Transforming large corporations and well-established institutions is difficult, but thanks to the research of Professor of Sociology Jack Harris P’02, P’06 and Sarah Wiles ’19, leaders in the public and private spheres may have a new set of tools to break out of the “we have always done it that way” mindset.
In their research for Harris’s book project “Organizational Inertia: The Challenge of Change,” which he expects to be completed by the end of the next academic year, he and Wiles explore how institutional structure, culture and process often get in the way of effective organizational change.
Wiles, a sociology major and entrepreneurial studies and studio art double minor, spent the summer of 2019 conducting research for the book, identifying “the main external factors that necessitate organizational change, recognizing the obstacles to change that organizations encounter, and creating a framework for successful change management,” she explains.
For practical insight into the challenges, successes and failures of change initiatives, Wiles also interviewed leaders of public and private organizations in the region, including Fred Damiano, CIO and VP of Strategic Initiatives at HWS; Matt Horn, former Geneva City Manager; and Ed Hemminger, Ontario County’s CIO and Officer for Economic Development. Wiles then cross-analyzed the interview transcripts against existing literature, searching for relevant patterns.
“Sarah’s work was invaluable,” Harris says. “She provided excellent annotated bibliographies, considered ideas and share her thoughts with me about what she learned regarding organization change, and steered me to a more positive framework.”
In fact, Harris has shifted his focus from “a critique of organizational deficiencies to looking more at what processes are effective for organizational and cultural change. This has let me to concentrate on the social psychology of change, especially the importance of leadership and interpersonal influences.”
In exploring “how effective strategic planning and change management can ameliorate years of organizational stagnation and habitual behaviors,” Wiles says her work with Harris has given her practical insight in business management. And knowing that her research helped reshape the thrust of book’s emphasis, she says, “it feels good to know that I made a real contribution.”
Harris has examined the nuances of organizational stress for many years both as a change management consultant and in his course “The Sociology of Business and Management and Sociology of Community.” As an applied sociologist, Harris consults with local governments across the United States on business process reengineering, change management, and municipal information technology. He teaches a range of internationally-oriented courses in sociology, often focusing on Vietnam. His research focuses primarily on men and masculinity in Vietnam and the experience of Vietnamese as they go through massive economic and social change. A 2017-18 Kinghorn Fellow, Harris holds a B.A. from Tulane University and M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. Among his many academic experiences abroad, he has served as the core director of World Regional Geography for the Semester at Sea Program, director of the Social Entrepreneurship programs through ThinkImpact in Panama and Ghana, and director of a number of HWS abroad programs, including the upcoming 2020-21 J-Term program focused on change in Cuba.