The World of Work Project

What Is Organizational Change? A Simple Overview…

It’s common for people to ask, “what is Organizational Change?” Put simply, it is the process through which large scale changes are achieved in organizations. Most organizational change programs have multiple streams of work and affect all, or most, aspects of an organization.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Organizational Change

Organizational change is the process of intentionally changing key aspects of an organization by delivering a series of change projects or programs. Aspects changes through these programs could include: organizational design, systems, employee experience, ways of working, culture, structures, or broader changes.

Ultimately, the purpose of any organizational change program is to help the organization become better equipped to deliver its strategic objectives.

There are many different aspects of organizations that can change through the delivery of organizational change programs. For our purposes, we’ll split these as either people related changes, or non-people related changes.

People related changes typically include things like culture and behavior change programs. These programmes typically introduce new ways of working at an organizational level. People related changes also need to take into consideration the individual psychological changes that all individuals need to manage themselves through as organizations develop.

Information Systems and Technology are the backbone of many organizations.

Non people-related changes can be thought of as changes to the artifacts, concepts and process of an organization. Changes of this type can include things like the introduction of new policies, changes to processes, modifications to strategy, alterations to systems and changes to structures

While it’s good to think of and conceptualize people and non-people related changes as different things, the reality is that in the messy world of organizations, they all end up becoming interrelated. They originate from different intentions, but ultimately are connected due to the systemic nature of organizations.

Organizational Change Models

Frameworks of organizational change (Such as the McKinsey 7S and the Burke-Litwin) help us understand the different factors that are affected when we introduce changes into an organization. Models of organizational change (such as Kurt Lewin’s and John Kotter’s) give us guidance on the best ways to actually lead change.

There are many different models out there, but our view is that most of them basically say the same thing. In essence they all try to overcome three core challenges associated with change:

People need to get ready to do things…
  1. When people aren’t ready to change, they will not change.
  2. If people can’t practice the changes that are being introduced, the changes will fail.
  3. When people can’t see the benefits of the new ways of doing things, they will probably revert to their old ways of doing things.

It’s worth looking at a range of models when you are planning your organizational change. It’s worth learning little from all of them, before selecting one to base your change program on.

Learning More

Organizations often seek to change and improve, and often use organizational development programs to do so. There are many models that seek to explain how change in organizations happens. Some models to consider in the first instance include Kotter’s 8 Step Model, Lewin’s Change Model and the ADKAR model.

Similarly, there are many models that seek to explain individuals change. These include the Bridges model and the Kubler-Ross change curve.

It’s worth noting that there’s a lot of discussion and challenge around organizational change theories. We have several podcasts exploring this, including this one which takes a critical approach to process models of change:


The World of Work Project View

We think organizational change is a fascinating and hugely important concept and activity.

Organizations spend nearly all their time changing, so organizational change is always taking place. In some ways organizational change is really just another way to think about organizational leadership.

There are many models of change that we look at elsewhere. But they key point that we’re interested in here is the distinction between people related change and other forms of change. In our view, the people side of organizational change is the essence of organizational leadership. We think it is a key skill for all leaders to work on.

Sources and further reading

Where possible we always recommend that people read up on the original sources of information and ideas.

The contents of this post have been based on our own experience and consideration of organizational change models.

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