Changing Organizational Behavior: A Theory of Transformational Vocabulary Nate Boyer University of Phoenix Dr. Amy Hakim

Changing Organizational Behavior: A Theory of Transformational Vocabulary



In the contemporary organization behaviors do not change until employees first think about or visualize a need to change, share thoughts verbally with others, write down thoughts for future reference, modification and or archiving, and have a reason to take action. The sequence or existence of the last three components of this process may vary and the result is an increased potential for organizational miscommunications. When misunderstandings occur in organizations there is increased potential for task, goal and ultimately organization cessation. A theory is “a set of systematically interrelated concepts, definitions, and hypotheses advanced to explain and predict phenomena (Schermerhorn, Hunt, and Osborn, 2008, p. 24). Background This paper attempts to construct a theory of transformational vocabulary where empowering and positive words are used to influence the favorable outcome of organization’s future. The paper consists of sections closely following University of Phoenix doctoral program research handbook guidelines including a problem and purpose statements adhering to American Psychological Association style. These sections integrate theories, paradigms, and concepts discussed and used in ORG/721(University of Phoenix, 2009, Syllabus). Using the theory of transformational vocabulary this paper attempts to provide ideas on how to implement rapid, ongoing, and long-term organizational change using the psychological power of positive words in a systematic fashion. Problem Statement The general problem is global businesses must constantly seek the best way to adapt organizational cultures to rapidly changing operating environments as failure to do



so could result in business cessation. From Frederick Taylor and Henry Gannt’s (Darmody, 2007) work in developing the scientific management school of thought, to James MacGregor Burns’ (1978) original work in the development of transformational leadership theory, to Warren Bennis’ (2004) more contemporary leadership research, organizations have sought to find the ideal strategy to manage organizational behavior. The need to find the optimal organizational behavior change strategy cuts across all types of organizations, is addressed in many scholarly peer-reviewed journals, and impacts all aspects of effectively leading and managing an organization. The specific problem is U.S. business organizations are facing rapidly changing operating environments requiring constantly revised strategies to increase their likelihood of success on a global scale. Many leadership experts and scholars suggest organizations planning to survive in the future must embrace a number of critical leadership skills including participative management, relationship building, and change management (Hesselbein, F., & Goldsmith, M. (2006). All of these leadership skills require leaders be able to effectively communicate in order to integrate these skills into a strategy will work. With rapid changes to organizations and their operating environments today’s leaders must be able to effectively address a variety of issues. Leaders must be equipped to address ethnocentrism, parochialism, and ethical behavior by using effective communications skills to listen, speak, question, and use a variety of feedback strategies to change behaviors. All of these issues and skill sets have the potential to be positively influenced by the adoption of a transformational vocabulary strategy. Purpose Statement



The purpose of this theory of transformative vocabulary is the assertion a systematic and ongoing use of empowering and positive words can influence the favorable outcome of an organization’s future (i.e. create positive behavior change). The theory of transformational vocabulary was created using a qualitative methodology. Qualitative research is a “means for exploring and understanding the meaning individuals or groups assign to a social or human problem” (Creswell, 2009, p. 4). According to Neuman (2006) theories contain built in assumptions and or statements about the nature of things not observable or testable. Selecting a qualitative methodology was appropriate for this theory building effort as this research relies on the views of participants, asks general questions, collects data made up of mostly words or text, describes and analyzes words for embedded themes, and executes the research in a subject and biased manner (Creswell, 2008). While this theory’s research could take place anywhere, for practical purposes it is focused on the central upstate New York metropolitan area of Syracuse. The general population for this study is business organization employees. Significance of the Study Assuming the refinement an acceptance of the theory of transformational vocabulary, business leaders and followers could benefit significantly from an increased ability to change behaviors. Using a systematic approach to the theory additional benefits of speed, sustainability, and extent of change might be enhanced. This research does not attempt to measure any phenomena rather it seeks to understand and explore how speaking, hearing, and writing words influence organizational behavior and change. Understanding how verbal and text-based messages influence organization members can be useful in crafting cross-cultural communications strategies for the organization (Xie,



Rau, Tseng, Su, & Zhao, 2009). A useable theory of transformational vocabulary would give leaders a relatively low cost, highly flexible, portable tool to use in their efforts to implement organizational behavior change. As there is no direct scholarly literature on the subject of transformational vocabulary this effort would open a new field of research.

Nature of the Study Creswell (1998) defines a phenomenological study as one describing the meaning of the lived experiences for individuals about a specific concept or phenomena. This study focuses on the phenomena of a transformed vocabulary’s ability to change individual and organizational behavior. A qualitative phenomenological design approach was selected to understand the social significance of how words might influence organization member’s ability to change their behavior. This research focuses on what processes occur when people hear, see, speak, and or write empowering and positive words. Use of a phenomenological approach will allow research into the lived experiences of organizational member’s exposure to words and how these words influence member’s behavior. This method was appropriate due to focus on the lived experiences of business organization employees. The exploratory nature of phenomenological research made it appropriate to accomplish goals of the study. Hypotheses/Research Questions Several questions are relevant to this research and include understanding why certain words and text have the potential to affect change more than other words. Another critical research question is exploring what the optimum structure of a transformational vocabulary strategy might consist of in order to ensure acceptance and internalization of changed behavior. For the theory to be meaningful it should provide an understanding of



who are the key internal and external individuals a leader should enlist to design, implement, and manage a transformational vocabulary strategy. A final issue to be addressed is how positive and empowering words and text help leaders and followers to become more motivated to change. Thoroughly addressing these issues might help organizational behavior practitioners better understand the notion of transformational vocabulary and its potential impact on an organization’s ability to change unethical behavior, parochialism, and negative politics. Conceptual or Theoretical Framework This research is based on several change and behavior theories including Lewin’s change theory (Reed, & Vakola, 2006), Schein’s change theory (2002), and Ajzen’s theory of reasoned action and planned behavior (Kritsonis, 2004). Transformational, visionary, cultural leadership theories are used to help readers understand how leaders and followers use words in the motivation process. Warren Bennis’ (1985) theory of leadership, James MacGregor Burn’s (1982) and Edgar Schein’s (2004) model of organizational culture and leadership were also used to explore transformational leadership’s role in the formation of the theory of transformational vocabulary. In a recent study Salem (2008) listed insufficient communications, local identification, global distrust, lack of productive humor, poor interpersonal communications skills, conflict avoidance, and an inappropriate mix of loose and tight coupling as reasons why organizations do not change. These reasons highlight the potential role effective use of appropriate and positive words play in changing organizational behavior. Definitions For the purposes of this research effort, transformational vocabulary theory is defined as the belief positive and empowering words can motivate organizational



members to make positive behavioral changes. In this research transformational leadership is defined as the ability of leaders to inspire followers by articulating vision, providing individualized support and consideration, setting high performance standards, and creating intellectual stimulation (Gooty, Gavin, Johnson, Frazier, & Snow, 2009). Adopting a transformational vocabulary requires visionary leaders to create, communicate, and implement a vision of a highly desirable and vivid future organizational state that motivates followers (D'Intino, Boyles, Neck, & Hall, 2008). Assumptions This study assumes all participants are citizens of the United States, live in central upstate New York and are employed by a business organization. The study also assumes all participants speak English, are at least 25 years old, and have a college degree. Participants in this study are assumed to have some kind of reporting relationship where they answer to another individual or they report to a supervisor, manager, leader, board of directors or some other hierarchical structure. All participants included in this research are assumed to have worked for their employer for at least 3 years. Scope, Limitations, and Delimitations The focus of this study is only on full-time employees and not volunteers, advisors, and or part-time employees. This study does not look at non-profit, government, single self-employed individuals, or volunteers. Participants in this study must come from organizations with at least 100 employees and there is no upper limit on an organization’s number of employees. Minimum income for participants in this study is at least $25K with and upper limit of $100K. Literature Review



There is a substantial amount of scholarly peer-reviewed literature available to build a foundation for the theory of transformational vocabulary. The definitions associated with transformational leadership theory support the potential for a transformative theory of vocabulary as there are frequent references to the use of communications, articulation, vocalizing, and verbalizing an inspiring followers. Raiola (1995) states one of the most critical characteristics of the transformational leader is their ability to construct relationships by utilizing positive and effective communications. A transformational leader must deliver a set of guidelines supporting and nourish group members, initiating a pace for the group, modeling communications behaviors, use of voice patterns, active listening, reflective communication (paraphrasing), and use of clarification techniques such as questioning and summarizing. Rafferty and Griffin (2004) argue when leaders communicate positive and encouraging messages, there is an increased likelihood individuals will feel increasingly capable of carrying a range of proactive tasks that go beyond the basics. Communications and verbal communications specifically are even more important to the success of transformational leadership efforts when they occur in online environments (Purvanova, & Bono, 2009). In the virtual communications environment it is even more important to have clear communications from leaders due to noise in the communications channel. For example it can take at least four times as long to type a communication than to speak it (Hancock, 2004). Organizational change is the process an organization uses to move from its current state to a desired future state in order to increase the organization’s effectiveness (Jones, 2004). Lewin’s model of change uses multiple phases including diagnosis, unfreezing, movement, refreezing, and renewal stages (Francesco, & Gold, 2005). In



global organizations a number of key change agents include strategists, implementers and recipients must be engaged in order to increase the likelihood of sustained change (Bowditch, Buono, & Stewart, 2008). To modify organizational behavior a leader must be able effectively communicate ideas that help people recognize the need for and logic of a specific change (Kotter, & Schlesinger, 1979). Of the 13 principles for managing people offered by Pfeffer (2005) several including information sharing, participation and empowerment, training and skill development, cross- utilization and cross-training, embody communications as a critical factor in effectively managing people. Research Method and Design Appropriateness The purpose of this theory of transformative vocabulary is the assertion a systematic and ongoing use of empowering and positive words can influence favorable outcomes of an organization’s future. A qualitative approach was selected over a quantitative one as the study will attempt to explore and understand how transformational vocabulary might influence the decision of organizational participants to change their behavior. This research does not seek to measure observable quantifiable data rather it has a general and broad focus attempting to understand participants lived experiences within organizations as they relate to transforming experiences. Data for the development of this theory will be collected using words and text derived from conversations held during formal interviews. Population, Sampling, and Data Collection Procedures and Rationale The population identified for this research is employees of business organizations located in the United States. The sample will consist of participants from business organizations located in the metropolitan area of central upstate New York city of



Syracuse. Data will be collected using pre-scheduled, onsite, face-to-face, semistructured, digitally recorded critical incident technique (CIT) interviews transcribed into an electronic format usable with textual analysis software. Most people have “Ah Ha moments” where they are suddenly compelled to make a decision that changes their lives. CIT is widely used in business literature and can be described as interacting events which the interviewee perceives or remembers as significantly positive or negative when interviewed about them and which are later retold as stories (Fillis, 2006). Use of a CIT interviewing technique is complementary to the exploratory focus of this inquiry which seeks to understand the experience of being motivated to change one’s behavior. The instrument of data collection will be an interview of each participant conducted via faceto-face, onsite, using semi-structured open-ended questions to elicit participants’ perceptions (Creswell, 2009). The approximate number of participants selected for this research 25-30 organizational members. Audio, video, and textual data acquired from participant interviews will be ingested into digital analysis software. Qualitative audio, video, and textual analysis software will be used because of the large volume of transcripts expected from the open ended participant interviews. Using documents found during the literature review, key themes will be identified from the digital analysis software. Examples of themes might include change processes, behavior attributes, and transformation processes. NVivo qualitative software will be used because of its ability to ingest, query, produce charts, compare, contrast, manage, and map a variety of multimedia files (Johnson, Buehring, Cassell, & Symon, 2007). Conclusion



Using a qualitative phenomenological approach this paper proposed a theory of transformational vocabulary to address the problem of increased potential for business failures due to rapidly changing operating environments. This paper suggested a systematic and ongoing use of empowering and positive words can influence the advantageous outcome of an organization’s future by creating positive behavior change. This paper advances the use of a systematic approach to the theory and suggests benefits of speed, sustainability, and depth of change might be the end result of such an effort. The study focuses on the phenomena of a transformed vocabulary’s ability to change individual and organizational behavior. A transformational vocabulary theory has the potential to give leaders a new tool for changing domestic and global organizational behavior. References Bass, B. M. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York: Free Press. Bennis, W. G. (2004). The seven ages of the leader. Harvard Business Review, 82(1), 46. Bowditch, J.L., Buono, F., & Stewart, M. (2008). A primer on organizational behavior (7th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. Burns, J.M, (1978), Leadership, N.Y, Harper and Row. Creswell, J. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Creswell, J. (2008). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall.



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