Leadership and Change
Session 5: Approaches to Change Management
• Deriving from research, done by Lewin in 1950s
• Three main schools of thought: Individual Perspective School,
Group Dynamic School; Open System School
• A number of emergent theories
Change management is not a distinct discipline with clearly defined boundaries,
but draws on a number of social science disciplines and traditions
Difficult to set it apart from different areas of study, such as management
education and learning or theories of knowledge (epistemology)
The main task is therefore to range wide enough to capture the theoretical
foundations of challenge management, which will be done by limiting oneself to
three schools of thought:
1) The Individual Perspective School
2) The Group Dynamics School
3) The Open System School
The Individual Perspective
Two opposite groups: The Behaviourists and the Gesalt-Field
Behabiourists: view behaviour as resulting from an individual’s
interaction with their environment
Gesalt-Field psychologists: see the first explanation as being only
partial. They argue that an individual’s behaviour is the product of
environment and reason.
• All behaviour is learned; the individual is the passive recipient of
external and objective data
• Pavlov’s experiment in the field of conditional behaviour in 1972: A dog
could be ‘taught’ to salivate at the ringing of a bell, by conditioning the
dog to associate the sound of the bell with food
• Thus, according to the group, human actions are conditioned by their
expected consequences. Behaviour that is rewarded tends to be repeated,
and behaviour that is ignored tends not to be.
• Skinner (1974) : In order to change behaviour, it is necessary to change
the conditions that cause it.
• Learning is a process of gaining or changing insights, outlooks,
expectations or thought patterns.
• In explaining individual’s behaviour, the group takes into account not
only person’s actions and the responses, but also individual’s
• Behaviour is not just a product of external stimuli, but rather, it arises
from how the individual uses reason to interpret these stimuli.
• Organisational context: help an individual change their understanding
of themselves and the situation in question, which will lead to changes
in behaviour (Smith et al, 1982)
Group Dynamics School
Emphasis on bringing about organisational change through teams or
work groups, rather than individuals. Rationale: Because people in
organisation work in groups, individual behavior must be seen,
modified or changed in the light of groups’ prevailing practices and
To bring about change, it is useless to concentrate on changing the
behaviour of individuals. The individual in isolation is constrained by
group pressures to conform (‘peer pressure’)
The focus of change must be at group level and should concentrate on
influencing and changing the group’s norms, roles and values
(Cummins and Worley,2005; Burnes, 2009)
Group Dynamics School
Norms: rules or standards that define what people should do, think or feel in a
Implicit/explicit norms: formal, written rules which are known by and applicable to
everyone/ informal and unwritten norms, of which individuals might not be
Roles: patterns of behaviour to which individuals and groups are expected to
Roles are formally defined by job descriptions and performance targets and usually,
individuals hold more than one role.
Values: ideas and beliefs that individuals and groups hold about what is right
and wrong. Values refer not so much to what people do or think or feel in a
given situation; instead they relate to the broader principles that lie behind these.
In comparison with roles and norms, values are more difficult to determine.
Group Dynamics School
The Group Dynamics School proved to be very influential in the study of
change management as most organizations view themselves as
comprising groups and teams, rather than merely collections of
individuals (Mullins, 1989)
“ …the most important single group of interventions in OD (Organization
Development) are team-building activities, the goals of which are the improved and
increased effectiveness of various teams within the organization… The… team-
building meeting has the goal of improving the team’s effectiveness through better
management of task demands, relationship demands, and group processes… (The
team) analyzes its way of doing things, and attempts to develop strategies to
improve its operation.”
The Open System School
Organisations are seen as composing of a number of interconnected sub-
systems where any change to one part of the system will have an impact
on other parts of the system, and in turn, on its overall performance
Organisations are ‘open’ systems in two ways- internally and externally;
internal changes in one area affect other areas, and in turn have an
impact on the external environment, and vice versa. (Buckley, 1968).
First coined by Kurt Lewin to distinguish change that was consciously
embarked upon by an organisation, as opposed to unintended change,
such as those that might come about by accident, by impulse, by
misunderstanding or that might be forced on an unwilling organisation
Planned change is characterized by the organisation identifying an area
where it believes change is required and undertakes a process to
evaluate, and if necessary, bring about change.
Planned approach is closely associated with the practice of
Organization Development (OD):
” Organization development is a unique organizational improvement strategy that
emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s… It has evolved into an integrated
framework of theories and practices capable of solving and helping to solve most
of the important problems confronting the human side of organizations.
Organization development is about people and organizations and people in
organizations and how they function. OD is also about planned change, that is
getting individuals, teams and organizations to function better. Planned change
involves common sense, hard work applied diligently over time, a systematic,
goal-orientated approach, and valid knowledge about organizational dynamics
and how to change them. Valid knowledge derives from the behavioural sciences
such as psychology, social psychology, sociology, anthropology, systems theory,
and the practice of management.” (French and Bell, 1995:1-2)
Lewin and Planned
Kurt Lewin was a German/American psychologist, known as one of
the modern pioneers of social, organizational and applied psychology
Lewin’s lifetime preoccupation was the resolution of social conflict
and, in particular, the problems of minority or disadvantaged groups.
He was a humanitarian who believed that only by resolving social
conflict, whether it be religious, racial, marital or industrial, could the
human condition be improved; he also believed that the only key to
resolving social conflict was to facilitate learning and so enable
individuals to understand and restructure their perceptions of the world
Lewin and Planned
A central theme of his work is the view that ‘the group to which an
individual belongs is the ground for his perceptions, his feelings and his
actions’ (Allport, 1948).
His work is comprised of four individual elements:
1) Field Theory
2) Group Dynamics
3) Action Research
4) The Three-Step Model
Lewin believed that for group behaviour to change, it was necessary to
‘unfreeze’ the forces restraining change, such as personal defences and
group norms. In order to achieve this, it is first necessary to identify the
Lewin argued that in order to understand any situation, it was necessary
to view the present situation – the status quo- as being maintained by
certain conditions or forces.
The status-quo is maintained because forces driving change are in balance
with the forces restraining change.
In Lewin’s opinion, if one could identify, plot and establish the potency of
these forces, then it would be possible not only to understand why
individuals, groups and organisations behave they way as they do, but also
what forces would need to be diminished or strengthened in order to bring
Lewin offered two assumptions:
1) Firstly, it emphasizes that change requires action, and is directed at
2) Secondly, it recognizes that successful action is based on analysing the
situation correctly; identifying all the possible alternative solutions and
choosing the one most appropriate to the situation at hand (Bennett,
- Draws on Field Theory and Group Dynamics – he stressed that the routines
and patterns of behaviour in a group are more than just the outcome of
opposing forces. They have value in themselves and have a positive role
to play in enforcing group norms.
Action Research stresses that for a change to be effective, it must take place at
the group level, and must be participative and collaborative process
which involves all of those concerned.
Often cited as Lewin’s key contribution to organisational change
A successful change project consists of three steps:
1) Unfreezing – all organisations suffer from the state of inertia – the
inability of organisations or groups to change, which increases with the
amount of success the group has had. Lewin argued that this
equilibrium of forces or inertia has to be unfrozen before old behaviour
can be discarded and new behaviour successfully adopted.
2) Moving- According to Schein (1996), unfreezing is not an end to itself,
as it creates motivation to learn but does not necessarily control or
predict the direction of learning. According to Lewin, it is difficult to
predict a specific outcome from Planned Change because of the
complexity of forces concerned.
3) Refreezing – it seeks to stabilise the group at new quasi-stationary
equilibrium in order to ensure that the new behaviour is relatively safe
from regression. The key point with refreezing is that the new
behaviour must be harmonious with the rest of the behaviour,
personality and environment of the learner or it will simply lead to a
new round of disconfirmation (Schein, 1996).
The Coping Cycle
Adopted by Carnall (2003) drawing on the Three-Step Model
Looks at how people react and adjust when faced with a change
1) Denial – When faced with the need to make or accept significant
changes, the first reaction by many people or groups is to deny there
is a need for change
2) Defence – Once people realise that change is taking place and they
cannot stop it, they may feel rejected and depressed. This can turn
into defensive behaviour whereby people will defend their past
practices and behaviours and deny that the new ways are suitable to
them and their job.
The Coping Cycle
3) Discarding – If people realise that the change will take place whether they
like it or not, and that it does affect them and that they need to adjust to
the new situation, they begin to process of discarding past behaviour –
recognising that what was suitable in the past is no longer suitable for the
4) Adaptation – No proposed change is ever likely to be 100 per cent suitable
at the outset. Therefore, for change to be successful, not only must those
affected by it adapt to the new ways, but the new ways must also be
adopted to fit in with the existing people and circumstances.
5) Internalisation- This is the stage of the Coping Cycle where change
becomes fully operational, and new ways of working and behaving have
been developed. People reach the point where, psychologically, they see
the changes not as new but as normal – the way things should be.
Looks at the core theories of Change Management