Academy of Management Annals, 2018

Authored by J. Stouten, D. Rousseau and D. De Cremer

Much has been studied, commented on, debated, experienced and challenged on the idea of managing organisational change but alas, it remains a contentious process. The bottom line is that change is a given and organisations must learn to navigate it in a way that facilitate effective and sustainable organisations.

I came upon an excellent publication that compared widely used practitioner-oriented change models and findings on scholarly empirical research on organisational change processes.

The paper is well worth a read for all leaders and change enablers/ facilitators but some of the key take-outs are summarised below. Must emphasise though that the focus here is on planned change models.

Firstly, scientific literature lacks consensus regarding the basic change process. This, in my view, may be due to the fact that there are just too many variables that influence successful change facilitation. Therefore no one model will be exactly perfect in any given situation. The facilitator/ leader needs to understand context (and this spans at least three levels of the institutional field- think Institutional logics theory). Furthermore, they also need to understand individual and team dynamics and variables as it applies to change. Lastly, the organisation as a system, presents variables to be considered in crafting a change journey.

Back to the paper, the most popular applied change models included in this review included Lewin’s 3-phase process; Beer’s six-step model, Appreciative inquiry (the only dialogic approach), Judson’s five steps, Kanter, Stein and Jicks Ten commandments, Kotter’s eight step model and the ADKAR model. Comparing the models and considering research the following can be noted:

·     Practice models disagree on how planned change should begin. A related dispute is whether diagnosis should focus on weakness or strength. Empirical research underscores the importance of diagnosis on the need for change.

·     The focus on creating an initial sense of urgency, particularly in lieu of careful diagnosis, is not supported by research.

·     The tasks and composition of the guiding coalition differ across practitioner models. Diverse advice is offered regarding the connection between the coalition and top management. Models also differ in their advice regarding how to select coalition members. The evidence is limited in support of the role of the guiding coalition in successful change, as well as the tasks assigned to such coalition

·     Although models agree on the importance and general nature of vision, they differ regarding who should participate in vision formulation. Researches underscore this but highlights more understanding in this process is required. There is also limited alignment on the communication of such a vision. Science underscores the importance of a multichannel communication strategy which empahise trust and meaning.

·     Perhaps, the biggest difference across models is the speed with which mobilization is advised and research literature is relatively silent on the role of time in the change process.

·     Empowering others to act is consistently supported all round. Mobilizing energy for change reflects the essential role of motivation at all three levels, individual, group, and organization, addressed in the empirical literature. Research literature largely supports the role of active behavior as a means of expressing employee agency, providing input, and in stimulating new learnings and experiences in the work environment.

·     The prescriptive models pay little attention to how and when learning should occur.

·     In reference to conveying a sense of progress, only Kotter focuses on short-term out- comes, Hiatt speaks of progress indicators and others say little in this regard. Research findings under- score the importance of the kinds of indicators used as signs of progress.

·     Models widely agree on the need to sustain attention to managing the change. Only Beer (1980) calls attention to the need for ongoing auditing or explicit monitoring of the change process over time, providing feedback as to progress and opportunity to identify needed corrections and course changes. Research findings tend to support Beer’s advice.

·     Finally, embedding the change is broadly a consistent in most models and widespread academic discussion on the value of institutionalization, but actual research is limited.

 The typical outcomes focused on in the empirical literature on organizational change largely focus on (1) employee commitment to change and (2) uptake and use of new organizational practices, and relatedly the attainment of desired organizational effects.

In closing, a key for me is that more research on change process should be encouraged. Furthermore, critical specialist facilitating change must be equipped and capacitated to understand the science behind change and subsequently apply custom models to suit the change process in context.

If you would like to engage more on this topic or require assistance, feel free to contact me at


Natasha Winkler-Titus