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Rosabeth Moss Kanter: pioneer of empowerment and change management.

It is difficult to classify Rosabeth Moss Kanter as a specialist in any particular area, as her prolific writings encompass a wide range of topics. She views herself, however, as a thought leader and developer of ideas, and is best known for her work on change management and innovation.

Much of Kanter's success is due to a combination of rigorous research, practical experience and her ability to write in a clear and concrete way, using many illustrative examples.

Life and career

Kanter was born in 1943, in Cleveland, Ohio and attended the top women's academy, Bryn Mawr. She took her PhD at the University of Michigan and was associate professor of sociology at Brandeis University from 1966 to 1977. Between 1973 and 1974 Kanter was on the Organization Behavior Programme at Harvard and she was a Fellow and Visiting Scholar of Harvard Law School between 1975 and 1976.

From 1977 to 1986, Kanter was Professor of Sociology and Professor of Organizational Management at Yale, and from 1979 to 1986, she was a Visiting Professor at the Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In 1986, she returned to Harvard as the `class of 1960' Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and she still holds the post of Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.

Between 1989 and 1992 Kanter was editor of the Harvard Business Review, and she acted as a key economic adviser to Michael Dukakis during his 1988 Presidential campaign. She has travelled widely as a public speaker, lecturer and international consultant. In 1977, she and future husband Barry Stein set up a management consultancy called Goodmeasure which has some large and well-known multinational companies as clients.


Kanter has authored or co-authored several books and well over 150 major articles. Her doctoral thesis was on communes and her first books, written during the early 1970s, were sociological. The three books for which she is best-known are Men and Women of the Corporation, The Change Masters and When Giants Learn to Dance. There is a logical progression within them, in that the first studies the stifling effects of bureaucratic organisation on individuals, while the subsequent titles go on to explore ways in which flatter, ""post-entrepreneurial"" organisations release, and make use of, individuals' talents and abilities. All three were extremely successful.

Later books include The Challenge of Organizational Change (Barry A Stein and Todd D Jick), World Class: Thriving Locally in the Global Economy and The Frontiers of Management.

Men and Women of the Corporation

Men and Women of the Corporation won the C Wright Mills Award in 1977 as the year's best book on social issues. It is a detailed analysis of the nature and effects of the distribution of power and powerlessness within the headquarters of one large, bureaucratic, multinational corporation (called Industrial Supply Corporation, or Indsco, in the book). The effects of powerlessness on behaviour are explored and the detrimental effects of disempowerment, both for the organisation and individual employees, are made clear. Women were the most obvious group affected by lack of power, though Kanter emphasises other groups outside the white, male norm, such as ethnic minority members, were also affected.

Three main structural variables explained the behaviours observed within Indsco:

* the structure of opportunity

* the structure of power

* the proportional distribution of people of different kinds.

Before this book was published, it was generally assumed that behavioural differences underlay women's general lack of career progress. Kanter's findings made structural issues central, however, and the implications for change management were significant. If all employees were to become more empowered, according to Kanter's analysis, organisations rather than people would need to change. Accordingly, the book ends with practical policy suggestions to create appropriate structural changes.

While working on this book, Kanter identified the need for organisational change to improve working life, create more equal opportunities and make more use of employees' talents within organisations.

The Change Masters

In The Change Masters, approaches to achieving these ends were put forward. Kanter compares four traditional corporations like Indsco with six competitive and successful organisations, described as Change Masters. All findings were weighed against the experiences of many other companies, and much other material. From the six innovative organisations, Kanter derives a model for encouraging innovation.

Innovative companies were found to have a distinct, `integrative' approach to management, while firms unlikely to innovate were described as `segmentalist' in being compartmentalised by units or departments. The difference begins with a company's approach to problem solving, and extends through its structure and culture. Entrepreneurial organisations:

* operate at the edge of their competence, focusing on exploring the unknown rather than on controlling the known"

* measure themselves by future-focused visions (how far they have to go) rather than by past standards (how far they have come).

Three clusters of structures and processes are identified as factors that encourage power circulation and access to power: open communication systems, network-forming arrangements and decentralisation of resources. Their practical implementation is discussed.

Individuals can also be change masters. ""New entrepreneurs"" are people who improve existing businesses rather than start new ones. They can be found in any functional area and are described as, literally, the right people, in the right place, at the right time:

* right people--vision and ideas extending beyond the organisation's normal practice

* right place--an integrative environment fostering proactive vision, coalitions and teams"

* right time--moments in the historic flow when change becomes most possible.

The ultimate change masters are corporate leaders, who translate their vision into a new organisational reality.

The Change Masters advocates "participation management" as the means to greater empowerment. Some major "building blocks" for productive change are identified, and practical measures to remove "road blocks" to innovation are discussed.

When Giants Learn to Dance

When Giants Learn to Dance completes Kanter's trilogy on the need for change which, she considered, United States corporations had to confront and manage in order to compete more effectively. The book is based on observation from within various organisations, through consultancy projects. The global economy is likened to a ""corporate Olympics"" of competing businesses, with results determining which nations, as well as which organisations, are winners.

The games differ, but successful teams share some characteristics such as strength, skill, discipline, good organisation and focus on individual excellence. To win, American companies are having to become progressively more entrepreneurial and less bureaucratic. The ""post-entrepreneurial"" corporation is put forward as a model for the 1990s, fostered by the three shaping forces of:

* context set at the top

* top management values

* project ideas and approaches coming up through the organisation.

Such an ""athletic"" organisation is lean, flexible, and able to do more with less, and it seeks to create synergies through the use of team and partnership approaches. The organisation is built on empowerment, and employees are highly valued within team-based or partnership relationships.

Seven skills or sensibilities of individual `business athletes' are given as:

* ability to operate and get results without depending on hierarchical authority, position or status"

* ability to compete in a way that enhances co-operation, and aims to achieve high standards rather than destroy competitors

* high ethical standards to support the trust which is crucial for co-operative approaches when competing in the corporate Olympics

* a dose of humility, with basic self-confidence tempered by the understanding that new things will always need to be learnt

* process focus, in respecting the process of implementation as well as the substance of what is implemented

* multifaceted and ambidextrous approach to support cross-functional or cross-departmental work, alliances where appropriate, and the cutting of ties where necessary

* satisfaction in results, and willingness to be rewarded according to achievements.

World Class: Thriving Locally in the Global Economy

World Class: Thriving Locally in the Global Economy focuses on world class companies with employees described as "cosmopolitan" in type. These people are wealthy in terms of the "three Cs"--concepts, competence and connections--and carry a more universal culture to all the places in which their company operates.

This knowledge-rich breed is set against "locals" who are set in their ways, and the two groups are viewed as the main classes in modern society. The book is optimistic, in that Kanter believes stakeholders can influence world class companies to spread best practices around the world.

Globalisation, it is argued, offers an opportunity to develop businesses and give new life to the regions. From her studies of regenerative areas, Kanter suggests that business and local government leaders can work together to draw in the right sort of companies to create prosperity.

European as well as American successes are used to illustrate the benefits of globalisation, and the centrality of regional economies.

The Challenge of Organizational Change: How Companies Experience it and Leaders Guide It

Co-authored with Barry A Stein and Todd D Jick, this is a book on the management of change, which is filled with practical examples. In line with many other writings on managing change, a distinction is drawn between evolutionary and revolutionary change, here described as "long march" and "bold stroke" approaches.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter on The Frontiers of Management

This collects Kanter's essays and research articles for the Harvard Business Review together into one volume.

In perspective

Overall, Kanter's books present some fairly complex ideas in a way that many people seem to find approachable. They are well-argued, well-illustrated and supported with a wealth of practical research evidence. Some of her central ideas, once viewed by some as unrealistic, have now become absorbed into general management wisdom. These include empowerment, participative management, and employee involvement. In The Frontiers of Management, she is presented as a ground-breaking explorer who has initiated a revolution in terms of new ways of working. It is also pointed out, however, that some managers have still not crossed the frontiers, or do so in aspiration rather than actuality.

Key works by Kanter

Men and women of the corporation
New York: Basic Books Inc, 1977

The challenge of organizational change: how companies
experience it and leaders guide It
(Co-authored with Barry A Stein and Todd D Jick)
New York: Free Press, 1992

World class: thriving locally in the global economy
New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995

The change masters: corporate entrepreneurs at work
London: George Allen & Unwin, 1983

When giants learn to dance: master the challenge of
strategy, management, and careers in the 1990s
London: Simon & Schuster, 1989

Rosabeth Moss Kanter on the frontiers of change
Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School Press, 1997

Further reading
Guide to the management gurus: short cuts to the
ideas of leading management thinkers
Carol Kennedy, London: Century Business, 1991

Journal articles
World class guru, Godfrey Golzen
Human Resources, May/June 1996, pp38-40,42-44

Key management ideas: thinking that changed the management world
Stuart Crainer, London: Pitman, 1996

Interview with Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Tim Dickson
Financial Times, 17th May 1996, p17
COPYRIGHT 1999 Chartered Management Institute
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Date:Dec 1, 1999
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