Change Process Theories: A Review
Four types of Organizational Change Theories: Van de Ven and Poole • Dialectical: Kurt Lewin
o Lippitt, Watson, and Wesley
o Bartlett and Kayser
o Edgar Schein
o Prochaska and DiClemente
• Life Cycle: Ichak Adizes
An enduring quest of management scholars is to explain how and why organizations change. The processes of change or sequences of events have been difficult to define, let alone manage. Researchers have borrowed many concepts from many fields of study, including sociology, biology, and physics. Van de Ven and Poole (1995) proposed four categories of organizational change: dialectical, evolution, teleological and life cycle.
Dialectical theory is the development of an organization through the conflict, competition, and/or collaboration of internal or external interests, wherein the status quo is changed regardless of the overall benefit or detriment to the organization. Evolutionary theory views organizational change as the cumulative change brought about through the continuous cycle of variation, selection and incorporation, and retention, caused by competition for scarce resources, environmental change or imposed conditions. Teleology is the purposeful development of an organization towards a defined end result or in line with a predetermined collective ideology by means of repetitive sequences of goal definition, implementation, evaluation and modification. Finally, Life Cycle theory is the linear, organic development of an organization from a homogenous, undefined entity to a differentiated, structured entity through accumulated experiences arising from the pressure of external events as mediated by internal logic, rules or programs. Within these four categories, I present six theories of organizational change to illustrate the underlying concepts within each category. Dialectical Theory
Kurt Lewin is widely regarded as one of the pioneers in the study of change processes. A social scientist, Lewin postulated that human behavior is based on a relatively stationary equilibrium of two groups of forces. While driving forces facilitate change by pushing in the desired direction, counterforces known as restraining forces immediately sprout to hinder the change. When a significant change in these forces occurs, behavior must also shift to maintain equilibrium. After equilibrium is reached, the new behaviors gradually become the standard for maintaining the status quo. Lewin described this process in his article, Frontiers in Group Dynamics: “A change toward a higher level of group performance is frequently short lived; after a “shot in the arm” group life soon returns to the previous level. This indicates that it does not suffice to define the objective of planned change in group performance as the reaching of a different level. Permanency of the new level, or permanency for a desired period, should be included in the objective. A successful change includes, therefore, three aspects: unfreezing (if necessary) the present level, moving to the new level, and freezing group life on the new level” (p 34). The Evolutionary Theories
Lippitt, Watson, and Westley expanded on Lewin’s work by introducing the idea of a relationship between the change agent and the ‘client’ or organization to be changed. Lippitt et al.’s theory proposes seven phases. The first phase focuses on developing a need for change. A client must not only be aware of a problematic situation, but must believe a better state of affairs is possible, and that the change agent (whether a consultant or method) is relevant and available. Phase two is the establishment of a change relationship. As with any human relationship, one of the most delicate yet absolutely crucial elements in forming the change relationship is the first impression. “Often the client system...
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Prochaska, James, DiClement, Carlo, and Norcross, John. In Search of How People Change: Applications to Addicitive Behaviors. American Psychologist.47. 1102 – 1114.
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