John Child

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John Child (born 1940) is a British organizational theorist, Professor of Commerce at the University of Birmingham, and Professor of Management at Plymouth University, known for his contributions in the field of contingency theory.


  • This book is concerned with the management of organisational change. It focuses on Cadbury Ltd and provides an in-depth study of change within this famous British company. Cadbury Ltd is famous for its pioneering personnel management. One of the purposes of this study is to assess how this established company ethos facilitated change by examining the development and implementation of a capital investment programme that radically changed working practices at the company's Bournville plant in Birmingham. At a more general level the authors develop a theory of organisational change that emphasises the interaction between external market forces and internal management action. This approach unites an emphasis on the structural parameters that limit a firm's capacity for independent change, with a recognition of the vital role performed by influential members of an organisation in initiating and managing change. This book will be of interest to teachers and students of business history, organisational behaviour, industrial relations and industrial sociology.
    • Chris Smith, John Child, Michael Rowlinson. Reshaping Work: The Cadbury Experience. Cambridge University Press, 1990; Abstract.
  • The ’strategic choice’ perspective was originally advanced as a corrective to the view that the way in which organizations are designed and structured is determined by their operational contingencies (Child 1972). This view overlooked the ways in which the leaders of organizations, whether private or public, were able in practice to influence organizational forms to suit their own preferences. Strategic choice drew attention to the active role of leading groups who had the power to influence the structures of their organizations through an essentially political process. It led to a substantial re-orientation of organizational analysis and stimulated debate on three key issues:
1. the role of agency and choice in organizational analysis,
2. the nature of organizational environment,
3. the relationship between organizational agents and the environment.
Since the intention was to redress an imbalance in organization theory, the exposition of strategic choice at the time contributed to the diversity of perspectives on the subject.
  • John Child, "Strategic choice in the analysis of action, structure, organizations and environment: retrospect and prospect." Organization studies 18.1 (1997): 43-76.
  • Strategic alliances are increasingly common, as many organizations look towards various partnering arrangements. This second edition of Strategies of Cooperation extends the first edition's clear and comprehensive survey of strategic alliances. Presenting different disciplinary perspectives (economics, strategy, organization theory) and numerous examples from the corporate world. The text has been thoroughly revised and updated, taking account of new theoretical models, and its coverage of case studies has been extended. It will be ideal for business students and managers alike wishing to understand the challenges of managing alliances.
    • John Child, David Faulkner, and Stephen B. Tallman. Cooperative strategy. Oxford University Press, USA, 2005. Abstract

"Organizational Structure, Environment and Performance", 1972


John Child, "Organizational Structure, Environment and Performance: The Role of Strategic Choice", Sociology 1972 vol. 6 no. 1 1-22

  • [It was assumed that effective strategic choice required the exercise of power and was therefore an essentially political phenomenon] incorporation of the process whereby strategic decisions are made directs attention onto the degree of choice which can be exercised ... , whereas many available models direct attention exclusively onto the constraints involved. They imply in this way that organizational behaviour can only be understood by reference to functional imperatives rather than to political action.
    • p. 2; As cited in Child (1997)
  • Environmental variability...refers to the degree of change which characterizes environmental activities relevant to an organization's is a function of three components:
a. frequency of changes in relevant environmental activities,
b. degree of differences,
c. degree of irregularity in the overall pattern of change--in a sense—- the 'variability of change'
  • p. 3
  • [The model towards which strategic choice analysis led would therefore] direct our attention towards those who possess the power to decide upon an organization’s structural rationale, towards the limits upon that power imposed by the operational context, and towards the process of assessing constraints and opportunities against values in deciding organizational strategies.
    • p. 13; As cited in Child (1997)

Quotes about John Child

  • Some scholars have argued strenuously against the idea that the organization is determined by its situation and have instead asserted that managers have free choice and are thereby to be held morally accountable (Bourgeois 1984; Whittington 1989). Contingency theory appears to some critics to be a managerially convenient ideology that justifies as inevitable organizational characteristics that are not really inevitable, because they are not really required for organizational effectiveness, and that injure the interests of employees (Schreyogg, 1980). Thus contingency theory is opposed by free choice.
An intermediate position within this debate is that propounded by Child (1972), which he terms “strategic choice” (though he is talking about choice regarding structure). This takes the contingency theory of organizational structure but shows that some degree of choice can nevertheless enter in at several stages in the process.
  • Lex Donaldson (2001), The Contingency Theory of Organizations. p. 127