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Research essay (Essay topic: Contrast the planned and processual approaches to organizational change) Example

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Change is inevitable in any organization’s growth and largely affects the performance of that particular organization. Its management involves a process guided by perceptions, context, constraints, nature of the change and applying appropriate procedures. A planned approach to change assumes that the organization environment is well known, and changes done by facilitating movement of one condition to another. In this approach, values, attitudes and beliefs that form the foundation of the organization’s structure are considered. The management uses an approach that is consistent with the existing organizational culture and behaviour. The group and environment in which he or she performs influence employee’s behaviour. To attain effective change, the management needs to understand the groups in which the employees are working in and their environment. This is because an individual behavior does not occur in isolation (Nasim & Sushil 2011).

Managing change is very important in an organization. This is because change is inevitable in any organization and it faces a lot of resistance from employees. To maintain stability and healthy performance, the management needs to ensure that employees can adapt to the impeding change. There are different approaches and theories of managing change. Planned approach and processual approach are part of these procedures. (Planned approach concentrates on individual behavior and group behaviour of employees to facilitate change. According to this approach, management needs to study and understand the behaviour of its employees individually and in groups. It emphasizes on the fact that individual action does not occur in isolation but is a product of group behaviour and the environment. It is, therefore, important for the managers to observe group behaviour before initiating change (Stace & Dunphy 2001).

The processual approach focuses on inter-relatedness of groups, organizations, individuals and society. Change is viewed to be very complex in processual approach. It involves political struggles, different perception, rational decision- making and coalition body. It emphasizes on the redefinition of tasks, sharing information, reliance on experts, employees’ interactions and loyalty as key aspects for a successful change (Nasim & Sushil 2011).

Planned Approach

This approach to organisational change foretells evidently the difference between the desired state and the present state as well as the method to achieve the desired state. This method assumes that there is a smooth sailing from the present state to the desired state without making substantial disturbance from the internal and or external aspects. This model contains three distinctive parts, these are planning (preliminary data gathering and diagnosing), implementing (taking action) and results (change in behaviors, data gathering and evaluation). One of the major shortcomings of the planned approach model is that it assumes that a single approach to change is appropriate for all organizations in all circumstances and at all times. This is not possible. Moreover, it involves putting down of schedules as well as methods in advance. This disregards the dynamic and complex nature of organisational and environmental processes. Also it does not address some critical issues like the continuous need for employee flexibility and structural adaptations.

Pettigrew promotes this approach. Pettigrew argues that direct action and response arise from a range of reasons developed by different rationalities evolving from individuals and groups. Change creates tension over the distribution of existing resources that threatens the position of some employees while providing opportunities for others. This may result in some employees losing their jobs. In [chapter 7], the night shift group came up with a behavior that affected all the individuals in this group. A new employee joining the team had to conform to the already set standards. It was very difficult for a new individual to come in and erode this culture of manipulating the machine cycles. This is because each had internalized the behavior in the group (Burnes & Jackson 2011). Consequently, change results in power simulations and heightened political activities. Political energy is greatest in the initial stage of change as opposed to the implementation duration when many constraints occur (Finnegan & Currie 2010).

Kurt Lewin Theory

Lewin Kurt was a humanitarian who believed that human condition in a conflict improved by resolving the conflict. He believed in learning to enable an individual to understand and restructure their perception in addressing social conflicts. He came up with four themes; field theory, group dynamics, action research and 3- step model that supports and reinforces the understanding of planned change based on human behaviour (Burnes 2004).

Another aspect of this approach is the mechanistic system. This is appropriate for organizations using same technologies and operates in a relatively stable market. It comprises of precise definitions of tasks and control responsibilities, insistence on loyalty to the concern, emphasis on task skills, hierarchical lines of authority, the tendency for vertical interactions, local knowledge, and experience. In this case, change will arise from innovation and willingness of employees to tackle unforeseen requirements and recent problems. It involves reliance on expert knowledge for decision-making, authority, and communication, the continual redefinition of individual tasks through interaction with others and training, the spread of commitment to the firm and network structure control (Finnegan & Currie 2010).

According to Lewin, understanding and identifying the potency of environmental forces would help the organization to know why individuals or groups behave the way they do and how this helps to bring about change. He observed that behavioral change was a slow process but under certain circumstances, the various forces in the field could shift radically and quickly. In [chapter 6], the plant manager realizes the need to restructure the machines and acquire better tools. These involved discussions with experts and senior management team. The machines relocation created a better working environment for workers since it reduced noise in working environment and the risk of back injuries. The improved working conditions motivated the employees thus impressing the change. However, this took time for the forklift drives to accept since they felt the reduction in the number of forklifts would cost their jobs (MacIntosh & MacLean 2001).

Field Theory

In this approach, group behaviors’ complexity and totality occurs in the field in they are. To understand any situation, it is important to know the present, maintained by certain conditions and forces. He states that group behaviour is a set of symbolic interactions and forces that affect that particular group. Therefore, individual action is a function of the group environment. In [chapter 6], the plant manager recognized the importance of groups in which employees operated. When he wanted to come up with new work cells, he interviewed employees to get their opinions. The discussion with employees was favorable. He also engaged the unions and small group of employees. This, later on, made it possible to work with the work cells. This is because the employees could easily interact. This would create teamwork spirit that will enhance the group behavior and, later on, impact individual behaviors (Burnes 2004).

Group Dynamics

In this concept, Lewin emphasizes on group behavior as opposed to individual behavior. He states that it is fruitless to concentrate on individual behavior. This is because a person in isolation is constrained by the pressure to conform. He further explains that change should focus on factors such as interactions, group norms, socialization process and roles to bring disequilibrium. He recognizes the need to provide a process where individuals of a group will be able to engage in and commit themselves to changing their behaviors. In [chapter 6], when the new plant manager came in position, he realized the importance of involving employees and their trade unions in initiating change. He decided to operate an open door policy where he could work with employees and the trade unions to resolve their industrial relations problems. He also recognized the need to clean the working environment backed by all employees. His willingness to involve employees at each stage of change made it easy to meet the objective .This is because the employees attitude towards him improved and a climate of hope in the future was nourished (Burnes 2004).

Action Research

In this approach, Lewin emphasizes that change requires actions directed at achieving it. This involves analyzing the situation correctly, identifying possible solutions and choosing the most appropriate approach to the situation at hand. He explains that change can only be successfully when individuals can reflect on it and gain insight on how they will gain from that change. In [chapter 6], the plant manager was able to make employees recognize how the change will give them an opportunity to retain their jobs after there had been a notion that the company would shut down. He assured the employees and their trade unions that he was willing to work with them to solve any industrial relation problems. Realizing how this change would help them get a better working environment and still keep their jobs, employees easily impressed the issue of change. They were willing to listen to his opinions on revitalizing the plant and commercial viability. This made it easy for the plant manager to achieve the desired change (Matthews 2002).

Three -Step Model

In this model, Lewin comes up with three steps to have a successful change in an organization. He argues that human behavior is on a quasi-stationery equilibrium that needs to destabilize before the old behaviour discards and the new behaviour is taken in. This is the first step to change that he calls unfreezing. After unfreezing which creates the motivation to learn, forces have to be in place to identify and evaluate available options that would enable an individual to move from the inacceptable behavior to the acceptable behaviour. Finally, refreezing which involves stabilizing the new quasi-stationery equilibrium to ensure that the new behaviors are safe from regressing take place. At this stage, there is a need to change organizational norms, policies, culture and practices. This will transform the groups’ rules and routine to ensure sustainability of the new behavior. In [chapter 6], the plant manager was opposed to this principle. According to him, the freezing process was not necessary. He recognized the need to create a climate that would give employees a hope for the future and a positive attitude towards him. This was opposed to the freezing process that required changing of norms, policies and practices in an organization (Burnes 2004).

The planned approach to organizational change has faced some criticisms. One of them is from the culture excellent school that argues that the world is ambiguous and detailed plans are impossible. It emphasizes on flexibility to ensure a smooth transition for successful change to take place. According to Peter, who promotes culture excellence approach, organizations need to prompt based on shared values, culture and loose controls as opposed to strict rules and close supervision (Burnes & Jackson 2011).

Another criticism comes from the processual approach to organizational change. It argues that planned approach does not consider the need to analyze and conceptualize organizational change. It also states that the approach is too prescriptive. The processual approach emphasizes on the need to incorporate political analysis in managing change (Macbeth 2002).

Processual Approach

This method takes a contextual view of an organization and its environment. It emphasizes on change as a continuous process influenced by culture, politics, and power. It sees change as a process where individual parts of an organization deal separately and incrementally with one problem at a time. According to this approach, organizations transformations arise when managers respond to pressures in their external and internal environments. It assumes that change is complex thus cannot be listed in simple sequential steps. The approach recognizes that organizational change is unexpected, unplanned and unforeseen. It aims at examining how the change process emerges and interweave overtime to understand the interlocking patterns. It also involves identifying how people make sense of their experiences of change and the influence of the place in which change is taking place. The approach identifies three factors that shape the process of change which include; internal and external context, politics within the organization and substance of change (Battilana et al., 2010).

Internal context refers to people, core business, technology, history and culture of the organization. External context, on the other hand, comprises of business market shifts, legislative change, political and social events. Political activities within the organization refer to conflicts and collaborations between individuals and groups in an organization. The substance of change involves the scope of change, scale, and content. In providing a holistic view of change, the approach provides multilevel analysis such as external conditions, social, economic influence on internal group behavior and horizontal analysis of studying organization. This is done regarding the past, present and future (Benn at el., 2014).

In contextual aspect; lack of vision and absence of leadership, insufficient commercial pressure and satisfaction with the status quo are the chief hindrances to change. Therefore, there is a need to have integrative structures and cultures in an organization. This will facilitate problem identifying and acknowledge, attention directing, vision building, information sharing, problem solving and commitment building. These factors will then enable the creation of the desired change. In [chapter 7], machine breakdown occurred during the night shift. This is because employees in this group did not have supervision. The absence of leadership in this group made it easy for the employees to come up with a culture that would suit their needs (meet targets and get some time to sleep).This led to manipulation of machine cycles causing the frequent breakdown. When the management came in place, they discovered the problem and fixed it. This indicates how management is crucial in running of any company and implementing change (Palmer et al., 2009)

Leadership is also important in initiating strategic change and facilitating movement from segment list to integrative structures and cultures. In [chapter 7] the management realized that there was something wrong with the night shift operations. Though they were able to deliver on the numbers, there was the frequent breakdown in the machine. They, later on, discovered that the employees working on the night shift had developed a culture that would enable them to meet targets and still get some time to sleep. They manipulated the machine cycles so that they could speed up its operation. The daytime employees knew about this but left it upon the management to discover on their own. The leadership took an initiative to observe what happened during the night shift. They then came up with the decision to ban the night shift, which positively accepted by the day workers because it was entirely the leaders’ initiative (Finnegan & Currie 2010).

The processual approach, just as the planned approach faces some criticism. One of the critics argues that complexity and richness of multi-level analysis do microscopic to simplify the process of change. This renders the approach largely impenetrable for organizational practitioners. It is also limited to how managers can best implement change. It leaves out the non-managers category in the organization that is part of implementing change. Despite this criticism, some practitioners in decision making in an organization when change is required have impressed the approach (Todnem 2005).


Managing change is very vital in an organization. This is because change is inevitable in any organization and it faces a lot of resistance from employees. To maintain stability and athletic performance, the management needs to ensure that employees can adapt to the impending change. There are different approaches and theories of managing change. Planned approach and processual approach are part of these procedures. Processual approach considers contextual view and analysis of organizations’ environment for successful change. This operates under the guise that change is complex and cannot be concentrated on employee behavior only. It examines how organization structures, authority, and communication, technology, sharing of information, involving experts and employees’ loyalty can effect change. According to this approach, change comprises of innovation and willingness of workers to handle unforeseen requirements and further problems. Successful change should involve continual redefining of the task, reliance on expert knowledge, interactions among employees, emphasis on skills and sharing of information (Poole & Van 2004).

The department in an organisation tasked with planning and implementing organisational change must be very keen on details. Mostly, they must keep track of organisational culture as well as where the culture is headed if they are using the planned approach. Where the appropriate organisational change is used, the organisational will be prepared for new culture, increase in creativity and productivity. The new culture makes it easier to institutionalize change. Although it may not guarantee successful institutionalization and implementation of the change, it will certainly improve the chances of success.


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Palmer, I, Dunford, R, & Akin, G, 2009, managing organizational change: A multiple perspectives approach. New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin.

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