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Protecting the Mission: The Case of the U.S. Army

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posted on 2023-09-07, 05:17 authored by Joshua S. Jones

In the literature of organizational change, scholars generally agree that organizations resist change, a phenomenon usually described as organizational inertia. Most of this literature, however, ignores the question of how such resistance to change is manifest. I seek to fill this gap by explaining the tactics that organizations use to resist change. Most of the literature on organizational change also treats resistance as a byproduct of organizational nature. In contrast, I start from the presumption that resistance can be an intentional act and not solely a passive characteristic or byproduct of organizations. In seeking to understand resistance as an intentional act, I explore the following questions: How does an organization resist the external and internal forces for change that act upon it? Are there similarities and differences to this resistance depending on whether the force is internal or external? Are organizations more or less successful in resisting internal or external forces for change? Over time, do organizations become more skilled at resisting? To answer these questions, I use the case study approach to look at the U.S. Army and its response to challenges to its sense of mission, something the literature predicts the Army should resist.More specifically, I test these hypotheses: 1) organizations employ different types of tactics of resistance depending on whether the force for change is internal or external; 2) organizations are more successful at resisting internal than external forces for change; and 3) organizations become more effective at resisting over time. In testing these hypotheses, I seek to expand our knowledge of organizational change by addressing the "how" question regarding an organization's intentional resistance. In order to test these hypotheses, I examine the U.S. Army's resistance to change during the 20th and 21st centuries using the cases of personnel, operations, and technology. In each case, I analyze and demonstrate how internal and external forces acted upon the Army in a way that threatened the organization's sense of mission and that the Army intentionally resisted these forces for change through the employment of tactics of resistance. From this analysis, I find that there are similarities in the Army's resistance to change depending on whether the force for change is internal or external, that the Army is more successful at resisting internal than external forces for change, but that the Army does not become more effective at resistance over time. This project has implications for both theory and practice. This research will expand our theoretical understanding of how organizations actively resist change by moving beyond the notion that resistance is solely a passive characteristic of organizations. Broadly, such insight has important implications for scholarly research in the areas of organizational change, civil-military relations, and military innovation theory. In terms of practice, this research can help policymakers understand how and when their policy directives will meet resistance; additionally, this research informs constituencies of resistance how and when such resistance will be effective.



American University


Degree awarded: Ph.D. School of International Service. American University


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