Why is change management necessary in contemporary organisations?


This is an essay on change management that I wrote for my degree in my managing people module. read, comment, quote, but please don’t plagiarise.

Why is change management necessary in contemporary organisations? With the help of a case study (detailed organisational example) analyse and discuss a planned approach to change management.


“There is resistance to change in organisations, brought about largely by the fear of the unknown by people. Handled correctly, using known and tested change management techniques, change can be brought about successfully, achieving set goals and objectives and to budget.” (Edmonds, 2011)

This essay seeks to evaluate why change management is necessary in contemporary organisations. This essay will start by discussing what change is, how it emerges and the concept of change management, briefly looking at the history and development of the subject area. Secondly, this essay will present a balanced argument for the importance of change management in contemporary organisations. Lastly, with the use of a case study, this essay will analyse and discuss the usage of a planned approach to change management.

In order to understand change management it is necessary to know what change is. Change can be defined as when a function, practice or thing becomes different from what it was previously (BusinessDictionary, n.d.). Change is considered to originate from what are called triggers or drivers, Tichy considered significant strategic change to be triggered, or driven by a significant degree of uncertainty in the future of the organisation, in either the form of a threat, or opportunity (1983). Lewin considered the status quo as being a balance between the forces for change and the forces for stability, change would arise when the balance was lost and forces for change overcame the forces for stability (Hughes, 2006). Forces for change can commonly be due to competition, political or legislative changes, new senior management or technological development. Whereas, the forces for stability commonly consist of historical inertia, which is a resistance to change in general, where people want to do things the way they are accustomed to. Additionally, drivers for stability can come from trade unions, and from the organisational culture (Hughes, 2006).

Change management can be defined as a systematic approach to dealing with both planned and unplanned change originating from within an organisation or as a result of external change affecting the organisation (Oxford University Press, 2009). One of the key functions of change management is considered to be overcoming the fear or resistance to change that originates from either individuals or groups within the organisation. Change management is considered to have originated as a subject area sixty years ago (Burnes, 1996), although managing change as a practice has existed for as long as organisations have (Hughes, 2006). Change management is intrinsically linked to people management as Harung stated in 1997: ‘Organisations as we know them are the people in them: if the people do not change, there is no organisational change’.

Change management has been important to organisations throughout the entirety of time, as many philosophers have stated, the only constant is change (Cronin and Endersby, 2011). However, change management is becoming increasingly necessary for success in contemporary organisations, one of the key drivers of change in the last three decades is the rapid increase in the process of globalisation, brought upon by the internet, among several other factors. As globalisation increases competition in world markets, organisations in a globalised world have to create strategies that take into account the strategies of their competitors, as there is interdependence between firms, strategies must constantly develop and change to take advantage or protect against the strategic decisions of rival firms. This effect of organisational change can be considered to have a multiplying effect, as all organisations are reliant on other organisations or individuals, such as suppliers, competitors and customers, when someone they are reliant on changes something, often it directly affects themselves, and thus they must also change to maintain the optimum realised strategy. Another reason why change management is increasingly necessary for contemporary organisations is that governmental membership of political organisations, such as the European Union (EU) have caused an increase in new legislation. In the UK for example, up to 65% of new legislation originates from the EU, in 2009 there were 1,329 new laws that were implemented on the UK (House of Commons, 2010). New legislation forces change to be applied in organisations, where things that were historically done in a specific way become illegal. An example of this is how the European Commission’s third driving licence directive made the age to possess non-learner motorcycles increase, with an increase in the amount of testing involved in gaining a full motorcycle licence. The motorcycle manufacturing industry as a whole has changed strategy in response to this legislative force by producing new models that comply with this legislation, so that they do not restrict their products to an older market of consumers, even manufacturers that have previously only created non-learner motorcycles such as Ducati have started creating learner motorcycles due to this legislation (Ducati, 2016). In addition to the changes driven as a result of globalisation, change is driven in an attempt to be environmentally friendly and socially responsible, these will become increasingly significant drivers in the future (Paton and McCalman, 2008).

One pioneer in the field of change management was psychologist Kurt Lewin, who theorised the planned approach in 1951 with his notion of three stages to change: unfreezing, moving and refreezing (Hayes, 2014). Lewin’s planned approach epitomises the notion of a one best way, in a similar way to Taylor’s scientific management. The planned approach believes that change is predictable and therefore can be planned in advance. Furthermore, an organisation can move towards a desirable future state by following the proposed plan. Lewin’s planned approach suggests that there is a three step process to managing change. The first step is called unfreezing, where the people attempting to manage change need to undermine the forces for stability, this can be done by informing those that might resist change of the inadequacies in the present state, or the benefits of changing to a desirable state (Lunenburg, 2010). Alternatively, this can be done by eroding the strength of current values, attitudes and behaviours held in the organisation. Once the organisation has unfrozen, Lewin suggests managers must start moving. This is usually accomplished by developing new values, attitudes and behaviours which cause individuals and groups within the organisation to be less resistant, or welcome the change (Lunenburg, 2010). The last stage is refreezing, which is where the new equilibrium is stabilised to maintain the change, and prevent unwanted further change and regression. The planned approach to change management has been heavily criticised for taking a view that change can be planned and therefore is not something out of the control of managers. Obviously this is not the case, as some factors that can drive change are unquestionably out of the control of managers, such as the state of the whole economy and the strategies of competitors. Out of this criticism developed the emergent approach, that believes that change is unpredictable and must be managed as challenges emerge, there is a degree of experimenting in change, and contingencies should be planned for the changes that are likely to develop (Hughes, 2006).

A contemporary organisation that has used a planned approach to change management is the National Health Service (NHS). The NHS has gone through significant change since it was formed in 1948, with considerable organisational and structural changes occurring in the 1980’s (Drummond‐Hay and Bamford, 2009). Around the millennium several clinicians realised that the NHS systems were outdated, with patient needs being overshadowed by the needs of the individual health service, in addition to this, it was observed that there were large amounts of waste and inefficiencies (Drummond‐Hay and Bamford, 2009). It was considered that transformational change was needed, senior managers decided that a change in organisational culture was needed. A change that would empower managers to increase efficiency of budgets and increase the amount of accountability and responsibility for management and administrative staff. This was attempted using Lewin’s planned approach, in order to unfreeze the organisation, senior managers convinced staff that this change was needed by saying that power would be shifted to management at operational level (Drummond‐Hay and Bamford, 2009). By convincing the staff that would likely resist change, that the change will be beneficial to them, the NHS has reduced the resistance to change and increased the support. The NHS changed their view by offering  them more control and the satisfaction that is gained from empowerment. As a manager of change you change the mindset of the individuals themselves. They were at first opposed to change, due to the fear of the unknown and historical inertia associated with change, however they are now supporting the change, as they believe it will benefit themselves.

The attempt to change the mindset in order to overcome resistance does pose the question of whether overcoming resistance to change is a good thing. Although in this example the clinicians welcomed the change, many said after it had been implemented that power had overtaken the professional authority and status of managers and this resulted in clinicians feeling pressured to meet political targets in addition to losing ownership for their work (Drummond‐Hay and Bamford, 2009). Tension was created between clinicians and managers, where clinicians believed managers were not concerned with patient care and managers believed clinicians did not appreciate the need for improving efficiency (Hayes, 2014). Since the planned approach to change management is usually centrally planned, it is implemented top-down onto the individuals at the bottom of the hierarchy. The problem with this is that often, these individuals are those who are directly involved with the operations of the business and therefore, are the ones that have a knowledge or intuition of what the repercussions may be to the operations, or output of the organisation. This is an aspect of change management that is improved upon in the emergent approach, where change is considered to be bottom-up (Silverthorne, 2010).

During the process of change, the NHS kept employees aware of the changing environment with monthly updates provided to all senior managers, which were intended to be distributed to relevant members of staff, with a specified, undiluted message. The decision to send these messages down the hierarchy may not have been the best approach, although it would mean the change was communicated more personally with staff’s superiors and only give staff the relevant information, it would also increase the possibility of change not being communicated to staff. Regardless of the approach to change management taken, it is important that employees have an understanding of what is happening to them and their activities, otherwise they will be more likely to resist change (Hughes, 2006). Additionally, research has shown that “transitions are most stressful when they are involuntary, unpredictable, unfamiliar, of high magnitude (degree) and of great intensity (pace)” (Cronin and Endersby, 2011).

This case study has shown how the NHS has managed change that it has brought by itself. This is where the planned approach to change management works, when change is either driven by the organisation, when an external force gives appropriate warning, such as with future legislation or when change is small in scope. However change is infrequently voluntary and predictable, in this situation the emergent approach to change management should be used, as it is more flexible to frequent, unpredictable changes, using planning for change would likely result in making plans for a different change than the one that actually occurs.

In conclusion, change management is necessary in virtually every organisation, it always has been and has become more relevant to contemporary organisations due to the increasing amount of competition and responsibilities placed on organisation due to globalisation and the social responsibility movement. As has been shown in the NHS case study, change can be managed using Lewin’s planned approach, this is specifically effective when change is caused by the organisation, is small in scope or when the organisation has knowledge of the exact change, with enough time to plan for it. Regardless of approach, change management should take into account the needs of those affected by the change, management should communicate the changes to them and would benefit from actively involving staff in the change process, in order to reduce resistance and provide a change that is beneficial to the majority.



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