Module 3: Theory and Practice of Change Management

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Theory and Practice of Change Management

Types of Change

Planned and Emergent Change

Sometimes change is deliberate, a product of conscious reasoning and actions - planned change.

In contrast, change sometimes unfolds in an apparently spontaneous and unplanned way, this type of change is known as emergent change.

Change can be emergent rather than planned depending on two factors:

Factor 1

Managers make a number of decisions apparently unrelated to the change that emerges. The change is therefore not planned. However, these decisions may be based on unspoken, and sometimes unconscious, assumptions about the organization, its environment and the future (Mintzberg, 1989) and are, therefore, not as unrelated as they first seem.

Such implicit assumptions dictate the direction of the seemingly disparate and unrelated decisions, thereby shaping the change process by ‘drift’ rather than by design.

Factor 2

External factors (such as the economy, competitors’ behavior, and political climate) or internal features (such as the relative power of different interest groups, distribution of knowledge, and uncertainty) influence the change in directions outside the control of managers.

Even the most carefully planned and executed change program will have some emergent impacts.

Planned and Emergent Change (Continued)

This highlights two important aspects of managing change.

The philosophy of the institution - themes like equity and diversity, widening participation, striving for excellence in teaching; research reputation etc.

Understanding that organizational change is a process that can be facilitated by perceptive and insightful planning and analysis and well crafted, sensitive implementation phases, while acknowledging that it can never be fully isolated from the effects of serendipity, uncertainty and chance.

An important (arguably the central) message of recent management of change literature is that organization change is not fixed or linear in nature but contains an important emergent element.

Episodic and Continuous Change

Another distinction is between episodic and continuous change.

Episodic Change

Episodic change, is ‘infrequent, discontinuous and intentional’. Sometimes termed ‘radical’ or ‘second order’ change, episodic change often involves replacement of one strategy or program with another.

Continuous Change

Continuous change, in contrast, is ‘ongoing, evolving and cumulative’. Also referred to as ‘first order’ or ‘incremental’ change, continuous change is characterized by people constantly adapting and editing ideas they acquire from different sources.

At a collective level these continuous adjustments made simultaneously across units can create substantial change.

Episodic and Continuous Change (Continued)

The distinction between episodic and continuous change clarifies thinking about an organization’s future development and evolution in relation to its long-term goals.

Few organizations are in a position to decide unilaterally that they will adopt an exclusively continuous change approach.

They can, however, capitalize upon many of the principles of continuous change by engendering the flexibility to accommodate and experiment with everyday contingencies, breakdowns, exceptions, opportunities and unintended consequences that punctuate organizational life.

Scales of Change

By using the previously mentioned characteristics, proposed changes can be placed along two scales: radical - incremental and core – peripheral (As indicated below).

Plotting the character of a proposed change along these scales provides a sense of how difficult the introduction of any particular initiative might be and how much disturbance it might generate.


Radical changes to an institution’s or department’s core business will normally generate high levels of disturbance; incremental changes to peripheral activities are often considered to be unexceptional and can be accommodated as a matter of course, especially if the group involved has a successful past record of continuous improvement.


There are many different models and theories of change as change defies simple attempts to categorize and organize. The last few decades have seen a number of popular theories.

The next unit identifies some of the key theories that have influenced change management thinking over the past 100 years.


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