The Need for Soft Logic: Creating Successful Organizational Change
David Potter is co-author of Leading Cultural Change: The Theory and Practice of Successful Organizational Transformation. In this new article, he outlines the relationship between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ change logic and how a manager’s choice can make an enormous difference to the successful leadership of an organization.
Managers are concerned with economic change and for very good reasons. This form of sensory acuity though can lead to an emphasis on ‘hard change logic’ over ‘soft change logic’. The former advocates economic reform and strategies that work towards such an objective goal. The latter, ‘soft logic’ advocates interventions into the cultural dimension of the organisation to engage with the hearts and minds of employees and customers so that they work with the leadership to deliver on targets.
‘Hard’ business logic is what managers do; it is what they talk about, and it defines them to both themselves and their stakeholders. For example, managers find intuitively attractive the idea of integrated software systems that will reduce administrative costs; this kind of technical change appeals. The change consultant estimates the costs of the proposed new system and compares them with those of the existing system. If the numbers make sense, e.g. savings are produced on paper, then change is considered as inherently logical and thus inevitable.
This sort of decision-making process is often aided by ‘change consultants’ from technology or finance firms, or both. With promises of a technological panacea to the competitive problems that face all organizations they quickly seduce the management team and, more important, the managing director into quite literally ‘buying’ into their commercial change logic. Culture and its influence as a powerful enabler and potential constraint are rarely considered: after all, why make change complicated? This would be bad for business, but for whose business? Leading Cultural Change addresses this imbalance and will save you from making costly mistakes.
Why would you not ‘modernize’ business processes with the aid of new technology? The argument of this book is not that you should avoid doing these things but that to over-simplify the true complexity of such initiatives by ignoring the cultural dimension is negligence that is most likely to damage the organization in the present, most certainly in the future. Simply put, you’re playing the wrong game with the wrong shoes – like playing baseball wearing ballet slippers. Organizational change is not only technologically focused. It can and often is culturally and socially focused.
Soft logic involves the application of ideas rooted within the behavioural sciences and stands in sharp contrast to the hard logic of traditional, positivist, managerially inspired thinking. Soft logic requires both self and group reflection; the development of generative dialogue with both subordinates and with peers; openness to ideas from outside the organization; and an ability to conceptualize culture as a real factor to be both understood and managed as part of a change process.
Cultural change work requires an open-minded approach to aspects of the behavioural sciences and organizational theory that can be of advantage to managers trying to achieve cultural change. This imbalance of focusing on the skills of applying hard logic as opposed to the skills required to apply soft logic has devastating effects on the ability of management teams to consider the advantages of the latter. This is because a change initiative that is technological is not culturally or socially neutral; nor is a change initiative that is primarily concerned with changing working patterns. Change management of any form is unquestionably concerned with the cultural domain.