Change management from Theory to Practice

Change management theories and methods have been a hot topic for decades in strategic management, change implementation, and innovation implementation. Nowadays, in the information and technology industry, we see trends, such as, the digital transformation, digitization, automation, Digital Experience, and Customer and Citizen-centric approaches that lead to infinite change motives in the organizations and society that lead to new innovations.

Moreover, Change management projects have many different themes, for example, quality improvement, process improvement, re-engineering, reorganization, and organizations restructure. Although most of the organizations are trying to align with new trends and apply new changes effectively, the reported successful applied change projects were few and under specific circumstances and context (Kotter, 1995).

Change management is not only a theory, it is a practice that we can use not only in the organizations but within our daily lives, for example, pursuing a job or an academic scholarship, or even changing family habits. These types of motives, goals, or dreams lead to actions and a lot of hard work to satisfy these motives. I partially agree with (Dunphy 1996) who stated that:

“The basic tension that underlies many discussions of organizational change is that it would not be necessary if people had done their jobs right in the first place. Planned change is usually triggered by the failure of people to create continuously adaptive organizations”

(Dunphy 1996 as cited in Weick & Quinn, 1999)

In order to make people do their jobs right at any organization, their organization should empower them, the executives and managers should prepare those people and align their priorities with the organization strategy, and ensure that those people have the right capabilities to perform their jobs in the right way and to the intent expectation.

Burnes described the Lewin’s Group dynamics in his research that each individual is behaving mainly similar to the related group and its nature and characteristics. If we need continuously adaptive organizations, we need to ensure continuously adaptive capabilities of individuals and groups (Burnes, 2004).

For instance, The video below is a good illustration for that theory, and you can relate with your own experience during country, community, workplace, or with your family. Watch the below experiment and see how the group affects the individual.

Now, the second experiment below, we will see how the individuals change their opinions when there is a partner has the same agreement.

So, you cannot change individual without understanding the group behavior and dynamics.

In this article, we have examined and studied various articles in change management from 1985 to 2008 which discuss change management from different perspectives. and we categorized these articles to; articles that defined theories only, articles that discussed practice issues, and others that do both as shown in the table below.

1(Mintzberg & Waters, 1985)Strategies types and theoriesNo
2(Orlikowski & Gash, 1994)Technology FramesYes
3(Van De Ven, 1995)The four ideal-type development theoriesNo
4(Kotter, 1995)Yes, more like a practice guidelinesYes
5(Klein & Sorra, 1996)Implementation EffectivenessYes
6(Weinberg, 1997)The Satir ModelYes
7(Orlikowski & Hofman, 1997)An Improvisational Model for Change ManagementYes
8(Weick & Quinn, 1999)Types of ChangesNo
9(Ciborra, 2000)NoThe infrastructure management practices
10(Smith, 2001)Theory in use and espoused theory, and Single loop and double loop learningYes, Organization learning
11(Burnes, 2004)Lewin 3-steps model
12(Tjornehoj & Mathiassen, 2008)Control and drift for change management for SPI projects

The developed synthesis and definition of theories or practice in the articles were based if the author defined a new model for change management and if there are any cases for practices as evidence for this model in a practical usage besides the role of the leadership in the change implementation itself.

Are the change theories related?

Change Models

Most of the change management implementation can be categorized under Planned and Entrepreneurial change (Mintzberg & Waters, 1985) that initiated from central vision created by the organization’s executives and leaders. Those leaders try to impose, control, and implement the central vision and direction within the organization, that led somehow to transform this change to the process of steps to guide that change (Mintzberg & Waters, 1985).

The kind of change and the motives of these changes have been described in the four ideal-type development change (Van De Ven, 1995). Any change can be categories under lifecycle change, evolution, dialectic, or teleology (Van De Ven, 1995).

These types can be combined based on the motive or as described by Van De Ven as the change motors. Mainly, changes occur in the organizations to have more competitive advantages and sustain its leadership position and market share, for instance, this will create a vision and goals to achieve and pursuit that is similar to Teleology change theory. Sometimes the rationale of these changes is not only for gaining the competitive advantages but also for controlling the market and ensure that other competitions are applying wrong practices or to diminish an innovation similar to the Dialectical change theory (Van De Ven, 1995).

Other changes is for organizations survival especially for those that are losing their leadership position because they have lost the right time to apply the required changes and stayed in their old status quo and chaos stages without being able to proceed to the integrated stage and the “Aha!” moment as described in the Satir change model (Weinberg, 1997), we can see the motive here similar to the Evolution change theory (Van De Ven, 1995), that these organizations have to change to survive in the competitive environment. Organizations like Nokia (Doz, 2017), Kodak (D. Anthony, 2016), and recently Toys R US (Misamore, 2018) failed to identify the risk of new innovations in their industries and to apply the new change model to survive and sustain its competitive edge.

We can notice the life-cycle change theory in Software development practices, as the software evolves by time using a defined process and model to ensure its implementation and strategic fit and business alignment to the organization vision and goals (Van De Ven, 1995).

A mix of these models can be applied together as have been noticed in Microsoft for example. Microsoft has applied several changes during the recent years that can be characterized as life-cycle change, teleology change, and evolutionary change. Microsoft had a target to transform to one of the leaders in cloud service provider and provide more competitive advantages based on its core technologies. 

That’s why teleology change model can fit. Moreover, their understanding of how the innovation and technology industry is shifting to a more agile and cloud technology with more adaptation for change to survive in this competitive industry. Therefore, evolution change model is required to speed up this survival process.

A transformation like this needs a life cycle of learning, behavior change, skills, resources restructure, acquisitions, and adapting to the agile development process model that’s why a life cycle change model is required.

Change Behaviors and pattern

Regardless, of these 4 change models illustrated by (Van De Ven, 1995), these models did not describe the behavior and the pattern of the change itself. The behavior of the change is characteristics of how the required changes have been applied and evolved by the time known as the tempo of the change (Weick & Quinn, 1999).

Weick and Quinn identified the behavior of the change in two types mainly as an Episodic change or a Continuous change (Weick & Quinn, 1999).

The Episodic change is inertial and happens infrequently and discontinued, while the Continuous change is emergent and happens in a cumulative way. The description of applying the changes behavior has been illustrated better by (Orlikowski & Hofman, 1997), the change can be initiated with the technology implementation by different motives that describe the change model behavior, for example, the emergent change behavior is identified as a cumulative change has been emergent from another change was applied and was not planned but the technology in-use made this emergent change possible to be applied (Orlikowski & Hofman, 1997).

Change Behavior
(Orlikowski & Hofman, 1997)

The Change Effectiveness

Although, knowing the model of the change or its behavior and having a deep understanding of them cannot ensure the successful implementation of the required changes.

The work has been done by (Orlikowski & Gash, 1994; Klein & Sorra, 1996) are magnificent to highlight the difference between excellence in change planning and its implementation. We see a strong correlation between (Klein & Sorra, 1996) implementation effectiveness model and Lewin’s Action Research model (Burnes, 2004) as in Action Research.

(Klein & Sorra, 1996)

Lewin illustrated that to have a successful change, the change should be “felt-need” which is related to each individual in the organization to have the inner belief and realization of the necessity of the change to be applied.

This is similar to what Klein and Sorra described of the innovation-values fit, if the individual did not see how the change will benefit them and realizing the anticipated value (Klein & Sorra, 1996), the change will have a huge resistance and cannot be sustained which will make the organization back again to its old status quo (Weinberg, 1997).

We believe that innovation-values fit is a strong motive for each individual to participate in the change and make it happens and turn them to “let’s do it” behavior (Sandberg & Mathiassen, 2008).

Analyzing the technological frames is considered a very good tool not only to understand what are the implementation issues but also to plan the change correctly and see what are the drawbacks in planning (Orlikowski & Gash, 1994), for example, did we make the right planning for technology orientation to introduce the value of this technology?, How is this technology related to the organization strategy and its business?, Are the employees understand what their new roles, what, and how will they use the technology?

Applying these technological frames; Nature of Technology, Technology Strategy, and Technology in Use will not only lead to innovation but also implementation effectiveness of the technology.

Technological Frames by (Orlikowski & Gash, 1994)

Moreover, achieving the sustainable change and new status quo or the Refreezing stage as described in Lewin’s 3-Step model (Burnes, 2004).

Furthermore, building the congruence in the organization and build the conscious, competent, and capable individuals (Weinberg, 1997).

Leadership Behavior

The leadership, executives, and managers have a critical role in any change project and the model of their management and the level of control has an important role to have the top down or bottom up change behavior in the organization. Kotter illustrated 8 pitfalls that lead failed changes in the organization (Kotter, 1995).

(Kotter, 1995)

We can identify that most of them were related to the management mainly, for example, having a sense of urgency, creating and selecting a powerful coalition, and creating and communicating the vision. Moreover, the improper planning for short wins and celebrating the success too early. These leadership behaviors can lead to a failed transformation.

Another example of the leadership style of control of the vision and drifting from this vision in infrastructure management and software process improvement projects (Ciborra, 2000; Tjornehoj & Mathiassen, 2008), It is explained how firms strive for management control of technology adoption, but instead experience drifting due to forces of turbulent environments, implementation tactics, complexity of the technology, side-effects, surprises, and users’ resistance and creativity.

The issue mainly in the controlled management style that it increases the workload on employees to ensure that changes are applied and those managers do not give the employees the stabilizing duration to ensure their practice of the new capabilities they have just gained. The main goal for leadership to sustain the business and ensure the production continuity, so they sometimes lack imposing and implementing the right climate for change implementation in terms of policies, incentives, and skills (Klein & Sorra, 1996)

Furthermore, Ciborra illustrated that some drifts and shifts in technology changes can lead to more innovation (Ciborra, 2000), while we see that could happen in Culture-Excellence approach (Burnes, 2004) where instead of the traditional top-down, command-and-control style of management, the management should encourage the spirit of innovation, experimentation, and entrepreneurship through the creation of strong, appropriate organizational cultures with ensuring as well the guiding principles (Ciborra, 2000). Also, this can lead to the Ideological strategy (Mintzberg & Waters, 1985).

Similar approaches have been introduced by Smith of Model I and Model II management style (Smith, 2001) and also similar to the Processual approach and the Culture-Excellence approach accordingly (Burnes, 2004). Where the Processual approach and Model I, the management approach is a top-down and controlled environment, while the Culture-Excellence approach and Model II is more a bottom-up and shared control approach.

Managing Slowdown in Improvement Projects (Case Study)

Sandberg and Mathiassen identified four types of slowdown responses to the change in improvement projects, we can see that this work is very related to the employees and individual resistance for the change in different styles (Sandberg & Mathiassen, 2008). The case itself did not mention how the organization “Ericsson” attempted the change, what was the plan? what were the actions for that? and how they manage the engagement with different stakeholders before doing that change? .It defines practical and tactical actions for change agents to understand the slowdown behavior and how they should respond to each behavior.

The authors have identified four types of responses behaviors as following; “Great, but not now”, “Don’t show up”, “Say nothing”, and “Answer late” (Sandberg & Mathiassen, 2008). These types are dimensioned across the personal commitment and his/her attachment for the required change and the amount of the effort and allocation of the resources to participate in the change. The main goal of this research on how to transform these slowdown behavior to “let’s do it” and supportive and collaborative behavior (Sandberg & Mathiassen, 2008).

They have found that responses like “Don’t show up” and “Say nothing” are hard to manage and they can actually a stopper for the change project. The identified individuals who are not participating should be changed after trying to understand why are they acting like that and may lead to escalation as well (Sandberg & Mathiassen, 2008).

Unfortunately, we can see examples like that in most of the organizations today, although, this happens mainly because these individuals were not part of the initiated change, the management style was central controlled more than shared controlled. If we applied the model illustrated by Klein and Sorra, we can depict that organization may have a strong climate for the change implementation as they actually placed change agents for each improvement project but they had a poor innovation-values fit, which lead to resistance and lack of managers excitement and congruence with the change (Klein & Sorra, 1996). Moreover, if applied the technological frames, we can correlate the same behavior of the managers with the improper introduction of the nature of the change and how it fits with the organization strategy.

The authors identified a positive potential of individuals who responses “Great, but not now” and “Answer late” to be more aligned and engaged with the change project goals (Sandberg & Mathiassen, 2008). This will need some tactics like understanding their priorities, how do they see that change? how the changes are aligned with their plans and values? Moreover, if those types of individual are seeing a potential fit, it is easier to achieve the congruence of the shared values towards the organization goals and vision.

Although the authors have identified the slowdown behaviors and their responses, we see that some tactical actions can be very dangerous on the organization culture and can lead to a more controlled environment and unpleasant work environment, for example, recording the attendance for transforming the “Don’t show up” to “Show up”. This action regardless its results is a good practice unless it is known practice in the organization, because it mainly can lead to more aggressive and resistance behavior as described in Model I (Smith, 2001) as the author stated

“When someone is asked how he would behave under certain circumstances, the answer he usually gives is his espoused theory of action for that situation. This is the theory of action to which he gives allegiance, and which, upon request, he communicates to others. However, the theory that actually governs his actions is this theory-in-use”

(Argyris and Schön 1974: 6-7 as cited in Smith, 2001)

Moreover, the same author mentioned that:

“If my behaviour is driven by my not wanting to be seen as incompetent, this may lead me to hide things from myself and others, in order to avoid feelings of incompetence”

(Anderson 1997 as cited in Smith, 2001)

In this regards, we should understand what lead those individuals to act in this behavior to not only attend without value but to attend and participate.


It is notable, that each change project or change implementation is uniquely defined by this change characteristics, organization context, and the leadership and management style. One model can be very successful for particle type and size of an organization while trying to apply the same model to another similar organization can have a huge failure. Using the proper tools and techniques that can be adaptive with the context and technology in-use will be critical in shaping the change efforts and make it successful.

The understanding of the individual values, their dynamics within their related groups, their intention and realization of the technology or innovation usage, and encouraging them for ideas and experimenting ideas became mandatory in a fast-paced environment where thousands of small investment decisions are made every day in most of the large and small organizations. Without having the shared value fit, any change project will not succeed, while it is important as well that leadership identified the proper change points and have the proper climate for implementing this change.


Burnes, B. (2004). Kurt Lewin and the Planned Approach to Change: A Re-appraisal. Journal Of Management Studies, 41(6), 977-1002. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6486.2004.00463.x

Ciborra, C. (2000). From control to drift: The Dynamics of Corporate Information Infrastructures (pp. 15-40). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Klein, K., & Sorra, J. (1996). The Challenge of Innovation Implementation. The Academy Of Management Review, 21(4), 1055-1080. doi: 10.2307/259164

Kotter, J. P. (1995 – 2007). Leading change: Why transformation efforts fail. Harvard Business Review, 96–103.

Mintzberg, H., & Waters, J. (1985). Of strategies, deliberate and emergent. Strategic Management Journal, 6(3), 257-272. doi: 10.1002/smj.4250060306

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D. Anthony, S. (2016). Kodak’s Downfall Wasn’t About Technology. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: [Accessed 2 Nov. 2018].

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Cite this article as: Mohamed Sami, (February 2, 2019). "Change management from Theory to Practice," in Mohamed Sami - Personal blog. Retrieved October 4, 2023, from

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Change management from Theory to Practice
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Change management from Theory to Practice
Change management projects have many different themes, for example, quality improvement, process improvement, re-engineering, reorganization, and organizations restructure. Although most of the organizations are trying to align with new trends and apply new changes effectively, the reported successful applied change projects were few and under specific circumstances and context (Kotter, 1995)
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