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Research essay (Essay topic: Contrast the planned and processual approaches to organizational change. Illustrate using examples from case studies in the textbook.)

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Approaches to Organization Change

Approaches to Organization Change


Organizations today are increasingly aware of the connection that exists between each other and to the global environment (Pettigrew, 2002). Due to the growing complexity of business environment, completion has become unpredictable and very hectic to manage and thus organizational change efforts should be re-evaluated. In order for organizations to survive the existing connectedness and complexity, they need to balance the traditional, planned and structural change strategies (Routledge et al., 2007). The 21st century has brought about many unvarying organization change. Today’s the complex and widespread change is inherently unpredictable. Organizations today consider themselves as less stable institutions and more subject to continuous change. The idea of organizational change has become more prevalent but sometimes is considered disruptive and prone to resistance. Therefore, change is always presented as a potential drawback to organization success and internal sustainability (Hassett and Paavilainen, 2013). Change is a fundamental feature of any organization on an operational and strategic level. For this, there is no doubt regarding the importance of identifying and managing change in organizations. Organizational change goes hand-in-hand with organizational strategy; both concepts cannot be separated. As a result of the importance of change in organizational, its management is required as part of managerial skill. The success of change management is a necessity for the success of organizations in today’s competitive business environment (Brown and Humphreys, 2006). There are many ways suggested by literatures on how to approach change. This paper will contrast the planned and processual approaches to change. It will illustrate this using case studies and theories in order to adequately establish the difference between the two.

Management of Change

Against background of technological advancement and a shifting in work practices and operations, change has become an important feature of any organization. While organizations appreciate the need for change, many change strategies do not attain their intended results. The success of a change process is determined by its acceptance of the employees. When faced with change, employees tend to undergo five stages of grief that include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (Langley and Tsoukas, 2010). Therefore, change agents should guide communication during the period of change in order to foster employee acceptance and engagement. Change management strategies are required to take into consideration the possibility of resistance and come up with ways to overcome it (Ford, Ford and McNamara, 2002). In response to the fundamentals of change management and change success, there is a many literatures researching for the concept of change management and frameworks contributing to its success. Within the literature, one influencing framework of the change management is the planned approaches which were developed by Lewin. These approaches argue that change involves three stage processes: unfreezing, changing and refreezing. Despite the essential of pre-planned stages of change process, many literatures suggest actions that organizations should embrace to increase the success of the change process. These approaches include the processual approaches that include creation of vision, creating sense of urgency, establishing leadership and empowering employee (Eilam and Shamir, 2005).

Planned Change Approach

Change agents become involved in the change process by necessity in the use of power and interpersonal influence (Dawson, 2003b). Power and politics are accepted dimension of the agents of change. The traditional planned organization change management approach involves a number of steps needed for altering and completely changing organizational and individual behavior. Planned change management approach is typically used once decision makers have identified the need for change after carefully analyzing and evaluating the business environment’s inhibiting and resistance forces. One of the forefathers of planned change strategies in organization studies came up with three stage model which has evolved to be the standard way of perceiving change in organizations (Alvesson and Svening, 2008). This model was founded on field theory, action research as well as group dynamics. This means that change entails pre-prescribed steps involving groups aiming at a particular goal. According to the theory, Lewis suggests a progression of his model through semi-stable stages in balancing the inhibiting and enabling environmental forces of change.

The first stage of change process involves unfreezing where obstructive behavior requires to be made overt and disconfirmed and concrete change need to be identified. In addition, the next stages entail ‘moving’ or change. This stage involves the implementation of change through trials and error and research style action. Once an effective change is identified and then implemented, another stage called refreezing begins which embed the new changes implemented in stages of quasi equilibrium in order for them to be learned and assimilated for future sustainability. The refreezing stage needs behaviors of individuals to be consistent with personality and environment. Today, change occurs at a faster rate and is nearly unfeasible to ally behaviors to environmental demands (Dawson, 2003a). Planned change strategies focus on group involvement coupled with trial-and-error testing. For this, they are highly criticized for being slow and static and can only work in times of stability and not in times of dynamic interrelatedness. In addition, planned change strategies can sometimes be unethical and fear-producing that supports top-down power structures (Buchanan and Badham, 2008). According to Lewis model, change may be initiated from just anywhere and is expected to occur within the change framework.

Furthermore, the Lewis model has been criticized for being ignorant of the environmental factors that tend to be inconsistent with the planned change strategies (Dawson and Andriopoulos, 2014). The criticism of the planned change management strategies is not unfounded since failure rates are seen to be high. Planned change initiatives fail due to many factors such as failure to establish urgency to change, under communicated vision, leadership problems, declaring victory soon and failure to establish powerful guiding coalition to name a few. Planned change strategies efforts get the credit for success in establishing new initiatives for survival. However, they rarely change the nature of organizations and challenges usually recur. This strategy nevertheless is suitable in an event where there is a need for structural changes. Structural changes alone are insufficient in guaranteeing organizational sustainability of change efforts (Bandura, 2007). Planned change initiatives focus highly on decreasing the restrictive business environmental forces while emergent change initiatives often focus highly on identifying the enabling forces in order to enhance them. An example of an organization that has used the planned change approach is the General Motor Company.

General Motors

The General Motor started its operations with old machinery which led to a trend of poor performance and low employee productivity (Chapter 6). In order to improve the productivity of the plant, a new plant manager was employed. He considered the problems facing the plant and implemented a five-year program that would change the situation. This program involved the unions, external collaborators and employees. The plant manager gained the attention of the employees by showing his commitment to the improvement program and threatening of job loss to the employees. These contextual conditions coupled with the readiness to work with the employees allowed the employees to commit to the improvement program. The first initial changes that took place in the plant brought about tension between the management and the employees and brought about serious impacts on employees attitudes. Once the climate for change was achieved, the plant manager employed a program to test for the effects of the change on employees. He then turned his attention to selling the change idea to the employees in order to acquire their support (Chapter 6).

In implementing the change process, the plant manager also built an external collaborative support in phrases (Chapter 6). This was followed by the implementation of the cellular work arrangements. Throughout the entire change process, there was some resistance that occurred which made it difficult for the change process to be implemented. The whole change process from the initial stage to the last stage took more than ten years. Throughout the program, the physical restructuring of the plant was accomplished but it took a long time to accomplish which illustrate the amount of resources and dedication that was needed. In addition, gaining the confidence and acceptance of the change process by the employees was a very essential thing to be done by the plant manager (Chapter 6). Wining the employee engagement was the norm in the company since without them; the change process would not be possible (Chapter 6). From the case study, we can see that the plant manager utilized the planned management change approach in implementing the change. The plant manager advocated a program with sequence of stages starting from the initial stage through transition to the last stage. In addition, the approach used focused on the importance of employee engagement in gaining commitment. First, the manager created a need for change and minimized resistance. Second, he implemented new systems of operations and thirdly he reinforced the desired outcomes and ensured they were habitualized.

Processual Change Approach

According to the processual approach, change is considered a complex and complicated framework that is subject to resistance (Clausen, Dawson and Nielsen, 2000). The processual initiative for identifying organizational change is used identifying how organizations move from one point to another. This approach is entirely based on the assumption that change concept is complex and chaotic. It identifies the fact that the unplanned and unforeseen will occur and that organizational change should not necessarily be reduced to simple sequential steps. The initiative highlights the fundamentals of temporarily concept, political processes and power plays that tend to engage individuals in negotiations and communications that can be misinterpreted in many ways that create uncertainties and confusion (Clausen, Dawson and Nielsen, 2000). In addition, processual approach highlights how equivocality may be resolved through a number of sensemaking processes while sustaining conflict interpretations that may be resolved through the change process. Therefore, processual model do not try to resolve deviant information but to offer narrative accounts of complex dynamic of people within an organization (Pettigrew, 2012). The processual approach is aimed at examining change processes since they emerge with the objective of identifying and establishing interlocking patterns of activities to gain temporal understanding.

According to the processual approach of change, factors that shape the change process include sensitivity to how people make or give sense to the experience of change and how change stories describe and shape processes people seek to explain (Clausen, Dawson and Nielsen, 2000). In examining this factors, the theory sets out three interrelated clusters; the internal context such as people, culture, technology and other contextual elements related to the external environment, the political activity in the organization like the collaboration and conflicts between people and external processes and the substance of change including content, scale and capacity of change (Bandura, 2007). The context, politics and core substance of change tend to overlap overtime as people make and give sense to organizational change processes. The claim of processual approach of change agrees with the contingency theory in highlighting that planned change is not enough and appropriate enough in uncertain environments.

This approach does not necessarily view the non-linear frameworks of change as only applicable in turbulence environments nor does the approach reject the concept of planning (Brown and Humphreys, 2006). It agrees with the fact that there are critical occasions and circumstances that require radical change. Over the years, there have been an increasing number of organizational change approaches which has drawn attention to establishing the best approach. The processual approach to change is not against the notion about planning for change. It point out the fact that change is unpredictable and there is a need to adapt to the unforeseen twists and turns that often occur in an organization (Brown and Humphreys, 2006). In addition, in wanting to make sense of how change process unfolds, the processual approach to change offer an insight into both temporal and continuity reshaping of change. One of the criticism of processual approach to change is the notion that the approach is limited by the structure of Lewin’’s 3-step approach (Brown and Humphreys, 2006). In addition, the use of the concept of ‘ice-toping’ in position of refreezing is insufficient to the change process. The approaches also sidestep the political scope and power in addressing the concept of change process. The planned change approach can be understood better by use of a practical example.

Washdale Manufacturing

Washdale manufacturing company is a washing machine factory that experienced organizational change as a result of the appointment of new plant manager. The changes that took place concerned the night shift operations (Chapter 7). In the factory, there has been complains regarding machine breakdown with no justifications for the problem. As a result, there was reassertion of the night shift in order to identify the root of the problem. In the midst of night shift, the operators had modifies their work patterns in order to have some sleep time and this increased the incidence of machine breakdown as result of working the machines hard in order to meet their target fast (Chapter 7).

In order to solve the problem, here was an introduction of a change programs that offered a clear signal to workers about the position of the management in tolerating inappropriate behavior. This was done by restructuring the workplace arrangements. The night shift workers did not do anything except adapt to the standard practice (Chapter 7). Work routines and job expectations were reinforced overtime by development of group vales that support certain behaviors while discouraging others. The night shift workers had no other choice but to adapt to the common practices. However, many employees supported the harsh stunt pulled by the management (Chapter 7). By disciplining the non-compliance employees, the management raised morale among the workforce. The approach in this case study that was used by the management to overcome resistance to change proved to be effective and thus the change in the factory was backed up by employees. This example highlights the use of process management approach to change. In the case study, the management understood that change is successful when power is exercised. In addition, they made sense of the change that enhanced the readiness among the night shift workers. This was done through the creation of program for employee involvement.


In the current competitive business environment, organizational change is a core part of the success of an organization. However, change is considered a complex process that can have negative impacts on the organization. For this, an appropriate change management approach is required that can enable the change process to be successful. While organizations appreciate the importance of change, many change approaches do not attain their intended purpose. There are two frameworks for change approaches include the planned and processual approaches. The planned approaches to change were developed by Lewin who establishes that the change process involves three stages; the unfreezing behavior, moving to new behavior and the last one is refreezing current behavior. Nevertheless, these approaches have been faced with criticism. For instance, they are seen as simple and mechanistic models and are accused of not utilizing the role of power and politics. On the other hand, the processual approaches consider change as a complex framework and argue that the change process should be reduced into simple step process. It establishes how resistance may be resolved through a number of sensemaking processes while sustaining conflict interpretations that may be resolved through the change process. It argues that the change process is non-linear process that does not pass through stages. However, the critics of the processual approached argue that the use of the notion of ‘ice-toping’ in the position of the refreezing stage is insufficient in the change process. The approaches also sidestep political scope and power challenges.


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