Organizational change

From CEOpedia | Management online
Jump to: navigation, search
Organizational change
Primary topic
Related topics
Methods and techniques

The term organizational change describes everything that implies a violation of the initial situation (status quo) of organization, in any functional area. So every transformation within the system or in its environment, which leads to situation, which differs from the initial condition is called change.

Organizational change involves all important alterations of company function and structure. These modifications in enterprise system are done in accordance with established procedures and may relate to its various parts. The change occurs wherever there is a need for it. Ability to adjust the pace of change and methods of their introduction is important competence for every manager.

Conditions of the functioning of modern organizations made it necessary to develop the ability to permanently adapt by making organizational changes. Key factor in creating a competitive advantage has become the ability to quickly identify changes occurring in the environment.

Because the need for change is conditioned internally (due to economic, technological and social challenges) and externally (due to evolution of culture, new relationships, changing attitudes, growing experience) detachment of change process from current functioning of the organization is not feasible in practice. The process of implementing change usually happen in parallel with the normal activities of the organization.

If the changes are pre-conscious and deliberate (need to improve the functioning of the system) they are called innovation. Innovation always is change, but not every change is innovation.

Organizational change process

Force field theory by K. Lewin explains the progress of the changes. This is a three stage process. According to this theory, to successfully carry out change, there must first be an unfreezing of the former state, transforming it to the new state and the freezing after the change to preserve it.

Status quo (present state) can be considered as the equilibrium. Unfreezing is necessary to prepare the organization for the introduction of the new state, moving away from the methods and patterns used to date. The mere introduction of changes does not guarantee its preservation, so managers should freeze new situations to fix it.

Implementing organizational changes

There are two ways to implement change: evolutionary and revolutionary (radical):

  • Evolutionary strategy is based on baby steps implementation, with the participation of employees in preparation phase (plans, design, project preparation). Making changes requires attitude of readiness to accept it, then to perform change and at the end its fixation. Speed of this process is determined by the ability and qualifications of employees. If they are too low, there is need for its gradual improvement, which may delay the process of implementing changes. Hence it turns out it is often very time consuming process. However, the big advantage of this model is very small likelihood of resistance to change. Moreover, this way of implementing change can lead to increased productivity and innovativeness of the staff.
  • Revolutionary strategy is based on top-down, sudden, unexpected and irrevocable changes performed by the management of organization, often using the services of external advisers and consultants. The element of surprise guarantees no unnecessary delays in the process of implementing the organizational change. Managers and employees will be able to function in the new organizational reliably and fast. The advantage of this model is its ability to focus on priorities and actions leading to the goal. However, in some cases, this method makes it difficult to accept the changes by employees, may imply a bad atmosphere, the occurrence of resistance or the risk of dehumanization.

Resistance to change

Resistance to change is an emotional block. This is a psychological condition that manifests itself, actions of employees that complicate or hinder the implementation of changes, as well as the delays with performing actions conducive to change, when these depend on the employees.We can talk about active resistance and passive resistance.

Resistance manifests itself in the area of ​​formal and informal structures (conflicts of interest, bureaucratic heaviness, conformity of action), in the whole social system of company, especially in mental attitudes of employees and their mutual interactions. Resistance can be shown by single employee, group or globally within company (ie, by all employees). It may be imaginary or real, pathological or constructive. It can manifest itself, among others, in sharp criticism of superiors, the formation of resistance groups among employees, growth of employee turnover, absenteeism or decreased productivity.

The main causes of resistance include:

  • perception of lack of sense of changes,
  • uncertainty about the effects of and/or the reasons for changes,
  • fear of the loss of cherished values,
  • recognition of the weaknesses of the proposed changes,
  • feeling that changes are imposed forcefully,
  • reducing the adaptability and creativity of employees,
  • inertia of habits
  • decreased sensitivity to stimulation,
  • lack of a sense of employee self-interest,
  • Le Chatelier's principle or The Equilibrium Law,
  • ethos of the status quo,
  • cognitive dissonance.

The phenomena of resistance should not be actively fought nor underestimated because usually it can escalate. In overcoming resistance may help diagnosis method proposed by C.A. O'Connor. The author refers in it to the following criteria: public-hidden, conscious-unconscious and based on them arises

Four styles of organizational change resistance:

  • Inherent in place - unit is behaving as if nothing had changed, as if there existed no change.
  • Saboteur - unit opposes the change, however not in an open manner.
  • Zombie – this is an extreme case of unit standing in the spot.
  • Opponent - is a unit openly resisting change.

Process of adaptation to change

There are many models of describing process of adaptation to change. C. Carnall distinguishes the following steps:

  • Refusal - this is the initial situation when the employee learns of the intention to change. It then communicates the most sincere and profound conviction that it is unnecessary. Usually there occurs consolidation of the team against the change, and the quality and efficiency of work are unchanged.
  • Defence - when the individual realizes that change is inevitable and takes defensive reactions. Workers defend their positions and roles performed so far. In this phase, arise negative effects of such an attitude, that is, lowering of self-esteem and decrease of motivation at work.
  • Rejection - change of perspective, since individuals are starting to look to the future, realizing that change is necessary. Increase of self-esteem, which leads straight to the next stage: accepting change.
  • Acceptance - employees agree there is a change and its consequences. Acceptance is the higher the more individuals is involved in the preparation and implementation process.
  • Internalization - employees find themselves in a situation "after" change, with increasing motivation, and new ways of doing things become integral part of the organization.

Rules for implementing organizational change

The most important rules are:

  • Making changes is most effective if their planning takes as much time as their implementation.
  • After the announcement of the changes, employees should be provided with as much information as possible.
  • Contribution of the employees will bear fruit when they will be able to influence the way of performing their tasks.
  • Employees subject to changes, should as far as possible, plan the pace of their implementation.
  • Resistance arises because of fear of the unknown.
  • Opposition to change can also result from a lack of understanding of their goals.
  • Employees are more likely to change if they see the involvement of the top management of the organization.
  • Employees work better if they receive compensation for additional efforts.
  • Most organizations must from time to time perform changes to survive in turbulent environments.


  • Argyris, C. (1993). Knowledge for action: A guide to overcoming barriers to organizational change. Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers, 350 Sansome Street, San Francisco, CA 94104.
  • Doppler, K., Lauterburg, C., & Egert, A. C. (1998). Change management. Editorial Ariel.
  • Hannan, M. T., & Freeman, J. (1984). Structural inertia and organizational change. American sociological review, 149-164.
  • Turner, J. R., Kristoffer, V., & Thurloway, L. (2002). The project manager as change agent. Proceedings of the 2002 Australian Institute of Project Management
  • Todnem By, R. (2005). Organisational change management: A critical review. Journal of Change Management, 5(4), 369-380.

Author: Krzysztof Wozniak