Looking In or Looking Out? Top-down Change and Operational Capability


  • Mark Lemon De Montfort University
  • Matthew Cook The Open University
  • John Craig GIRAC Ltd and Associates




rules and measures, trust, autopoiesis


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. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs1003272


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Author Biographies

Mark Lemon, De Montfort University

Mark LEMON is a social scientist with a background in community development and the construction industry. His research over the past twenty years has covered a range of policy relevant issues relating to the human—technical interface particularly as it affects the natural environment and sustainable development. Within this broad area he has focused on the factors that influence organizational culture, knowledge management and the way that multi-disciplinary and multi-agency teams define and respond to complex environmental problems. He has a particular interest in the characteristics of integrative research and the development of trans-disciplinary, cross-cutting, skills and has published extensively in this area.

Matthew Cook, The Open University

Matthew COOK lectures in the design group at the Open University in the UK. He has a practitioner background in Urban Planning and over the past ten years has taught and researched in areas associated with the economics of natural resource management. This work has included research for the UK government into sustainable product service systems and more recently a focus on the complexities of technological diffusion.

John Craig, GIRAC Ltd and Associates

John CRAIG is an Environmental Management consultant who has performed over 200 (ISO14001) assessments or audits of large and small companies in the UK, China, Dubai, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Lithuania, Malaysia, Poland, Singapore, Switzerland, and Thailand for UKAS-accredited certification bodies. John also advises and sets up management systems to meet the requirements of ISO14001 and has a particular interest in the need to align cultural context with such systems. He has researched, published and presented widely on this requirement.




How to Cite

Lemon, M., Cook, M., & Craig, J. (2010). Looking In or Looking Out? Top-down Change and Operational Capability. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 11(3). https://doi.org/10.17169/fqs-11.3.1550