more often
in creative and exploratory behavior. In contrast, sadness slows image
evocation (Damasio, 1994).
At the organizational level, the dynamic of playfulness refers to the ability
of an organization to create a context that encourages experimentation
and that tolerates mistakes during radical change. A relatively safe and
protective work environment has to be created to allow experimentation
and to test new organization identities without premature lock-in (Ashforth,
1998). Yet, work-oriented organizations tend to have a low tolerance for
play, associating playful work with nonserious activities.
During radical change, if organization members perceive a major threat
and see a risk of serious loss associated with any possible action, stress
may instill in them a paralyzing fear. If it is no longer realistic to
hope that a better solution is feasible, decision makers will terminate
their search and lapse into the defensive avoidance mode Janis & Mann,
1977): cognitive closure has set in. Action may still occur as decision
makers choose what seems to be the least objectionable course of action
and proceed to exaggerate its positive consequences and minimize its negative
ones. Or decision makers may simply decide to procrastinate and shift
responsibility to others (Lebow, 1981). At best, they will pursue their
prior course of action in an incremental and satisficing manner.
To counter this tendency toward fear and paralysis, Weick and Westley (1996)
argue that humor facilitates organizational learning. Laughter represents
a form of emotional release that comes from the juxtaposition of paradoxes.
Playfulness allows safe experimentation and, like jokes, institutionalizes
disorder within order, expression of taboo issues within a legitimate form,
and surfacing of the repressed without extreme discomfort. Emotional playfulness
induces a state of relative emotional equanimity to juggle tensions between
foolishness and cold rationality.
Playful moments in a process, thus, are enacted to foster learning and
creativity. Playfulness, which influences and is influenced by the perceived
feasibility of unfettered experimentation, increases the likelihood of
collective learning. Playful organizations induce playful activities that
legitimize random, uncensored trial and error. As unfettered experimentation
becomes feasible, creativity emerges from playful actions (Starbuck et
al., 1978). However, in situations where there is perception of limited
or no possible playful experiments, because of fear of undue risk (e.g.,
nuclear war accident) or resource constraint, it is more likely that decision
makers are going to be affected by cognitive closure. Resource availability
and context, therefore, moderate this relationship.
Proposition 6: The higher the level of playfulness, the higher the likelihood
of learning will be.
RESEARCH IMPLICATIONS AND CONCLUSIONS
Potential Contributions to Multilevel Theory Research
Until recently, there has been relatively little study of behavior in
contexts and its effect on macro phenomena (House et al., 1995). The proposed
multilevel emotional capability theory here suggests how micro theories
of emotion and organizational behavior can be relevant at the macro strategy
level, and how micro forces can result in macro effects. General
theories are enhanced through their link to strategic implementation issues.
The meso perspective I adopt in this article proposes additional insights
over and above what can be contributed by microlevel or macrolevel theories
by articulating how some of the variables interact at the micro and macro
levels. These interactions span at least two levels: the individual (through
emotional intelligence theory) and the organizational (through emotional
This article illustrates one possible way to build a multilevel theory.
As depicted in Figure 1, both macro-organizational and microindividual
phenomena are specified within the same framework. The framework defines
two meso variables at the intersection of these two levels to couple the
macro and micro variables through bridging propositions. Beyond coupling
the macrolevels and microlevels, the stated propositions apply at both
the individual and organizational levels. The proposed theory deserves
further scrutiny to map out the boundaries of the suggested meso processes
regarding isomorphisms, discontinuities, and interlevel relationships (see
House et al., 1995, for elaboration). Future empirical studies will help
to identify the applicability and limitations of this multilevel claim
in more clearly articulated contexts.
Extending Research on Emotion and Change
There are concerns among researchers as to whether emotions can be studied
with rigor. Traditional research on emotion tends to focus on personal
affective disposition or specific types of emotion, such as joy or anxiety,
or to split them into positive or negative groups; another stream emphasizes
emotional expressions (Hochschild, 1983; Staw et al., 1994). Reliability
and validity of introspective self-report data are difficult to establish,
because it is relatively arduous to check the veracity of such reports.
This has forced a number of researchers to focus on expressed emotions,
because they are easier to study and observe than internal feelings (Rafaeli
& Sutton, 1989). The emotional capability model advances the concept of
emotional dynamics, such as reconciliation or playfulness, as emotion-arousing
behaviors that need to be activated to facilitate the realization of radical
In order to test the propositions, one can operationalize emotional dynamics
in both objective and subjective terms. For instance, emotional experiencing
and encouragement can be measured by the proportion of organizational resources
allocated to emotion-attending activities, such as budget, specialized
support groups, emotion training, or executive time. Emotional identification
can be measured with the turnover rate of workers past a certain level
of tenure and with various measures of culture. And emotional reconciliation
can be measured by observing the time organization members spend in the
grieving process, by directly recording or asking them about the time they
spend together in order to develop a cultural graft, and so on. The overt
nature of the emotion-focused behavioral interactions lends itself more
easily to outsider and peer observation and assessment via private interviews,
survey methods, and ethnographic research in natural settings. Receptivity
to the proposed change can be measured by the time it takes to convince
organization members to participate constructively in accepting the proposed
change. The proposed constructs lend themselves to multimethod research
and triangulation, thus enhancing validity and reliability.
The precise boundaries of this theory remain to be mapped. Most of the
propositions are speculative and need to be tested empirically. At this
stage, it is unclear which of the six suggested emotional dynamics are
preeminent in which contexts, whether some may naturally cohere with others
in certain parsimonious configurations, or what the moderating and mediating
factors are. Certain emotional dynamics may provoke undesirable effects
in other cultural settings. In future research scholars could start to
explore the effectiveness of various emotional dynamics in different situations,
as well as their unintended side-effects.
In this article I have presented a multilevel theory of emotion and change.
At the individual level, researchers have found emotional intelligence
to facilitate social adaptation and learning. At the organizational level,
I have proposed an analogous concept, defining it as emotional capability.
Drawing on the insights of a wide variety of literatures, I have attempted
to fill part of the gap in our understanding of largescale strategic change
by explaining why radical changes are arduous and how such challenges might
be addressed by theorists and practitioners. Organizations that are emotionally
capable are more likely to realize deep changes. Emotional capability represents
a necessary, although not sufficient, antecedent for radical change.
Those with a resource-based view of the firm have focused strategic management
thinking on an organization's internal capabilities. Sustainability of
competitive advantage requires resources that are idiosyncratic and not
easily transferable or replicable-there is value in tacitness (Grant, 1991).
Emotional capability constitutes one dimension of the organization's internal
capacity, which is difficult to imitate because it is embedded in the
social web of organizational interactions. It is difficult to imagine an
internal capability that is more tacit and idiosyncratic than the emotional
energy of loyal members. Emotional capability taps the organization's emotional
energy, which represents one of the most poorly understood and underexploited
For too long, emotional energy has been treated as irrational or nefarious
to sound organizing. This article exposes an alternative view: far from
being an impediment to learning and change, emotional capability theory
predicts that well-channeled emotional dynamics can lead to the realization
of radical, or secondorder, change. Unattended, suppressed, or disdained
emotional energy can frustrate the careers of many change agents. For firms
faced with an increasingly dynamic environment, emotional energy represents
a largely unexploited, yet ready, resource. Well tapped, it will enable
organizations to realize strategic stretch.
I thank the Special Issue Editors and three anonymous reviewers for their
guidance and constructive reviews. This article has greatly improved thanks
to their suggestions. My appreciation also goes to Ann Langley, Charles
Galunic, Robert Cooper, Frances Westley, Veronika Kisfalvi, Yves Doz, Marla
Tuchinski, the McGill University Faculty of Graduate Research, and the
Social Sciences Human Research Council of Canada.
1 Although there are conceptual similarities between emotional intelligence
and emotional capability, I deliberately use two different terms to avoid
anthropomorphism and to underscore important differences. Emotional intelligence
is essentially individual and can be partly innate. Emotional capability
manifests itself at the organizational level and refers to acquired and
organized behavioral routines.
2 Other factors could be involved, such as availability of skills, resources,
and time to cope with change pressures (Ledford, Mohrman, Mohrman, & Lawler,
1989); organizational size and diversity (Barker & Duhaime, 1997); appropriate
vision or strategy (Gioia & Chittipeddi, 1991); and executive team
3 One anonymous reviewer has brought to my attention that it may be conceivable
that not all instances of radical change evoke strong negative reactions.
Sometimes the situation is so desperate and the imperatives to change the
organizational identity so clear that a proposed change to core identity
may be greeted with positive emotions. I agree that such situations exist,
and I would expect radical change to be realized relatively smoothly. Such
instances, however, seem to be thinly reported in systematic empirical
research on radical change in organizations. They do not represent the
central focus of this article, in which I aim at exploring and addressing
the difficulties of realizing radical change in large organizations.
4 A meso perspective analyzes causal mechanisms at several levels. It views
organizations as multilevel social entities. It is possible to accumulate
knowledge in a more parsimonious and integrated framework, because certain
variables share common properties and relationships at various levels of
analysis (House et al., 1995).
5 Display freedom represents a specific organizational behavior distinct
from emotional experiencing or reconciliation, although all imply acceptance
of organization members' emotions and attention to them.
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his cultural milieu, constitutes an insult? As his anger rises, does he
really codify the reality to which he responds? Does some feature of the
social context aid or inhibit him in doing this? Simultaneous to his outburst,
does he react with shame or with pride at the anger?" (Hochschild, 1979:
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Quy (Francis) Nguyen Huy is an assistant professor of strategic management
at INSEAD, Fontainebleau, France. He received his Ph.D. in strategy from
McGill University. His research interests include dynamics of large-scale
change; nonspatial dimensions, such as emotion and time; organizational
learning and innovation; and roles of middle management and consulting
firms in strategic change.
EMOTION AND RADICAL CHANGE
The Individual Nature of Emotion and Its Relation to Change
Salovey and Mayer define emotions as organized responses, crossing the
boundaries of many psychological subsystems, including the physiological,
cognitive, motivational, and experiential systems. Emotions typically arise
in response to an event, either internal or external, that has a positively
or negatively valenced
meaning for the individual. Emotions can be distinguished from the closely
related concept of mood in that emotions are shorter and generally more
intense (1990: 186).
The root of the word emotion is motere, the Latin verb to move, suggesting
that emotion triggers an impulse to act. Emotion is dualistic inasmuch
as it reflects an innate character related to physiological and psychodynamic
processes, as well as social structures. Thus, the same physiological arousal
can be assigned different emotional labels, such as "joy" or "fury," depending
on the cognitive evaluation of the socially embedded situation (Schachter
& Singer, 1962).
I concentrate mainly on the social-interactional aspects of emotion. The
interactional model contends that social factors enter not just "before
and after but interactively during the experience of emotion."6 In this
interactional perspective, "social factors enter into the very formulation
of emotions, through codification, management, and expression" (Hochschild,
From recent neurological research on emotion and feelings and from the
works of certain psychologists and sociologists, it appears that there
is an emerging consensus on the following ideas. Emotion is essential to
sensible, "rational" choice in the social domain. It allows humans to face
uncertainty and to set long-term goals; it permits choice among incommensurable
alternatives, such as values, to visualize a desirable future, to speed
up decision making, and to make the leap of faith into the unknowable (Damasio,
1994; Westen, 1985; Zajonc, 1980). Emotions provide the bridge between
rational and nonrational processes (Damasio, 1994). They reflect the
sense of self-relevance of a perceived situation and facilitate social
adaptation and individual change (Hochschild, 1983). The Organizational
Nature of Emotion and Its Relation to Change
Organizational feelings are distinct from personal feelings to the extent
that corporate actors
are required to display some emotions and to suppress others (Flam, 1990).
The former are specific emotions deemed necessary for effective collective
action. Certain representative emotions have to be displayed to sustain
the image of the organization. For instance, bankers have to display reserve
and discretion, and they must inspire trust and confidence.
Emotion can be used effectively as a tool of social influence in a variety
of organizational roles, especially in front-line service functions (Rafaeli
& Sutton, 1989). For example, different feeling rules can be prescribed
for Disneyland entertainers or funeral parlor workers. Organizations impose
certain specific emotional habits in the selection and retention of their
members. These organizational emotions belong to the performance of particular
roles and should not be confused with individual emotions (Albrow, 1992).
Thus, organization members can either share the same authentic emotion
or be required to display or act out a "legitimate" emotion in response
to certain organizational events, such as the sudden death of the company's
founder, which may trigger a radical change in the philosophy of the firm.
These feeling rules and displaying or acting out of emotions all can be
subsumed under emotional behaviors. Organizations are repositories of shared
emotions that are also enacted in terms of visible emotionattending behaviors.
These behaviors become organizational routines that enact cultural norms
related to feelings about change (Schein, 1992).
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