Managing Organisational Change

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Managing Organisational Change

Managing Organisational Change


Organizational change refers to both the process by which organizations alter their structure (Burnes 2004, 13-22), strategy, technology, culture, or systems and the outcomes of that process. Organizational change can be continuous or episodic, reflecting ongoing organizational dynamics as well as planned and emergent forms of discontinuous change. (Aldrich & Ruef 2006, 13-24)

Conceptual Overview

The study of organizational change is interdisciplinary (Senior and Fleming 2003, 8-17), bringing together psychological, sociological, political, economic, and managerial perspectives on organizations. No one comprehensive theory of organizational change exists, and alternative theories focus on individual, group, organizational, interorganizational, and environmental determinants and consequences of stability and change in organizations. Many of the theories of change have been developed independently of each other, with only limited attempts to integrate across perspectives or to resolve theoretical and empirical contradictions across perspectives. Although the study of organizational change often has a bias that change is a positive and desired outcome for organizations, research during the past two decades has given increased attention to evaluating both the positive and the negative consequences of organizational change (Burnes 2004, 45-62), both for the performance and survivability of organizations and, to a lesser extent, for the social, political, and economic status of organization members.

Lewinian Field Theory

From a social psychological perspective, Kurt Lewin developed in the 1940s a general theory of change in social systems, including organizations, that remains influential to this day. Lewin's field theory characterizes organizations as dynamic systems in semistationary equilibrium a state of balance maintained by an active field of psychological and social forces both driving and restraining change. As Senior and Fleming (2003) in their book discussed that organizational change results from an increase in driving forces for change or the removal of restraining forces or both (Senior and Fleming 2003, 11-17). Changes in the field of forces can themselves be an outcome either of ongoing psychological, organizational, and environmental processes, such as informational and normative social influence, group dynamics, managerial turnover, and competitive dynamics, or of planned organizational change and transformation.

Lewin conceptualized the process of change as undergoing three stages: (1) unfreezing, or actions that increase the susceptibility of organizations to changes in the dynamic balance of forces affecting organizations; (2) movement, or actions that change the magnitude, number, and direction of driving and restraining forces, consequently changing the organizational equilibrium in a new direction; and (3) refreezing, or actions that reinforce the new distribution of forces, thereby stabilizing and maintaining a new organizational equilibrium.

Lewin's field theory has been particularly influential in applied work in planned organizational change and has been influential in the establishment of the subfield of organizational development within organizational studies. Force field analysis, derived from this perspective, is a tool for examining the unfolding changes in driving and restraining forces affecting the organizational change process. While the focus of organizational development and force field analysis has been primarily on individual, group, and cultural drivers and restrainers of change, the generality and abstraction of Lewin's field theory permits the ...
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