Reasons why Organizational Change Fail

Organizational Change is an important concern of most modern day organizations. Through this process, an organization is able to optimize its performance as it strives to attain an ideal state. There are different triggers that drive or cause organizational change. Some triggers are external while others are internal to the organization. Change managers are tasked with the entire process of initiating, directing, and sustaining organizational change. This paper looks at the causes of organizational change, its targets, types, processes, forces, challenges, and management.

The modern day organization operates in a very dynamic environment. The management must therefore appreciate the fact that organizational change is necessary and must acquaint themselves with requisite skills to manage the change. Competition is cited as being one of the greatest motivators for organizational change. In essence, competition does not only cause organizational change, but also determine the rate at which this change takes place. It is estimated that the rate of organizational change is not going to slow down anytime soon (Kotter, 1994). The essay that follows will give an in-depth discussion of the causes of organizational change, its targets, types, processes, forces, challenges, and management.

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Simply put, organizational change can be defined as the changes that occur in an organization. These changes can either be episodic, intermittent, and discontinuous or incremental, evolving, and continuous. Organizations pursue change by optimizing its performance while working toward its optimum state. Organizational change can be triggered by a leader or by a dynamic industry or is can be occur in response to a current situation.

Reasons for Organizational Change

According to Jones (2004), there are many causes or triggers of organizational change. These triggers can be grouped into two categories; i.e. passive triggers and proactive triggers. Change that is caused by an ever-changing environment is an ensample of a passive trigger while a proactive trigger of change can be exemplified by a change that is initiated by a leader of an organization. Most organizations experience change when management or ownership of the organization is transferred to a more progressive executive team (Jones, 2004).

According to Van de Ven and Poole (1995), the causes of changes occurring in organizations can be explained by theories that include life cycle theory, teleological theory, and dialectic theory. The life-cycle theory believes that an organization that cycles through the states of birth, growth, maturation, and decline and that the environment in which the organization operates determines all these cycles. The teleological theory asserts that organizational change occurs in response to an organization’s drive to achieve a desired ideal state through a process of continuous goal-setting, evaluation, execution, and restructuring. The dialectical perspective theorizes that an organization is akin to a multi-cultural society that is burdened by opposing values and ideologies. When one force overwhelms the other, a new value, or goal is set, leading to organizational change.

The Major Targets of Organizational Change

Factors that influence organizational effectiveness are diverse in nature and include factors related to the improvement of internal management effectiveness and those related to external environmental changes. The management must consider the external environment, the internal conditions, and the reasons for the desired change. Leadership style, strategy, vision, structure, production technology, and culture are some of the commonest targets of organizational change (Teece, Pisano, & Shuen, 1997).

The vision of an organization captures its core values, which helps it, adapt to its external environment. Vision helps in achieving sustainable organizational change. Strategy denotes the organization’s long-term objectives and the resources needed to meet these objectives. Culture refers to the people in an organization, their collective norms, values, and basic assumptions. Change alters this collective values and norms. Typically, changing implicit culture is not as easy as changing explicit culture. Structure denotes the official authority relations of an organization. Structure change addresses changes in the power allocations within the organization. System is the formal procedures, policies, regulations that entail reward system, goal budget system, etc used to run the organization. Production technology transforms inputs into outputs. Leadership targets to influence the led towards some direction (Lucas, & Kline, 2008).

All the targets of change discussed above interact with each other to effect change. For instance, the realization of an organization’s vision depends on the adoption of an appropriate strategy that fits the culture of the organization in question. Additionally, the vision will only be realized if the organization has the right systems in place and that the leadership is willing to spearhead the process of organizational change.

Types of Organizational Change

Often times, managers are faced with the responsibility of determining how to respond to the forces of organizational change. Change managers are tasked with the duty of choosing the appropriate type of change that will help their organizations achieve desired results. These types of changes can be split into two broad categories; evolutionary and revolutionary change. Evolutionary change is gradual, narrow-focused, and intermittent. This aims at making gradual improvements that will help the organization adjust to the changes in its environment (Winter, 2003). On the other hand, Revolutionary change is rapid, abrupt, and broad in its focus. This is often resorted to when the organization needs to make a crucial change within a short period to keep the organization operational.

Evolutionary change takes different forms. Of these forms the socio-technical system theory, management by objective, and total quality management are some of the most common. The socio-technical system theory addresses the relationship between workers of an organization and the technology in use. Management by objective insists on regular meetings between the management and employees of the organizations. The purpose of these meetings is to evaluate work performance, discuss obstacles and challenges, and set future goals for the various work groups. Total quality management seeks ways to improve the goods and services offered by the organization.

Conversely, revolutionary change also takes three forms: reengineering, innovation, and restructuring (George, & Jones, 2002). Reengineering occurs when an organization carries out a radical redesigning of its business processes. This is done to stop inefficiencies and may be achieved by moves that include retrenching employees to cut on operation cost, elimination of departments to remove bureaucracy etc. Innovation looks at the successful application of skills and technology to develop goods and services that responds better to the needs expressed by the organization’s customers (George & Jones, 2002).

The Process of Organizational Change

Regardless of the type of change settled upon by managers, the greatest challenge often lies in the actual process of change. This section will apply Lewin’s force theory of change to understand the intricacies of organizational change. Looking at an organization undergoing change in the real world, Lewin hypothesised a three-step process that leads to successful transition or change: unfreezing, moving, and freezing (George & Jones, 2002).

Unfreezing begins by the members getting an understanding as to the reason for change; they need to be shown that there is a crisis. At this stage, sufficient information must be availed to the members defending the point that the current situation is not ideal. Then, it must be shown that the non-ideal situation jeopardizes some important goals or the vision of the organization. This will in effect cause the members to enter panic and anxiety mode. This will then usher a phase where solutions will be proposed, members will readily accept the solution to get rid of the anxiety occasioned by the non-ideal condition (George & Jones, 2002).

The moving stage involves changing the situation from non-ideal to ideal. This stage is complex and it is action-oriented and involves tasks such as goal setting, resource finding, support seeking, planning, and execution of the plan. Moving can take of either two forms; vision orientation and problem-solving orientation. Freezing seeks to stabilize the change achieved at the moving stage. Failure to stabilize the milestones gained during the moving stage can easily cause the organization to revert to the way of thinking and doing that existed at the unfreezing stage (Lucas, & Kline, 2008). During the freezing stage, the organization must form new rules and establish regulatory framework to check on the behaviour of the members all in a bid of internalizing the new values and behaviour into the culture of the organization.

Forces of Organizational Change

Lewin looks at an organization as an open system. He argues that two opposing forces are operational within the organization. These forces are the driving force, which attempts to push the organization forward, and resisting force, which attempts to prevent the organization from moving forward. When the driving force exceeds the restraining force in intensity, organizational change occurs (Lucas, & Kline, 2008). However, when the restraining force overpowers the driving force, the organization will stagnate in its current position.

Change managers must diverse foolproof measures or mechanisms for dealing with factors that hinder organizational change. Some of the active means that are available to the management include the gaining of the members’ support via communication, involvement, education, and participation. The change managers can also employ passive measures to eliminate resistance levied by the members. Some of the passive means at the disposal of change managers include coercion, negotiation, and control. It is up to the change manager to determine the appropriate means to use in implementing change (Lucas, & Kline, 2008).

Another framework available for change managers is proposed by Kotter. According to Kotter (1994), change managers can apply an eight-step change model to implement change in their organizations. These steps include creating urgency; forming a powerful coalition; creating a vision for change; communicating the vision to the members; removing obstacles; creating short-term wins; building on the change; anchoring the changes in corporate culture.

The success or failure of organizational change depends on a myriad of factors. Factors that contribute to the failure of organizational culture include quick fix expectations; and lack of systematic plan to sustain the change. Other factors include lack of sufficient readiness for change; placing too much focus on the change event instead of focusing on the attainment of desired results; poor management of the process of change; and a mismatch between the change plan and the context of the organization (Song, 2009). A careful consideration of these factors is advised, as their proper management will determine whether organizational change will be successful or not.

Readiness for change refers to a situation where the members of the organization are willing to adopt the change being suggested by change managers. Higher acceptance is often recorded in organizations where the management has taken its time to ready the members for the coming change. The probability of a successful organizational change in such an organization is higher than compared to an organization where there is lots of resistance (Song, 2009).

Another reason for failure of organizational change rests in the organization’s failure to take a systematic viewpoint while making a holistic plan for organizational change. For instance, a firm might choose to introduce change via education and disregard the other factors that may influence their employees. Additionally, the application of an identical change plan across all departments in an organization may be unwise because the departments are not similar (Song, 2009).

Another factor that precedes organizational change failure is the adoption of a quick fix approach by the change managers. This is often counterproductive because most changes need time to take full effect. Gradual change is rooted for because it allows the employees and management to have a good transition from the old system to the new. This will also allow the employees time to learn and familiarise themselves with the new system (Song, 2009).

Focus needs to be pegged on the goal of the change process not the actual process. This is the surest way to ensure the success of organizational change. When the members have their focus on the goal of the change, they will play their part in meeting the goal set. Finally, the organizational context and the change plan must match. It is impossible to apply a change plan to an organization if the plan for change and the context of the organization do not match. The change plan must be developed with the organizational context in mind (Song, 2009).



George, J. M., & Jones, G. R. (2002). Understanding and Managing Organizational Behaviour (3rd). New York: Pearson Education Inc

Jones G. R. (2004). Organizational Theory, Design, and Change. New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.

Kotter, J. P. (1994). Leadership change: The eight steps to transformation. In J.A. Conger, G.M. Spreitzer and E.E. Lawler (Eds.) The leader’s change handbook: An essential guide to setting direction and taking action (p.p 87-89). San Francisco: Jossey-bass.

Lucas, C., & Kline, T. (2008). Understanding the influence of organizational culture and group dynamics on organizational change and learning. Organization, 15(3), 277-287.

Song, X. (2009). Why Do Change Management Strategies Fail? Journal of Cambridge Studies, 4(1), 6-15.

Teece, D. J., Pisano, G., & Shuen, A. (1997). Dynamic capabilities and strategic management. (G. Dosi, R. R. Nelson, & S. G. Winter, Eds.) Strategic Management Journal, 18(7), 509-533.

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