  Chapter 

Phases of the Organization change and the role of the leader

Although processes are never linear, it is still important to think about planning process in terms of phases. Phases are not discrete but overlap. Two things are important to keep in mind: 1) phases are not exclusive (more happen at the same time) and 2) contingency plans need to be made, because things usually do not turn out the way they are planned.


Leader self-examination

Because leadership is personal, it is important for the leader who is about to begin a change to take some time to reflect on his/herself. This reflection has three categories: self-awareness, motives and values.

Self-awareness has been proven to be related to performance (high performance tend to show less discrepancy between how they perceive their selves and how others see them). 

Successful change leaders need to be cognizant of: tolerance for ambiguity, need for control (organization chance is chaotic sometimes, so leaders can’t be control freaks), understanding how feelings affect behavior, personal dispositions (intuition is more related to leadership than sensing), and decision making.

Motives. According to O’Toole, ambition is the primary characteristic for leadership. Some people avoid highly ambitious people, but appropriately ambitious is good. A change leader needs to have a healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo and then change it. Also, this leader needs to have ambitions in the service of an organization change goal. Just as Zaleznik said, a leader is one who shows no differences between personal and the organization’s goals. McClelland defined three major motives: need for achievement, power and affiliation. McClelland and Burnham found in their study that if a manager was high in power  motivation, low in need for affiliation and high in inhibition (power was not used for self-aggrandizement), the organizational goals and expectations of subordinates were more clear and the team spirit was higher. Managers with high needs of affiliation want to be liked and popular, which leads they to making impulsive decisions or trying to please others rather than making rational decisions. Managers with a high need of power that is personally oriented are no good leaders, but some amount of need for power is needed to be an effective leader. Successful managers are oriented towards organizations, enjoy work, feel greater responsibility for developing them than others and have a preference for getting things done in an orderly fashion. They are usually more mature, less ego-centred and less defensive in comparison to others. Furthermore, good leaders are concerned with the needs of their subordinates. Finally, effective change leaders need to have an above-average level of energy (to work long hours when needed), interact with lots of people and energize others.

Values. The alignment of individual needs and values with the organization’s culture will enhance motivation (and in turn performance). If an organization wants to change, it needs to modify current values or establish a new set of values, which is the responsibility of the CEO (but can involve many people).

External environment

Top leaders should gather as much possible information about the organization’s external environment as possible (in the prelaunch phase), e.g. customer needs or changing technology in the industry. According to Porter, it  includes understanding the bargaining power of customers, suppliers and unions and threats of new companies entering the market place and substitute products or services. Then the leaders need to respond to the external environment. The prelaunch phase holds on to assumptions of open-system theory and that the organization needs the environment to survive. Usually change is a respond to changes/challenges in the external environment. Emery and Trist discussed four kinds of environment for organizations: 1) placid, randomized, 2) placid, clustered, 3) disturbed, reactive and 4) turbulent fields. According to them, the world is moving mostly towards the last one. It is very important to read the environment as accurately as possible so that timely and appropriate organizational responses could be made.

Establishing the need for change

If people feel no need for change, they will probably not embrace it. CEO’s are often in a better position to see these needs, but not always (for example salespeople might know the needs of their customers better). But, it will still remain the CEO’s responsibility to communicate these needs to the rest of the organization.

Providing clarity of Vision and Direction.

The final point of the prelaunch phase is to provide a vision and clear direction for the organization change effort. James O’Toole states that a good vision mobilizes appropriate behaviors. Leaders do not even have to create visions themselves, but they must initiate a process to develop a vision. Leaders need to recognize their task to make the vision ‘visual’. Think about the paramount vision statement that martin Luther King jr. used in his ‘I have a dream’ speech. In the Burke-Litwin model, vision is being associated more with leadership, but to change effectively, both who we are (mission) and who we want to be (vison) needs to be addressed.

Launch Phase

Communicate the need

Usually the CEO communicates the need for change, but it doesn’t always have to be like that. In the BA example, the number two person delivered the case for change, because he had more heart in the project. Although the CEO doesn’t always have to be the change leader, it is his/her responsibility to see that the delivery of the message occurs.

Initial activities

To bring about organization change an activity that will capture attention, provide focus and create reality needs to be set up. The early activity of organization change can take many forms. The book gives different examples: the Putting People first-seminar, team-building activities and a one day workshop on Extending Choice. A focused symbolic and energizing event (or multiple events at the same point in time) is very useful in launching large-scale and planned organization.

Dealing with resistance

The change leader needs to be awarde of the nature of resistance to change and the forms that resistance behavior can take place (individual, group or large-system level). At the individual level, the organizational members need to have the feeling that they have a choice. The change leader also need to be able to differentiate between blind, ideological and political resistance. At the group level, groups need to achieve closure and they want to involve key decision making. At the larger system-level, resistance can take forms of  for example ‘This too shall pass’  or diversionary tactics (chapter 6). Strong leadership (clarity of direction, passion and vision and persistence) and a compelling case for change are needed to resolve this kind of resistance.


This phase of change is difficult for many CEO’s, and some of them experience anxiety and ambivalence in decision making. Followers of the change will at this point ask for structure (what will my new job be?). Ronald Heifetz gave advice for this phase: 1) be persistent about what is going to take to make a successful change and 2) draw the system out of its comfort zone but make sure that the associated stress with it does not become dysfunctional, 3) deal with avoidance mechanisms. It may seem to the change leader as if the change has went his own way. The CEO then has to be persevere but also patient, so that creativity and innovation can emerge. (new values, services, markets, structures etcetera). Now five key actions for this phase are described.

Multiple leverage

For large organizations to change, one intervention will not be enough. Burke wrote two relevant summary points: 1) Again the strong leadership in times of change needed is emphasized.  2) True organization change requires multiple sources of influence (for example: developing a new process of supply chain management, training and development, process reengineering).

Taking the head

Not everyone will be happy when change is launched. Some people will look for someone to blame, and the change leader will be the easiest target. Evans and price named this heat-receiving episodes pushback. In times of pushback (usually given through opinion leaders), the change leader must use self-control, work hard to listen, not be defensive and display patience.


In the beginning of the change, the change leader’s behavior will be scrutinized by the followers. The most frequently asked question is: ‘’ Does the change leader really means it?”. The point here is about trust, if people trust the change leader. What behaviourally actually might be even more important to followers is the extent to which the leader’s behavior matches his or her words (consistency).


With this term is meant that leaders should not change the course they were taking when it becoming though. The beginning of organizational change is sometimes not this hard, but the follow-up is. A very important part of leadership then is to stay the course, continue encouraging the organizational members and keep communicating the message.

Repeating the message

The best message that can be told is about values, mission and vision. Howard Gardner stated that a good message is a dynamic perspective, given by the change leader. The story has to fit the audience it is given to and has to do with identity. The change leader tells the story and keep reminding the audience about what it is that we are doing and why we are doing this. Also, it is critical to tell the story to the followers face-to-face, so that questions can be answered and nuances can be elaborated. Change leaders need to use multiple levers for the transformation, take the heat from followers from time to time, show consistency in words and actions, persevere, and keep on repeating the message.

Sustaining the change

Pascale et al argued in their book that chaos theory is not applicable for organizations, since they are not chaotic, but complex (complex adaptive systems). Pascale et al. derived four bedrock principles from the complexity theory and life science theory that they consider to be applicable for organizations:

  1. Equilibrium means a precursor to death. Standing still places the organization at maximum risk, because they are less responsive to changes in the environment.

  2. In the face of threat, organisms move to the edge of chaos. New solutions are more likely to be found in this phase, because this condition increases mutation and experimentation.

  3. When the former phase occurs, components of the living system self-organize.

  4. A linear path will not occur, unforeseen consequences are inevitable. The challenge is to disturb these in a manner that the desired outcome still can be approached.

The importance of sustaining an organization change effort is described according to four considerations: unanticipated consequences, momentum, choosing successors and launching  again new initiatives.

Unforeseen Consequences

When change is launched, many different reactions to the disturbance arise at the same time, which makes the system move to the edge of chaos. For example, some people that you thought would help you will resist against the change, or the other way around. Going to the edge can provoke anxiety, but living systems are able to evoke new solutions and self-organize with gradual movement to a new state of equilibrium. This state is also referred to as the refreeze-state in the model of Lewin. Pascale et al. stated that the equilibrium is the precursor to death, this means that the death is not necessarily immediate and the organization still has time to change.


It is just as important to manage further change as to manage the change that has already occurred (momentum). Managing the momentum might actually even be harder. Maintaining the change momentum is so important because the natural movement toward the equilibrium has to be tackled. Pascale et al stated that to tackle equilibrium, there are two forces: the threat of death and the promise of sex. This desire to survive is very strong. Living systems survive because they adapt to changing forces in the external environment, this is just what organizations have to do to maintain momentum.

The choosing of successors

Preventing homogeneity, can be seen as a form of countering equilibrium, according to Pascale et al. This suggests that organizations need to hire new people (or from other parts of the organization) instead of cloning (using) the people they already have (for change). Although hiring everyone new would be an absurd idea, if some percentage (20/30%) new people are hired, this counteracts the equilibrium in ways as tired thinking, solidified norms and group thinking.

Launching new initiatives

It is critical to implement and emphasize new initiatives to renew organizational member’s energy, motivation and increase new ways of thinking. These initiatives need to be in line with the change effort, though. For example, creating a new product or acquiring another organization or business. The change leader needs to be clear and deliberate about disturbing the equilibrium with new initiatives. Sometimes it is even needed for a change leader to cause these disturbances.

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