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Managing change and transitions:
a comparison of different models
and their commonalities
Claire V. Brisson-Banks
Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Received 15 August 2009
Revised 25 October 2009
Accepted 15 November 2009
Purpose – The purpose of this article is to analyze the commonalities of various change and
transition models developed over time to assist with and support managing organizational change.
Design/methodology/approach – The article provides an examination of change and transition
models through a review of relevant literature and the comparison of different models.
Findings – Each change and transition model has similar methods of handling change. Their unique
methods and strategies provide additional insights into possible applications to most organizations. In
some cases, models could be combined to form new models to best fit the circumstances of the
Practical implications – This comparison can assist individuals in evaluating and selecting the
model based on organizational need while remembering to focus on both the physical and the
emotional changes in an organization.
Originality/value – The article shows that human resource managers can benefit from learning the
commonalities between change and transition models when considering what will work for their
organization in conjunction with the review of a number of well known and relevant models.
Keywords Human resource management, Organizational change, Leadership, Change management,
Paper type Research paper
Change is evident everywhere from the simplest everyday changes to the most difficult
situations encountered by human resource (HR) managers as management grapples
with reorganizations, downsizing and/or cutbacks. A crucial factor in the effectiveness
of an organization is the ability to adapt to change (French and Delahaye, 1996).
According to Bridges and Mitchell (2000) “Business conditions change and yesterday’s
assumptions and practices no longer work”.
While it may seem uncommon to some, most businesses are told they have to
change everything from the way they think to the way they work (Nortier, 1995).
Wagar (2000) provides a bit of history by reminding us of how downsizing became an
obsession in the 1990s, the phrase “lean and mean” became a primary focus of most
businesses at that time. Whether the success of downsizing tactics worked is not the
topic for discussion here, however, the tactics employed at the time are part of this
comparison. Today’s economic crisis has also added the new dimension of change
needing to be immediate instead of over a period of time. Add increased global
competition, outsourcing, fast changing and new technologies and you have a recipe
for massive confusion to those involved in such a volatile environment.
Vol. 31 No. 4/5, 2010
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
When beginning a review of studies surrounding change models, it was discovered
that much time and energy has been devoted to bring about a better understanding of
change as it relates to organizations. While this topic has been looked at from various
disciplines, this article will only touch on some of the many change and transition
models, which organizations have to choose from as they work through their particular
An awareness of the need for change is the beginning of the whole change process
(Armstrong, 2006). A complete assessment of the current situation is necessary to
begin the process of implementing any kind of change in an organization.
Unfortunately, this kind of assessment may take longer than management or
stakeholders have if the situation is very serious. What happened to bring about the
need for change? What kind of issues and problems have occurred to bring about this
crisis are questions which need to be answered as this helps to determine the best
course of action to follow. Which change and/or transition model will fit the
Another facet within change models are the individuals involved in working
together to implement change. Ulrich and Brockbank (2005) provide some insights to
this element of the equation by pointing out how “high-performing HR professionals
make change happen successfully and thoroughly with their most critical contribution
being to make sure the change happens quickly”. Just how involved the HR
professional has to be for a successful change is up to the organization. There are a
variety of reasons their involvement is imperative to the success of any type of change.
Additionally, their familiarity with the organization’s culture and employees becomes
a great asset to the individuals responsible for organizing changes. This is most
significant in a change process as follow through skills become extremely valuable and
adds to the facilitation of all types of organizational change.
Taking a step back to change itself, various studies have revealed additional
strategies concerning the very nature of change and how it relates to organizations.
Kanter (1985) relates how organizations have to be able to adapt to change or face the
possibility of losing out to competition. Kanter (1985) further expounds on how some in
top management attempt to force change by just simply dictating it, changing polices
without warning and expecting their middle management to take charge and make the
change work. These experiences reflect how strategic-planning models are only a piece
of the change process, which usually results in some sort of modifications to work with
an individual organization.
Burke (2004) looks at where the organizational development field is in 2004, and
expresses how difficult it is to move forward without the knowledge of what is coming.
Burke’s (2004) review of what is now known (in 2004) evaluates change processes and
points out some of the change models which will be covered further in this article.
Additionally, change effort is now enhanced with the aid of training and feedback.
Burke’s (2004) comments bring out how any value-based change effort requires
effective leadership and a business structure which includes strategy, mission plans
and a model. When a change model is used in conjunction with the business structure it
has a better chance of success and is part of the eight-step change model from Kotter
(1995) where “to work together as a team united in the vision,” is necessary for success.
Axelrod (2001) reminds us of how change management and models came to the
point of unleashing the power of employees. Previous studies conducted by Kurt Lewin
during World War II revealed how allowing input from employees when changes were
needed added to acceptance of the changes with a bonus of increased productivity.
These studies were conducted with surveys and working together to review the
collected data which resulted in better change solutions. Axelrod (2001) further
explains there needs to be a new paradigm involving more people and widening the
circle of involvement.
Dannemiller and Norlin (2001) have developed a different approach altogether
calling it a whole-scale change where the business comes together to connect the
collective wisdom of the organization creating the one brain and one heart
methodology. This process brings in individuals from all levels of the organization to
create the alignment needed for success. The additional touch of requiring high
performance brings this model in line with another change model introduced by Quinn
Following the path of working together, Schein(2004) uses the term “culture” and
shows how it is extremely important to investigate and study the culture of an
organization in order to work with them in a more cohesive manner. This very notion
of knowing the culture of the organization is the responsibility of the leaders in order to
determine how to lead or Schein (2004) says the “culture will lead them” making any
change model more difficult to implement.
Evans and Ward (2004) remind us how managers are in the position of needing to
“be prepared for two types of change-planned and imposed”. New managers are under
pressure to make a good impression and feel like they have to implement change
correctly and operating under an unexpected or forced change can cause great
difficulties with staff. While change can be risky and is time-consuming, careful
preparation can enhance the process. Managers tackle the situation of how most people
do not enjoy change, but somehow, because change must happen, individuals will
adjust over time with the right people in management.
Beer et al. (1990) conducted studies of change programs with 12 different companies
and discovered how most do not work unless everyone is involved and on board. Beer
et al. (1990) determined that “effective corporate renewal starts at the bottom, through
informal efforts to solve problems”. Their studies revealed how senior officials can be
committed to change and have to foster a climate of change instead of mandating the
changes from the top as may have been done in the past. They also discovered how all
departments and mangers need to be involved or the whole process can break down.
Additional organizational change studies were conducted by Dunphy and Stace
(1993) to show how no one model is universally applicable. They point out how
“turbulent times demand different responses in varied circumstances, so managers and
consultants need a model of change that is essentially a situational or contingency
model”. Dunphy and Stace (1988) developed a contingency model using a combination
of leadership styles and different types of changes. Identifying the optimum mix of
leadership and change styles, while considering the organization, is what makes the
Bridges and Mitchell (2000) provide what they call a new model for change. They
remind us how, over the years, a large amount of time and effort has been spent in
studying the management of change and yet it seems to have fallen short in providing
the much needed solutions to the economical situations organizations find themselves
in today as they work through a variety of necessary changes for survival. While
change is not an easy or simple process, many still operate today as if it is and fail to
understand why a business is unable to create a plan and follow it through
successfully. Bridges and Mitchell (2000) point out “most leaders imagine that
transition is automatic – that it occurs simply because the change is happening. But it
doesn’t”. The human element of change needs to be addressed for change to be
Kotter and Cohen (2002) have put together a collection of success stories using
Kotter’s famous eight-step change model from 1996 as well as situations which could
be considered failures. In the book, Kotter and Cohen (2002) point out the reasons for
success are “[b]ecause their most central activity does not center on formal data
gathering, analysis, report writing, and presentations . . . instead, they compellingly
show people what the problems are and how to resolve the problems”. It is this kind of
process that goes a long way into creating successful organizational changes. This
change model will be discussed in this article.
Change and transition models
One of the earliest change models was developed by Kurt Lewin. According to Burnes
(2004) and Armstrong (2006) this model is referred to as the “3-Step Model” developed
in 1947 and referenced in his Field Theory in Social Science (Lewin, 1951). This model
breaks change down into three steps: unfreezing, changing, and refreezing, Armstrong
(2006) provides greater detail to this process as follows:
Unfreezing – is altering the present stable equilibrium which supports existing behaviors
and attitudes. This process must take account of the inherent threats that change presents
to people and the need to motivate those affected to attain the natural state of equilibrium
by accepting change.
Changing – developing new responses based on new information.
Refreezing – stabilizing the change by introducing the new responses into the
personalities of those concerned (Armstrong, 2006).
This could be compared to overcoming bad habits by replacing them with new and
better habits. The individual, like an organization, has to be resolved and committed to
make the change and do what is necessary regardless of any inconveniences involved
in the process. The end goal is to succeed with the change.
Burnes (2004) points out that Lewin is one of the early pioneers of group dynamics
and how individuals will usually go along with the group norm whether it is a positive
or negative situation or actions. Armstrong (2006) adds how “Lewin suggests a
methodology for analyzing change which is called ‘field force analyses’” and involves
Analyzing the restraining or driving forces will affect the transition to the future state;
these restraining forces will include the reactions of those who see change as unnecessary
or as a constituting a threat.
Assessing which of the driving or restraining forces are critical.
Taking steps both to increase the critical driving forces and to decrease the critical
restraining forces (Armstrong, 2006).
How does this apply to an organizational change? Ritchie (2006) sheds some light on
how an organization can apply this to a change situation. The unfreezing is the time
process required to prepare for change, to help the staff accept the coming change, and
break down the status quo found through the evaluation completed leading up to the
realization that changes were necessary for survival. This will force the organization to
take a hard and difficult look at their very essence. Ritchie (2004) calls this a “controlled
crisis” which adds the needed motivation to make a change.
Once the change is set in motion, individual workers may have to find new ways to
accomplish their jobs, whether they are the same jobs in new locations or new jobs in
the same locations. Once the workers have accepted these changes they easily support
and adjust to the change. In Johnson’s (1998) Who Moved My Cheese?, the character
Haw realizes he needs to move on and accept his situation making the best of it, while
Hem refuses to change and just remains in his same state. This is often what happens
in an organization when certain individuals refuse to accept the changes while others
move on and work through them.
Richie (2004) states refreezing is at the point when there is a new stable
organization, people are accepting the reorganization by working through the new
methods and ways of accomplishing daily tasks. Once this occurs, confidence in the
business increases and there is usually a new sense of hope and the future looks
brighter for all in the new organization. It is at this point when refreezing should take
place. A celebration of the new organizations should be held. This allows everyone to
feel appreciated for their part in the success of the change. (Remembering change is
cyclical and may have to be addressed again in the future.)
Richard Beckhard (1969) developed a change program, which incorporates the
following processes (as cited in Armstrong, 2006):
Setting goals and defining the future state or organizational conditions desired after the
Diagnosing the present condition in relations to these goals.
Defining the transition state activities and commitments required to meet the future state.
Developing strategies and action plans for managing this transition in the light of an
analysis of the factors likely to affect the introduction of change.
Depending on the circumstance, an organization may receive the latest quarterly
reports and realize that change is required in order to survive or successfully contend
with their existing or future competition. A business’s staff can work together to plan
and implement change using this program.
To breakdown this change program further, Rouda and Kusy Jr (1995) provide
Beckhard’s definition of organizational development; it is “[a]n effort, planned,
organization-wide, and managed from the top, to increase organization effectiveness
and health through planned interventions in the organization’s process, using
behavioral-science knowledge”. This explanation provides additional insights in how
the change program can be used in a business setting.
Looking at this change program with this added definition helps to show how it can
be applied in a business or organizational setting when change is imminent. According
to Rouda and Kusy Jr (1995), this model:
[t]akes a long-range approach to improving performance and efficiency in an organization by
looking at the total organization, adding the necessary support from top management by
implementing it themselves along with tying it to the bottom-line. Next apply incremental
changes over a period of time while involving the individuals in the business providing them
an opportunity to make a positive contribution.
Additionally, Marshak (2004) states “The whole idea of planned change assumes, in
essence, that it is possible to determine rationally how to initiate and implement actions
to achieve and then maintain a predetermined, desired future state”. While these steps
are not always applied in the correct order, they all need to happen for change to be
A third change model described in Armstrong (2006) was introduced by K. Thurley
(1979) and has five main strategies to managing change: “Directive, bargained, hearts
and minds, analytical and action-based”. Each strategy has advantages and
disadvantages for all parties involved. The primary starting point is to recognize
the need for change in an organization. An in depth review of each strategy is valuable
when determining if and when there is any commonality with each of the change
models discussed in this article exists and whether access to particular strategies will
aid or hinder the success of the organizational change. Both Armstrong (2006) and
Lockitt (2004) provide ample explanations of each strategy.
Directive – “the imposition of change in crisis situations or when other methods
have failed. This is done by the exercise of managerial power without consultation”
(Armstrong, 2006). “The advantage here is that change can be undertaken quickly,
however, the disadvantage is it does not take into consideration any views, or
feelings, of those involved in the change” (Lockitt, 2004).
Bargained – “this approach recognizes that power is shared between employer
and the employed and that change requires negotiation, compromise and
agreement before being implemented” (Armstrong, 2006). “[w]illingness by
senior managers to negotiate and bargain in order to effect change. This
approach acknowledges that those affected by change have the right to have a
say in what changes are made, with disadvantages being the additional time to
effect change” (Lockitt, 2004).
Hearts and minds – “an all-embracing thrust to change the attitudes, values and
beliefs of the whole workforce. This normative approach seeks commitment and a
shared vision but does not necessarily include involvement or participation”
(Armstrong, 2006). This strategy allows “full support of the changes being made
and a shared set of organizational values that individuals are willing and able to
support. Again the advantage is the positive commitment to the changes being
made with the disadvantag ...
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