Relevance of Change Management Theories?

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Organization and Change > Best Practices > Relevance of Change Management Theories?

Relevance of Change Management Theories?
My interpretation of change management theory in a practical sense is that change theories are never used but are more sub-consciously instilled within managers. Although it could possibly be proved that some strategies which are implemented are based on some change management theories.
What relevance would you believe change management theory holds in a practical context? Do you as a manager ever even consider it?

Relevance of Change Management Theories
Adrian Labuschagne, CEO, South Africa, Member
I believe the theories are very sound - but only humans can induce change. Having participated in a number of large projects I am apt to agree that "bottom line" metrics override all other operational management considerations. In a country where we dismally failed at mass change management my view is that we must not "throw out the baby with the bathwater". But how do we make acceptance of change as a positive force practical?

Relevance of Change Management Theories?
davide storni
In my opinion, there is not a contrast between theory and practice, theories come from experience and you cannot act if you don't have a theory in mind (rough, wrong, but you need an idea of what you're going to do).
Secondly, the change will happen when people understand that the benefits override the disadvantages of the change. So, as a change manager, you ought to clarify yourself the advantages for all the stakeholders, then talk, talk and talk to let them know the advantages. A model can also be quite useful in this communication.

Relevance of Change Management Theories According to Einstein
Arunas Beksta, management consultant and trainer, Lithuania, Member
If I am not mistaken Einstein said that there is nothing more practical than good theory :-) . The problem is to find the relevant theory for your concrete change situation. What is the problem: leadership, organisation, planning, implementation, human behavior etc?. Unfortunately, (or luckily) there is no one single best (most relevant) theory. My experience shows that theories are very important for understanding the processes around change. They help in planning, preparing for change, but the most valuable thing in change management is leadership of change and experience of change manager.

Relevance of Change Management Theories: First Step
Denis Cavallucci, Professor, France, Member
Theories are (only) the first step of a change. The world doesn't feel it needs theories, but does feels it needs a translation into methods and tools to be efficiently applied.
I like this question very much, but the answer will undoubtedly come by itself. Like for organizing the switchover between production era towards quality era (in the fifties) we are now ahead of a change of (at least) the same magnitude: the switchover from quality era towards innovation era. This will not come without a change in management practices (induced by the emergence of new theories).

Relevance of Change Management Theories: Foundation
Brendan Dunphy, Business Consultant, France, Member
I think the theories are essential but only the beginning or foundation for understanding and making change. In reality, most change projects benefit only a sub-set of stakeholders and no amount of theory can change or be responsible for that!

Relevance of Change Management Theories: Training
David Wilson, Manager, Canada, Premium Member
Most managers need to be trained to handle change. The problem is many organizations try to change without strategies, plans, structures, systems, etc. There is also a need to ensure the vision is created, communicated, credible, and consolidated. Theory is great, but you also need committed leadership. I find John P. Kotter has a good model to follow - Leading Change (1996).

Theories Illuminate Practice
Bomo Albert-Oguara, Manager, Nigeria, Member
Theories depend on the empirical. They illuminate practice and without them managers and the management of enterprises will flounder. Managing change in the organization is the leaders forte. Change can be incremental or strategic, whatever. The most important factor is in the leader realizing that change is necessary and needs to bring in ideas (theories) on how to go about it. The environment of business is dynamic, both at the micro and macro levels. Change management theories therefore help in grappling with these.

Relevance of Change Management Theories: Learn from Past Experience
Weijand, Manager, Netherlands, Member
Since the beginning of mankind, mankind have been changing things. People were hardly thinking about theories... My opinion is that the relevance of these theories is that it can be a great help for the less talented change managers (like myself). The theories are lessons learned from the natural talented and/or experienced and therefore appreciated.

Relevance of Change Management Theories
Gary Uptigrove, HR Consultant, United States, Member
- If you are in a very "top-down" managed organization then change happens because a senior executive drives it without much thought to "managing it".
- In a matrixed or decentralized organization change management should start from the inception of the project/initiative. Kotter's model or the ADKAR model are very useful guides for creating a change management plan.

Relevance of Change Management Theories - Difference
Geoff Atkinson, Consultant, United Kingdom, Member
I think we have to deal with everyone as we find them. All the useful models about individual response to change emphasise difference (and indeed its value). Some respond to theory, others can't stand it and are only interested in hearing specifics relevant to their situation. The "Yin and Yang" change notions (not theories I think) can help us to stay balanced in our work.

My Reflections on the Relevance of Change Management Theories
Corbette Doyle, Professor, United States, Member
I spent the last 15 of a 30 year corporate role responsible for major change management initiatives. Honestly, I learned more about effective change strategies in the last 2 years teaching leadership and change management than I did in all those years in the midst of trying to achieve the desired results.
Why? Because now I am forced to take a step back and think about what worked - or didn't - and why. I think about what myself or my colleagues could have done differently. This role of reflection is a critical attribute of effective leaders, but it is one most of us decide, "we don't have time for."
The empirical nature of theory, as pointed out above, provides insight about what worked in the past, when it worked, and why it worked. It gives us the opportunity, BEFORE we make mistakes, to avoid them. The key is to adapt theory to your specific circumstances--and then to do your own self-reflection exercise afterward to enhance your personal change management skills for the next time around.

Change Management Theories: Feel Comfortable
Franz Barth, Manager, Austria, Member
The Greek philosopher Heraklit said. "Panta rhei". We need a theory to feel comfortable and it helps us to change the present. The eight-stage process of creating change is very useful to bring a team together and to develop a vision and strategy.

Change Management Theories?
James MacQueen, Consultant, United States, Member
After 20 years of practice in organizational change and development, I'm not aware of any change management theories. Models such as Kotter's and ADKAR, are based on empirical research and practice studies but structured recommendations for practice do not constitute theory. Theory, as has been pointed out above, offers frameworks for understanding phenomena and out of that the opportunity to act on that phenomena in ways that may produce a desired result. Application of models such as these without understanding the rich theoretical base on which they have been developed is often a mechanistic, linear approach to dealing with complex human systems. Most of the models often need augmentation in their execution, usually on the group dynamics side which can be accomplished out of a knowledge of some of the theories of organizational change.

Sanctity of Change Management Theories in the Changing Environment
D P BABU, Strategy Consultant, India, Member
Basic management theories for getting things done broadly coordinate human effort in resource utilization. Unless you apply strategic tools and techniques drawn from insights during the management process, the application of management theory does not yield fruitful results. Hence, it is only the change in application of tools and techniques based on strategic advantages, but no change to basic management theory is required.

Update to Change Management Theories
Out of the people who have responded to the topic of change management theories. How many of you would say that you don't use theories because the organisation simply doesn't allow it? Or are there other restrictions in place for not using theories such as it intefering within the change plan / strategy itself? My thinking from all the comments that have been made is that theory can often complicate what needs to be done and hence it's not being utilised, correct me if I'm wrong here and thanks for the responses.

Change Management Theories: Involve Whole Organization
David Wilson, Manager, Canada, Premium Member
Change management is not well managed in most organizations and thus it seems complicated. Successful leaders involve the whole organization using a "change champion" and a “coalition of the willing”. If employees are consulted, invited to participate, innovation is encouraged, and problems are used for learning, change can flourish. Many organizations try to change from the top down but it is very complicated if there is no consultation and no communications. Managers will lead successful change if they follow a process, provided they are trained and willing to have an open mind. Have you read Senge et al, The Dance of Change, Senge - The 5th discipline, and Senge et al Presence - An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organizations and Society? I also found "Our Iceberg is Melting" (Kotter, J and Rathgeber, H; 2005) to be a fun book, with lots of lessons.

Individual and Group Theories for Change Management
Keith Brockbank, Lecturer, United Kingdom, Member
Change management involves people as both individuals and as groups. Most theories tend to be directed at one or the other. However, Rosabeth Moss Kanter has developed a set of capabilities/competencies which are enduring in successful change leaders. It seems to me that building change capability and change capacity are more important than some of the more "traditional" change theories. However, I should point out Moss Kanter's work is based upon Kotter's models of failure and success of strategic change.

Sub-conscious Change Management
David Bovis, Business Consultant, United Kingdom, Member
All credit to Drazen for the question. The sub-conscious belief and attitude to change in leaders is the key to sustainability, innovation, creativity, ownership, empowerment and a no-blame culture, highlighting a degree of irony in the fact that change management focuses on tools and what people 'do' rather than how they are 'being' (logic vs emotion) - a little like trying to build a house from the 2nd story up - i.e. No emotional ground level or foundations. There is a definite left-brain / right-brain beliefs-behaviours-performance-profit (bbpp©) link that can be easily explained in detail that maximizes organizational development potential that has been historically missed by the market. OD goes some way toward redressing this imbalance, but still fails to overtly link psychology to the popular tools.

Relevance of Change Management Theories: Have Options
Rafael Acosta, Coach, United States, Member
The theories are great to understand the problem and develop an options list. Choosing the right options is the "art" once your on the path the Pareto principle kicks in and you have to celebrate 80% of the effort giving you 20% of the results (approx). Great leaders quickly re-evaluate and squeeze out 74% of effort giving and additional 1-3%.
Key is also to celebrate the small wins to keep the leading edge.

Theories Vanish When We Have Knowledge
Milind Kotwal, Consultant, India, Member
Theories are empirical in nature and are based on one's understanding of reality. Generally this understanding is not complete and is based on personal experiences. That is why there are so many different theories and approaches to change.
Once we have total understanding of the complete management framework, there shall no longer be any need for these theories..

Relevance of Change Management Theory
tan liong choon, Management Consultant, Singapore, Member
My sense is that change management theory is just a tool.
The success or failure will depend very much on the application of the theory in developing the appropriate change management plan and execution of the plan. The other part of the equation is the recipients, how much they understand what is going on and their participation in making the change into a success.
But change management theory is still essential as it serves as a guiding framework for anchoring change approaches, developing change management tools and serves as a common language for management, change agent and staff on what, how and why various change management actions are being done.

What Lies Beneath
Lisa Buchan, Manager, New Zealand, Member
I think David Bovis has hit the nail on the head here - without dealing with what lies beneath behaviour (call it attitude, authenticity or way of being) it is impossible to apply behavioural and structural tools, because it is hearts that resist - using minds & rationalisation as justifications. Check out for a compelling look at what lies beneath and how to influence hearts.

Sub-conscious Change Management - Cont
David Bovis, Business Consultant, United Kingdom, Member
Once belief-performance links are clearly understood, it can also be seen that many current 'theories' and standard systems actually promote actions that provoke people to unconsciously oppose change – once leaders can understand what provokes opposition, they can choose to change it systemically. So I concur, theories are essential to stimulate imagination and to introduce new language that broadens the scope of consideration in others, but they are only truly beneficial when ‘balanced’ to avoid such basic mistakes as provoking ‘fear based defence mechanisms’. Leaders must understand human reaction, relative to sub-conscious imprinting from eee© (emotional environmental experience) and how this links to systems design in intricate detail, people must be considered along-side strategy, structure, tool and techniques if a change is to be managed such that it is sustained.

Change Management Frameworks
David Wilson, Manager, Canada, Premium Member
Based on David Bovis' comments regarding sustainable change - does that mean we can use the McKinsey 7S or Galbraith Star Models as frameworks for looking at change?

Change Management
David Bovis, Business Consultant, United Kingdom, Member
David, I've looked at mcKinsey's 7S etc. And as much as it recognises 'people' just as Nadler and Tushman do in their Congruence model, systems thinking did with closed loop deterministic vs open loop cybernetic systems, and Balanced Scorecard does etc. - they don't make the required connections to adequately detail the people system when in relationship with organisational systems - this is something I call 'systemic attribute reflection' which requires a clear understanding of negativity bias, cognitive dissonance, temporal detachment, blame, fear, imprinting, neural net construction through eee (multiple intelligences), false emotional memory etc. When you can see this, you can understand how, through a lack of immediate feedback potential across cultural layers, many standard practices inhibit confidence, creativity, innovation and other attitudinal requirements for sustained change. Where you challenge attitudes through such education, you challenge belief and therein lies a high performance culture.

The Use of Models and Frameworks for When Looking at Change
Models and frameworks which I find to be most relevant when looking at change initiatives / situations are that of the congruence model, more so because of its simplistic view / approach towards change, a more complicated version of this I find to be is the Burke Litwin Model.
You should also be viewing change through the relative images which may be associated to it, i.e. the navigator / director roles. I have found that Bolman and Deals four frameworks go hand in hand with this as it allows you to associate which images may be involved with the change.
I know it takes quite some time to interpret theories, models and approaches relevant to a change but I still believe they are worth more then what organisations think. Would anyone else agree with this?

Triangle of Fire and Change
Philip Oldfield, Project Manager, United Kingdom, Member
Change must have a value, often this is placed in terms of cashable benefits (organisationally), however, don't dismiss the importance of non-cashable benefits especially those of motivation and morale to your workforce. I have argued that change can only exist if applied with three key elements, leadership, communication and motivation. As with the triangle of fire (oxygen, fuel, heat: if any one of the three elements are missing fire cannot exist) the same principle applies to change, remove leadership, communication or motivation and change will fail. It is a combination of these theories that will ensure success. As a manager you must recognise the importance of describing or framing the change, setting the vision, communicating the change with its value and engaging with all stakeholders, whilst committing endless amounts of energy and enthusiasm to the change.

What's Missing in many Change Management Theories
Schon Beechler
The best book/article I have ever read on this topic is "The real reason why people won't change" by Kegan and Laslow, Harvard Business Review, 2001. It highlights the emotional and psychological barriers, the competing commitments, that often get ignored in many of the prevailing change management theories and frameworks.

Change Management Theories
Roger Dugas
Once we label something as a “change”, we immediately begin to make things more complicated than they are… People regularly face much bigger personal change than anything an organization could throw at them (leave home, move cities, get married, have children, bury family members) ... Unfortunately, change specialists often, irresponsibly and inaccurately, tell us that the typical reaction to any and all change is deeply emotional and negative; that changing something as simple as an expense claim form produces the same reaction as losing a loved one and we'll all need grief counselling... It's too dramatic and a little insulting... Unless people are actually losing their job because of the change they just want to know what the change is and what they have to do differently to comply... "Here's what the new form looks like and this is the information we want you to record"... Organizations seem unable to do that. So, the best change theory is the one that tells people what's changing and shows them how to do the new thing.

Change Management Vision
David Wilson, Manager, Canada, Premium Member
I agree that organizations need to tell people what's changing. The failure of many major change initiatives, is that the executives driving the change too often have a hidden agenda. People need leadership and a vision that is clear, innovative, and transparent for change to succeed. I have managed successful change, but only where the people trust the leaders will they follow.

Relevance of Change Management Theories
D P BABU, Strategy Consultant, India, Member
Shall we then simply say these are not theories, but only insights during management practices which keep on changing constantly.

Update on Change Theories
Based on the comments which have been received and my own interpretations of various literature and reflecting on my personal work experience I would like to say that theories shouldn't be discarded and I think there is some great value in using them as a guide at best. From what I can gather people aren't aware that theories don't need to be followed line for line etc they can be molded to fit in with other relevant models etc as well and I believe this is a point that organizations miss.

Change Management Theories
David Bovis, Business Consultant, United Kingdom, Member
Labelling something as 'change' when 'change' is inevitable and ethernal is a mistake that sets the wrong context. Suggesting any change is "deeply emotional and negative" is, as said above, irresponsible.
However stating imposed change and systemic design often provokes individual negative emotions, that, although not dramatic, do impact on organizational development and performance is wholly responsible and long overdue.

Consider Behaviour in Change Theories!
I find behaviour is linked to change, I also find that psychology gets discarded when it comes to the implementation of change. Although I mention psychology here loosely, I imply that it means that it needs to be taken into consideration when applying relevant theories suited to a particular change. I.e. what will the emotions be of a person when he or she is used to facilitate this change or plays a part within the theory itself. Theory can be interpreted as a jigsaw puzzle, with people as each piece. These people need to have a grade of skill or specific psychological make up etc before they can be the jigsaw piece.

The Problem with Change Management Theories
Schon Beechler
Building on the comments above, I think that part of the "problem" with our theories, as well as our practice, is that we continue to treat complex situations as driven by simple, linear causes. Why people change, and do not, is extremely complex. It includes factors within the person, the change agent(s), and the more general context. My original comment above is reflective of the fact that both in change theories and in organizations, I see a tendency to apply only logic and rationality when people, who are a mix of both rational and irrational, logical and emotional elements, are involved.

Change Theories are Tools You Can Use
Rebecca Roe, United States, Premium Member
I see relevance in change management theories because change is inevitable in order to grow and progress. I agree with many in this forum who wonder about the practicality. My opinion is that I am thankful that the people who develop and publish these theories are no more than scientists studying the human condition. They look at a situation and the variables surrounding the situation. They make a hypothesis, study the reactions and then develop the theory that would work the best in keeping chaos out of the change. No one really likes change, because there is a discomfort related to it. But the change manager uses these theories as tools like a good mechanic who picks the right tool for the job. I find these theories fascinating and am amazed that people watch each other's behaviors so much. It does help to know them so that as a manager I can anticipate reactions and somewhat keep the change as positive as possible and minimize the uncomfortable situations.

Relevance of Change Management Theories
ravin albert, Manager, South Africa, Member
It is crucial to understand the theoretical fundamentals underpinning change management. After all, theory without practice is sterile and practice without theory is blind.
Culture. Remember that empirical studies conducted in first world countries may not necessarily apply in a third world country, visa versa, however, the works of such people may be used as a guidance to understand and effect change. South Africa, for example, has a diverse workforce with different cultures. There are cultures within cultures and this complicates change management programs. Disrespect will definitely be met with resistance.
Good leadership, corporate ethic and communication are important when effecting change. Informing the workforce on its change management program and transparency, is non negotiable throughout the process. If possible, foster and encourage workforce participation. The success of any change management program ultimately depends on its people.

Change Management Application of Theory
Jon M. Huegli, Management Consultant, United States, Member
As one of the pioneers contributing in organization development and change management, both as a behavioral scientist and as an executive practitioner in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s when the fields were in their infancy, as well as into the present, I’m concerned. I would like practitioners to be excellent organizational effectiveness diagnosticians as well as excellent large system change catalysts. This calls for applying scientifically derived, predictive facts that together may form a theory as opposed to opinions, intuitions and guess-work. Too, I want to address the notion of achieving “organizational effectiveness”, as the reason to accept the costs and risks of large system change. We seem to assume that we all agree on what this phrase means and that initiating organizational changes contributes to it rather than destroys it.

Change Models Must Put People in the Center
Bomo Albert-Oguara, Manager, Nigeria, Member
The only change theory or model that matters to me is one that puts people right in the middle of change management. Change management involves the leader(person), people to drive the change, people to change their attitude to the imperative for change, people affected by the change itself, people to benefit from the new thinking, change is people, people is change.

The Detail of the People System
David Bovis, Business Consultant, United Kingdom, Member
I agree with Bomo in many respects. To fully understand the people system, i.e. the root cause of behaviours that become performance and generate profit, it is imperative to understand imprinting phases, fear based defence mechanisms, negative self-talk, the construct and protection of comfort zones, congruence, collusion, meta-cognition, reality tunnels etc.

Relevance of Change Management Theory
temitayo olutoye, Student (MBA), Nigeria, Member
I believe the theories give us a direction, they act as a propeller for the change. But, the human angle to change must not be overlooked. It must be driven by the leader but the leader must give the other members of the organization to share in his "vision for change", allow them to come up with their own compelling "change vision or stories" and then identify the change drivers.
In summary, the theories alone cannot bring about the desired change.

Relevance of Change Management Theories
ernest agbenohevi, Consultant, Ghana, Member
Change management theories can serve as a guide as well as providing an understanding to the process of change and the required responses.
Managers require a better insight into change management theories to avoid spontaneous responses.

Change Management : do Managers even Consider it?
ernest agbenohevi, Consultant, Ghana, Member
I believe that many managers may not be necessarily aware of of the backgrounds of change theory and are basically pursuing change.
Several organisations also do not monitor or evaluate the activities they undertake.

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