Psychological Climate & Change

– R.G. Clapp.

I carried out a study using A-I theory to explore change promotion within an organisation. The study tested the clear assumptions embedded in the theory that all people are creative problem solvers who may differ in style, capacity and their effectiveness dependent upon the specific circumstances or environment.

First, I found that if people in an organisation are asked for ideas to improve the performance of the organisation, then many ideas will be produced and a large percentage will be usable. The 1607 individuals involved in the study generated 2361 ideas over six weeks that were evaluated by local management and then by more senior managers. Half the ideas were adopted for implementation within seven weeks of the start of the project. Some of the remaining ideas were still being explored by the evaluators a year after the project had ended. The easiest to adopt were the smaller scale adaptive ideas; the most difficult were the larger, more complex and ideas with higher innovative elements. But the first point was demonstrated: on average each individual produced 1.5 ideas which saved £6.3 million representing 21% of the revenue budget. I suggest that to create a climate supportive of change:

Individuals involved in the project should be knowledgeable about what changes are required;

  • The problems to be solved should be well-defined
  • The individuals should know who will evaluate the ideas and the criteria on which they will be evaluated
  • The results of the evaluation should be made available to all individuals within the study
  • The results of the implementation of ideas should be clearly communicated

A second aspect of the study attempted to separate variables concerned with level and style of creativity from environment. The purpose of the study was to ascertain how the environment or psychological climate affected the level and style of an individual’s creative behaviour in each stage of the change process. I developed a measure of “climate for change”, which respondents used to report the degree to which their organisation seemed to encourage and support change. No significant relationship was found between cognitive style and climate for change indicating that style did not significantly affect an individual’s judgment of climate.

Climate, however, was related to the kinds of problems identified and ideas produced. Adaptors appeared to be more affected by an adverse or hostile climate than innovators. Where the climate signalled a lack of support for change, the conforming adaptor responded, problems were not identified and adaptive ideas were lost to the organisation. The innovator, however, less concerned about the lack of support for change, continued to identify problems and produce both adaptive and innovative ideas. Thus, adaptors’ ideas, which tend to produce incremental improvements, were less likely to surface and organisational efficiency declined. The more innovative ideas did surface but found an environment that was hostile to change. Therefore, to avoid the loss of ideas that improve organisational performance and product quality, the basic management challenge is to build the behavioural assumptions (values) associated with the climate for supportive change into the basic culture of the organisation.

Editor’s Note: This work earned Dr Clapp a PhD degree, University of Hertfordshire

See publication list for further Clapp published articles.

R.G. Clapp, Shell UK , 1993