Organizational Change Theories and Models

Organizational Change Theories

An organization may have no other choice but to change. There are many reasons for an organization to change, such as a sudden change of the economic climate or the arising threat of competition. Through understanding the process and theory of organizational change, you and your organization can handle change in the best possible way.

Organizational Change

In Gareth R. Jones and Jennifer M. George’s book, Contemporary Management, organizational change is defined as “the movement of an organization away from its present state and toward some desired future state to increase its efficiency and effectiveness.” During organizational change, managers must balance the need to improve current operations with the need to respond to new and unpredictable events.

Lewin’s Force-Field Theory of Change

Kurt Lewin developed a theory about organizational change called the force-field theory. George and Jones describe the force-field theory as follows: a “wide variety of forces arise from the way an organization operates, from its structure, culture and control systems that make it resistant to change. At the same time, a wide variety of forces arise from changing task and general environments that push organizations toward change. These two sets of forces are always in opposition in an organization.” For an organization to change, managers must find ways to increase the forces for change, decrease the resistance of change, or do both at the same time.

Evolutionary Change

Evolutionary change is described by George and Jones as “gradual, incremental, and narrowly focused.” It is not drastic or sudden, but a constant attempt to improve. An example of evolutionary change is total quality management that is consistently applied and shows improvement over the long term.

Revolutionary Change

Some organizations need change–fast. When faced with drastic and unexpected change, an organization may have no other choice but to implement revolutionary change. George and Jones describe this as “change that is rapid, dramatic, and broadly focused. This bold shift may be due to a change in the economic climate or a new technological advancement that is integral to the function of the organization.”

Managing Change

Four steps exist in organizational change. First, assess the need for change through recognizing that a problem exists and identifying the problem’s source. Secondly, decide on the change needed to be made by deciding what is the organization’s ideal future state, as well as the obstacles that may occur during change. Thirdly, apply the change and decide whether change will occur from the top down or bottom up, then introduce and manage change. Lastly, evaluate the change by comparing the situation before and after the change or using benchmarking.

Organizational Change Models

According to an article in Forbes, Change Management Guru is the world’s oldest profession. Almost everyone has a few theories about change management.

While there are many change management models, most companies will choose at least one of the following three models to operate under:

  1. Lewin’s Change Management Model
    2. McKinsey 7-S Model
    3. Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model

Lewin’s Change Management Model

This change management model was created in the 1950s by psychologist Kurt Lewin. Lewin noted that the majority of people tend to prefer and operate within certain zones of safety. He recognized three stages of change:

  1. Unfreeze– Most people make an active effort to resist change. In order to overcome this tendency, a period of thawing or unfreezing must be initiated through motivation.
  2. Transition– Once change is initiated, the company moves into a transition period, which may last for some time. Adequate leadership and reassurance is necessary for the process to be successful.
  3. Refreeze– After change has been accepted and successfully implemented, the company becomes stable again, and staff refreezes as they operate under the new guidelines.

While this change management model remains widely used today, it is takes time to implement. Of course, since it is easy to use, most companies tend to prefer this model to enact major changes.

McKinsey 7-S Model

The McKinsey 7-S model offers a holistic approach to organization. This model, created by Robert Waterman, Tom Peters, Richard Pascale, and Anthony Athos during a meeting in 1978, has 7 factors that operate as collective agent of change:

  1. Shared values
  2. Strategy
  3. Structure
  4. Systems
  5. Style
  6. Staff
  7. Skills

The McKinsey 7-S Model offers four primary benefits:

  1. It offers an effective method to diagnose and understand an organization.
  2. It provides guidance in organizational change.
  3. It combines rational and emotional components.
  4. All parts are integral and must be addressed in a unified manner.

The disadvantages of the McKinsey 7-S Model are:

– When one part changes, all parts change, because all factors are interrelated.

– Differences are ignored.

– The model is complex.

– Companies using this model have been known to have a higher incidence of failure.

Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model

This model, created by Harvard University Professor John Kotter, causes change to become a campaign. Employees buy into the change after leaders convince them of the urgent need for change to occur. There are 8 steps are involved in this model:

  1. Increase the urgency for change.
  2. Build a team dedicated to change.
  3. Create the vision for change.
  4. Communicate the need for change.
  5. Empower staff with the ability to change.
  6. Create short term goals.
  7. Stay persistent.
  8. Make the change permanent.

Significant advantages to the model are:

– The process is an easy step-by-step model.

– The focus is on preparing and accepting change, not the actual change.

– Transition is easier with this model.

There are some disadvantages offered by this model:

– Steps can’t be skipped.

– The process takes a great deal of time.

ADKAR model

ADKAR is a change management model that’s goal focused. According to the model, everything you do during the change management process is sequential: you must achieve cumulative goals during the process to achieve your overall change goal. Successful change happens when phases of change for your business and your employees happen simultaneously.


Here are the change steps to achieve in the ADKAR model.

A – Awareness

Recognize the need for change.

D – Desire

Participate and support the change.

K – Knowledge

Know how to change and identify what the change will look like in terms of skills and behaviours.

A – Ability

Implement the change on a daily basis.

R – Reinforcement

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