Organizational change management analysis

Change in reference to an organizational context can be defined as a movement from one state to another in response to an opportunity or a threat which can positively or negatively affect the operations of an organization, (Kuriger, 2004 p. 1). This is a concept that pervasive in all organizations owing to a constant rise in the degree of change in the external environment. Organizational change, on the other hand, refers to a difference in quality, form or state overtime in an organizational entity. As Kuriger explains, some changes are planned in order to bring efficiency in operations of an organization or to meet new market demand. At the same time, some changes such as the departure of key personnel or loss of market demand are unplanned.

An organizational change can lead to simple changes which alter the way the employees perform their job functions as well as changes which are more dynamic, which alter the operations of an entire organization.  Whatever the case, a change in an organization usually leads to a change in an organizations culture (Kuriger, 2004 p. 1). Due to this, employees often believe that the introduced culture after the change may lead to uncomfortable working zones. Such employees tend to be negative about change, an attitude which is evident from their negative responses. At the same time, there are employees who embrace change and thus remain supportive to change implementation process in an organization. Organizational change management is thus an organizational process that aims at empowering employees to embrace and accept their new business environment after the change (Kuriger, 2004 p. 1). In other words, it is the challenge of managers to deal with the different responses by employees to organizational change. In regard, this paper gives an overview of the different responses to change that a manager may experience, as outlined in different sources within academic literature.

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Responses to organizational change

Before the 1990s, much literature on responses to organizational change focused primarily on resistance to change Pasmore et al, 2009, p. 235). According to Passmore resistance was largely viewed as an individuality trait that was difficult to change, pervasive and inevitable. Analysis of contextual and systemic dimensions of organizational change was rare. For example, Kurt Lewin (as cited in Pasmore et al, 2009, p. 235) developed a model of behavioural change in his book, Field Theory in Social Sciences, in 1951 in which he portrays resistance to organizational change as inevitable. He attributed forces behind resistance to change to personality traits. According to Lewin, the forces behind change battle against individual resistances characterized by habits, dislike of insecurity routines and the fear of the unknown.

But as Pasmore et al (2009, p. 236) noted, later studies in the 1990s explored a wider range of responses to change which challenged the traditional views of resistance to change. For example, Davidson (as cited in Pasmore et al, 2009, p. 236) suggested that resistance to change can be viewed as “anything that workers do which managers do not want them to do, and workers do not that managers want them to  do.” According to Davidson, emphasizing on the individual traits and their impact on the responses to change may obscure the multiplicity of different elements which lead to resistance to change. Similarly, Dent and Goldenberg (as cited in Boonstra, 2004, p. 320) proposed that typically, people do not resist organizational change, per se. often they resist loss of comfort, loss of pay, and loss of status but these cannot be termed as giving resistance to change. They resist being dedicated to; they resist the unknown, or they resist ideas from the management that they do not see as feasible. Dent and Goldenberg (as cited in Pasmore et al, 2009, p. 236) also argue that suggesting that resistant change is inevitable oversimplifies and dichotomizes responses to change and this results into unproductive and often volatile actions within organizations. The findings of a study conducted by Pasmore et al (2009, p. 236), which investigated the different responses of employees towards organizational were consistent with the argument of Dent and Goldenberg. They found that individuals do not resist change but the results of that change.

Other studies have proposed various ways in which employees can exhibit resistance. A study conducted by Greenberg, (as cited in Shapiro & Kirkman, 1999, p. 58) showed that it is likely for employees to perceive change as lacking “distributive justice.” Consequently, such employees are likely to have a more negative attitude towards the organization and to engage in negative behaviours such as stealing more from the company. Also, a negative attitude by the employees towards a company would lead to reduced productivity, low quality work, less corporation higher turnover intentions and cases of being less satisfied with their remuneration. Also, research conducted by Shapiro and Kirkman (1999, p. 56) produced similar results. They found that it is highly likely for employees to be dissatisfied with an organizational change. They found out that such employees perform fewer organizational citizenship behaviours or in other words, they are less motivated to perform extra-roles, which go beyond their call of duty. A similar study conducted by Bateman and Organ, (as cited in Shapiro& Kirkman, 1999, p. 58) found that when employees judge the process and the impact of organizational change to be unfair to them, they generally report the reduced level of organizational commitment.

The above findings are consistent with equity theory by Adams (as cited in Shapiro& Kirkman, 1999, p. 58). This theory predicts that when employees perceive organizational change as leading to distributive injustice, they are likely to reduce their levels of performance or in extreme situations, to quite. Shapiro& Kirkman (1999 p. 60) further suggested that such negative work behaviours and attitudes are likely to occur, too if employees anticipate that an organizational change will lead to imminent unfair outcomes. Zaltman and Duncan, (as cited in Shapiro& Kirkman, 1999, p. 60) supports this position and argues that “employee resistance has been generally being often to be greater when employees do, rather than do not, fear that a change will result in undesired outcomes, such as the loss of a currently satisfying job or working relationship.”

On the other hand, other studies have proposed that it is not always that perception of unfairness in the process of change lead to negative attitudes and work behaviours. According to Shapiro& Kirkman (1999 p. 60), negative reactions to change generally occur when employees perceive the procedure took or decision-making process by the management the guiding change to be unfair. According to (Shapiro& Kirkman 1999 p. 61), this effect has been largely observed when the process of change leads to negative consequences on employees such as pay cuts.  Bies and Tyler (as cited in Shapiro& Kirkman 1999 p. 61) further support this argument and argue that “… if an employee receives an unfavourable outcome or loses a dispute, but believes that the decision-making process was fair, the decision will be perceived as more legitimate and the employee will be less likely to challenge the decision-making authority”

Rashid et al (2004, p. 5) supports this argument and stresses that some employees may be resistant to organizational change while others may be receptive. Rashid et al (2004, p. 5), categorizes responses to change by individuals into three groups namely; cognitive, instrumental and effective. Effective response denotes the feeling of being anxious about change or being linked to satisfaction. A cognitive response refers to opinions that relate to necessity and usefulness and about the knowledge and skills that are required to handle change. On the other hand, instrumental is the actions that have already been undertaken or which are going to be taken to handle change. Raoprasert, & Islam, (2010 p. 30), also suggested three categories into which individual attitudes towards change can be grouped namely; affective, cognitive and behavioural.  Raoprasert, & Islam, (2010 p. 30), notes that an effective component comprises the feelings that an individual has towards an object which involves emotion and evaluation. This component is often expressed as a like or a dislike for a certain object. The cognitive component consists of the information that an individual has about a person or a thing which is based on what he or she believes is true. The behavioural component denotes the way that an individual intends to behave towards an object or a thing.

On the other hand, some studies have found that though employees are known to resist change, not always that their responses are negative. It is possible to find employees who are positive to change especially those with high degrees of self-confidence, personal competence and self-esteem. According to Stark et al (1999 p. 36), such employees support change and when aligned with a supervisor, they even support the implementation process by selling organizational change to other employees.  Generally, such employees see change as having a positive impact both to them and the organization. Similarly, a study conducted by Foster (2007, p. 10), showed that there are some employees who view change as a challenge and thus, they feel like they can do anything possible to support the process of implementation. Such employees exhibit ‘can do’ attitude in their approach to change. They may admit that the process of change implementation is a hard task but they are committed in their desire to rise to the challenge.

Graen & Graen (2009, p. 102) proposed that there are some employees who embrace change with enthusiasm more than others do. According to Graen & Graen (2009, p. 102), such employees perceive change as a natural part of an organizational revolution. They view an organization at a bigger picture and thus understand the value of change. As well, there are some employees who do not enthusiastically embrace change. Instead, they have an attitude of ‘maybe I could adjust to this change.’  Such employees may not be committed to change initially but after a period of self-examination, they agree to give change a chance. Cheng (2009 p. 25) further points out that, “they express a willingness to learn new techniques and procedures and do not sabotage change activities.”

Often, change leads to disruption of in the existing work related practices. As such, it is likely for employees to perceive change as a threatening situation leading to feelings of ambiguity and uncertainty (Seijts, & Roberts, 2009p. 193). Employees who poses a greater sense of competence and who feel like they are more part of an organization are more likely to welcome change.   A study carried out by Bandura’s (as cited in Seijts, & Roberts, 2009p. 193),  found that hospital employees with high levels of confidence in their ability to cope with change were more active in approaching and solving problems associated with change than those who had low levels of confidence. Similarly, a study conducted by Devices, Buelens and Bouckenooghe found that employees who believed that they had control over their personal success and the environment were more supportive to change compared to those who believed that they were being controlled by the culture of their organizations.  Similarly, the findings of a study done by Jimmieson Telly and Callan (as cited in Seijts, & Roberts, 2009p. 193) found that there is a positive relationship between confidence in an employee’s adjustment and capabilities in an organizational change including changes in the abolition of middle management positions, in reporting structures, reorganization of staff into new work units and relocations.

Other studies have found that an employee with positive perception of change can encourage other employees to embrace it depending on the prior relationship with them. According to Seijts, and Robberts, (2009 p. 192), the staff may be highly supportive to change if they feel that they are being supported or are satisfied by the actions of their supervisors or co-workers. Horwad and Frink (as cited in Seijts, & Robberts, 2009p. 193) conducted a study which included participants from police officers, fire fighters and administrators from various municipalities that had been restructured due to reduced budgets. They found that there was a positive correlation between satisfaction with co-workers and motivation to work. Another study by Devoes, Buelens and Bouckenooghe (as cited in Seijts, & Robberts, 2009, p. 195) found that support to change was minimal when employees believed that their supervisors could not be relied on or be trusted to provide assistance.

Employees can sometimes provide support to the management during the process of implementation of organizational change. But this highly depends on the existing the relationship between management and the junior staff.  A study conducted by Bernerth, Armenakis, Feid and Walker  (as cited in Seijts, & Robberts, 2009, p. 193) found that employees are likely to support change when they felt that the management had respect for them and had addressed their concerns during decision making. Another study by Foster (2007, p. 10) which investigated reactions of employees to merger found that trust in leadership highly affected the responses of employees to the perceived need for change and their perception of the value of the change. When employees are treated with dignity and respect and therefore appreciate sincere and timely communications in regard to the change, they are more likely to support the process of implementation of change.

According to (Seijts, & Robberts, 2009, p. 198), the responses to organizational change may be positive based on employees’ perception of availability of opportunities for personal growth and development. Usually, employees would want to experience a sense of meaningfulness in their jobs and to have a job with variety autonomy and feedback. Employees are more likely to respond positively to change when they perceive an organization as being ready to commit resources to them which would enhance personal development and increase chances of moving up to higher levels in their organizations.  In contrast, employees may be unsupportive to change if they perceive or feel that change would affect the security of their job tenure. A study conducted by Chawla and Kelloway showed that fear among the employees that change would negatively affect their job security was negatively related to openness to change and also trust in management. The findings of the study further showed that there was high possibility of employees withdrawing from the job if they feel that a change would affect their present positions negatively.  A similar study by Oreng (as cited in Seijts, & Robberts, 2009 p. 198) when an employee feel that change would lead to a transfer to a less interesting position, they are likely to be negative to the change.  Therefore, it is the challenge of managers to learn to handle the different responses of employees to change during implementation of the process of change.


In conclusion, the overview of literature on responses to organizational change has demonstrated that managers are faced with a challenge of overcoming resistance from some if not all employees. As noted, early studies on responses to change primarily focused on resistance and suggested that it is inevitable, all pervasive and which cannot be changed. However, later studies disputed that view and held that employees do not necessarily resist change. Instead, they resist the consequences of change. As this overview indicates, resistance to change can be exhibited in various ways such as reduced productivity, low quality work, less corporation higher turnover intentions and cases of being less satisfied with their remuneration, stealing from the organization in extreme cases, withdrawal. The vast literature on response to change express that for the process of implementation of change to be successful, it is a must for an organization to overcome resistance. But on the other hand, there are various studies that have focused on positive reaction to change. They demonstrate that, though in most cases employees resist change, it is not always that their responses are negative. It is possible to find employees who are positive to change especially those with high degrees of self-confidence, personal competence, and self esteem. In addition, some employees may be supportive to change, an attitude that may be demonstrated by enthusiasm, affective commitment, assisting management to implement change and encouragement of co-workers to embrace change. Generally, the literature on responses to organizational change as disclosed in this paper demonstrates that managers need to learn the kinds of responses they expect as well as the factors that influence them so as to ensure that the process of change is implemented effectively.


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