Success and Failure in Organizational Change

Topics: Integrity, Value, Change management Pages: 44 (14763 words) Published: May 8, 2012
To cite this article: Bernard Burnes & Philip Jackson (2011): Success and Failure In Organizational Change: An Exploration of the Role of Values, Journal of Change Management,

ABSTRACT One of the most remarkable aspects of organizational change efforts is their low success rate. There is substantial evidence that some 70% of all change initiatives fail. This article explores the argument that a potentially significant reason for this is a lack of alignment between the value system of the change intervention and of those members of an organization undergoing the change. In order to test this assertion, the article begins by reviewing the change literature with regard to the impact of values on success and failure. It then examines Graves’ Emergent Cyclical Levels of Existence Theory and uses this as the basis of a method for identifying and aligning value systems. The article then presents the results from case studies of two change initiatives in different organizations. These support both the method and the assertion that value system alignment may be an important factor in the success of organizational change initiatives. The article concludes with recommendations for further research. KEY WORDS : Value systems, organizational change, Graves, ECLET


This article explores the argument that a potentially significant reason for the failure of change interventions is a lack of alignment between the value system of the change intervention and of those members of an organization undergoing the change. In order to undertake this exploration, the article will review the literature on the impact of values on change interventions; develop a method for measuring these values and designing change interventions which align with them; and test empirically in two small case studies both the argument and the method. The success of the two change interventions will be considered in two Correspondence Address: Bernard Burnes, Manchester Business School, University of Manchester, Booth Street West, Manchester M15 6PB, UK. Email: 1469-7017 Print/1479-1811 Online/11/020133–30 # 2011 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/14697017.2010.524655


B. Burnes & P. Jackson

respects: first, by assessing the acceptance of the content of the change, i.e. the nature or type of change being implemented; second, by assessing the acceptance of the approach taken towards implementation. Few doubt the importance of organizational change. In the early 1990s, Hammer and Champy (1993: 23) declared that ‘. . . change has become both pervasive and persistent. It is normality’. In reviewing the change literature since Hammer and Champy made this claim, Burnes (2009a) found that if anything the speed, magnitude, unpredictability and, consequently, the importance of change have increased considerably. This view is supported by a recent global survey by McKinsey & Company (2008) which found that only by changing constantly could organizations hope to survive. However, the McKinsey survey also found that some two-thirds of all change initiatives failed. Although this seems to be a staggeringly high rate of failure, there is much evidence to support it (Beer and Nohria, 2000a). Similar findings have emerged from surveys by other leading management consultancies such as Bain and Co (Senturia et al., 2008), by leading academics in the field like Rosabeth Moss Kanter (Kanter et al., 1992) and John Kotter (1996), and from reviews of the change literature (Smith, 2002, 2003; Burnes, 2009a). Therefore, organizations appear to be faced with a classic paradox: ‘We have to change but most of our change initiatives fail’. The key question, of course, is – why do so many change initiatives fail? Strangely enough, this is a question which has attracted only limited attention (Buchanan et al., 2005). Some writers point to shortcomings in either the planning or execution of the change process (Burnes and Weekes, 1989; Dent and Goldberg,...

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