Understanding failure to change: a pluralistic approach and five patterns

Understanding failure to change: a pluralistic approach and five patterns

Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to understand failure to change by examining patterns of coherent structure and agency characteristics in changing organizations in specific sectors and to provide specific recommendations for intervention in these patterns.

Design/methodology/approach: A large survey in 367 organizations engaged in different change processes and from different sectors, among employees in different positions.

Findings: The paper finds that there are five patterns among changing organizations, each with their own specific problems, characteristics, and change approaches that require different interventions.

Research limitations/implications: Parsimony in research models and the study of overall
relations between variables does not help to understand failure to change. More integrative approaches are needed that take variety among changing organizations into account.

Practical implications: Change agents should not opt for a "one best strategy" for change but choose a contingent change approach that takes into consideration the specific characteristics of their organizations, change processes, and contexts in order to make change more successful.

Originality/value: This paper establishes that successful change cannot be explained by one or a few variables but is contingent on an interplay of agency, structure, and contextual characteristics. Together, these characteristics form constellations that characterize different sectors. The paper provides suggestions for more successful change.

Keywords: Organizational change, Change management, Organizational behaviour,
Organizational culture

Paper type: Research paper

Author: Renate A. Werkman, 2009.

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