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Change Theories: Variance and Process

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Change theories: Variance and Process

Thinking as Variance

  • Entities and structure exist in a state of stability (equal and opposing forces norm)
  • Organisations have properties that can be observed and compared (fixity)

Thinking as Process

  • People continually engage in making sense and interpreting a dynamic ongoing world
  • Processes of organisational change (flux)

Paradox of Continuity and Change

Organisations as Stable Entities

  • Stability is associated with Democritus philosophy
  • Greek philosopher born in 460BC
  • Central figure in the development of the atomic theory of the universe
  • Pictured all of nature as composed of stable material substance or things that changed only in their positioning in time and space
  • Punctuated equilibrium theory views stability as the norm recognising that business can experience major shocks that necessitate radical change

Organisations as Fluid Entities

  • Known view is central to Heraclitus’ view
  • Known for his doctrine of change being central to the universe in which he asserts that we exist in a world in which everything is constantly in flux
  • Famous analogy of life to a river: Upon those who step into the same rivers different and ever different waters flow down

Change Theories: Variance and Process

These two alternative views of organisations may serve to address different questions. A quantitative research is likely to take a more static worldview to examine the relationship between variables and variance between them

  • Quantitative DATA
  • Measures of values or counts and are expressed as numbers
  • Data about numeric variables

A qualitative researcher is more likely to take a process worldview to study the processes of change in context over time.

  • Qualitative Data
  • Measures of types and may be represented by a name, symbol, or a number code
  • Data about categorical variables

Ideal type of Theories of Change

Lifecycle Theory

  • Stage of development from early start-up, to maturity, to eventual decline
  • Each stage occurs in unitary sequence with each new stage building on what has gone before towards a prefigured end state

Teleological Theory

  • Specific goal drives purposeful change towards an envisioned end state, but not a prescribed sequence of events

Dialectical Theory

  • Oppositional force exist, compete, collide, and conflict within organisations and in the environment
  • When these forces are equally balanced, the status quo prevails, but when sufficient power is attained by one entity over another, then change occurs

Evolutionary Theory

  • A biological analogy that suggest new forms of organisation to emerge by chance (variation)
  • Some align with the environment, while others fall by the way side (environmental selection)

Two Dimensions of Change Management Theories

  • Six images of managing change have been identified to characterise change management theories
  • Two dimensions:

  1. Coordination and control in a top-down hierarchical view to a more inclusive approach in an organic view of an organisation
  2. Change outcomes ranging from intended, to partially intended, through to unintended
  • Managers are able to reflect on the assumptions that underpin their own and others’ images of change to fully assess whether there is a dominant image of change in the organisation
  • Managers can adopt different images of change and do not have to be stuck on a one dimensional view

Environmental Determinism and Strategic Choice: Explaining Change

  • Determinism
  • Change is determined by the environment
  • Action is taken in response to the environment without the environment being affected by action
  • Voluntarism
  • Takes account of actions, choices, and interpretations of change agents in steering change processes
  • Many models include elements of both

Child’s Strategic Choice Concept

  • Choice made by power holding groups or a dominant coalition shape change, through an essentially political process
  • Choices made by senior management are further modified during implementation middle managers responsible for managing change, through unforeseen events, or through trade union and employee responses to change

Reactive and Proactive change

  • Reactive small scale change
  • Initiatives seek to adapt to unforeseen changes
  • Proactive development change
  • Planned change to improve current ways of doing things
  • Reactive radical change
  • Response to unexpected world events to deal with crisis and ensure organisational survival
  • Proactive radical change
  • Projects seek the reinvention of company strategy towards major transformation of business operations

The Practice of Managing Change

  • Prescriptive recipes: plenty of recipe approaches to change often based on anecdotal evidence of past success
  • Unknowable futures: plenty of critiques on magic bullet recommendations, suggest no value as all changes are unique moving into a future that is ultimately unknowable
  • Guidelines: midway approaches that provide guidelines from past experiences while recognising not able to predict change futures

ADKAR Model of Change Management


  • Attain a clear understanding of the need for change and the nature of change required and to communicate this clearly to all employees


  • Provide support for change, encourage participation and ensure that people are engaged with the proposed change
  • The goal is to build a desire for individuals to be a part of the change through incentives and effective communication


  • There is a need to address two types of knowledge: first, the development and use of knowledge on how to change
  • Second, to develop the skills and knowledge that people require to perform tasks and activities once the change has been implemented
  • Knowledge can be attained at this stage both through formal training modules and through mentoring, coaching and open forums


  • This refers to the process of putting into practice the knowledge and skills acquired from the previous step
  • It is through practice individual performance develops but this also needs to be supported through further mentoring, coaching


  • This step is to ensure that changes stay in place and that individuals do not revert to old ways of doing things
  • Sustaining change can be achieved through monitoring and evaluating performance and taking corrective actions when necessary but also providing positive feedback, rewards, recognition where appropriate
  • The aim is to reinforce the new competencies in building and sustaining a new culture around the change

Dawson’s Nine Lessons for Managing Change

  1. No silver bullets
  2. Shifting terrains are the norm
  3. Allow time
  4. Multiple voices and changing views
  5. Change is about learning
  6. Training and new skills acquisition
  7. Effective communication
  8. Change as power politics
  9. Temporality and paradox

Success and Failure

  • No clear pathways to organisational success
  • Even highly successful companies like IBM have not found maintain a leading competitive edge easy
  • Enron is a famous example of how the seventh largest company in US value at $90 billion went bankrupt

Stadler’s Four Core Principles

  1. Exploit before exploring: focus on exploiting existing assets and capabilities
  2. Diversify into related businesses: higher performing companies maintain broad customer and supplier base and know when to diversify
  3. Learn from the past and particularly from mistakes: maintain organisational knowledge of mistakes to ensure not repeated
  4. Be conservative about change: radical change requires careful consideration

Insights from Changing Fortunes



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