Leading and coping with change

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DOI: 10.1080/1469701042000221687
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Change process models, developed in the tradition of Lewin, tend to emphasize people as resisting change, portray leading and coping with change as discrete entities, and reify the organization. In contrast, this article reports on findings from two descriptive surveys examining leading and coping processes. Attitudes, opinions and organizational practices were investigated to identify and describe variability in change in financial service institutions in the City of London as led by top managers and as experienced by employees. A ‘leading and coping with change’ framework that emphasizes the social process dynamics of change is developed which managers can utilise as a conceptual tool to guide action. This is built around the finding that change leaders are themselves part of the process, and that the judgmental and cognitive processes which employees engage in, in their relationship with those leading change, is crucial.
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Journal of Change Management,
Vol. 4, No. 2, 155183, June 2004
Leading and coping with change
Sir John Cass Business School, London, UK
BSTRACT Change process models, developed in the tradition of Lewin, tend to emphasize people
as resisting change, portray leading and coping with change as discrete entities, and reify the
organization. In contrast, this article reports on findings from two descriptive surveys examining
leading and coping processes. Attitudes, opinions and organizational practices were investigated to
identify and describe variability in change in financial service institutions in the City of London as
led by top managers and as experienced by employees. A ‘leading and coping with change’
framework that emphasizes the social process dynamics of change is developed which managers can
utilise as a conceptual tool to guide action. This is built around the finding that change leaders are
themselves part of the process, and that the judgmental and cognitive processes which employees
engage in, in their relationship with those leading change, is crucial.
EY WORDS: change management, coping process, leadership, financial services
Managers and consultants have access to an extensive body of literature on
organizational change, yet a large number of change management programmes still
appear to fail. This suggests a need to reconsider how our chosen perspective affects
our theories, research and practice. Many change process models (Beckhard and
Harris, 1977; Tichy and Devanna, 1986) have been developed in the tradition of
Kurt Lewin’s (1951) work, which relied on field theory. In that approach, a change
situation involves moving from a current condition to a desired condition, and the
situation is a ‘field’ in which there are forces to facilitate change and restraining
forces. The current situation is held in check or ‘quasi-equilibrium by these two
sets of forces. The change process aims to introduce (temporary) instability and, in
the traditional organizational development approach, is driven from the top.
In this article, we present a ‘leading and coping with change’ framework that is
grounded in a relational perspective. We seek to generate a different discourse on
change management that conceptualizes leading and coping with change as a
conjoint process which, when positive, increases the learning capacity of
organizations. We believe that this revised perspective will help managers
increase the success of change management programmes.
1469-7017 Print/1479-1811 Online/04/02015529 # 2004 Taylor & Francis Ltd
DOI: 10.1080/1469701042000221687
Correspondence Address: Chris Hendry, Sir John Cass Business School, 106 Bunhill Row, London EC1Y 8TZ, UK.
In deriving this framework, we utilize findings from two descriptive surveys,
which aimed to define, for people working in the financial services sector, the
range of skills and competencies required to lead change and those needed to
effectively cope with change. Structuring these findings within an organizational
change model (Beer et al., 1990), we highlight psychological relations through
setting our systematically derived perceptions in juxtaposition with sequencing
interventions. Too often, attention has been paid exclusively to skills in managing
change, with little regard for the skills needed to absorb change and limits to
adaptability. When change processes require fundamental shifts in the way
organizational members think and act, the consequences of change can test to the
utmost the organization’s capabilities and resources. Moreover, when people have
been subject to substantial change already, or are operating in an uncertain
environment that affects their future prospects, they may rapidly reach the limits of
their capacity to absorb and respond to more change (Sikora et al., 2002). What is
needed, therefore, is a dynamic process model to show how change can
successfully be absorbed.
This article highlights some of the dynamics that exist in leading and adaptation
processes, which result in the success or failure of change programmes. Formal
change leaders are themselves part of the process, and the judgmental and
cognitive processes that employees engage in, in their relationship with those
leading change, is crucial. In a changing workplace, employees are continually
evaluating what is going on and what is its significance for them. Coping strategies
come into play when employees think the demands being placed on them tax or
exceed their resources; these strategies will be influenced by organizational
climate. Problems arise when those leading change underestimate or misinterpret
the requirements needed to support change.
This article is structured in six sections. Following this introduction is a short
discussion of the existing literature on leading and coping with change, included to
point out issues that we believe are particularly relevant for explaining the conjoint
relations between leading and coping, particularly through the notion of
distributed leadership. The third section details findings of an empirical study
conducted in the City of London’s financial services sector involving two related
surveys: one questioning those responsible for initiating organizational change
and the other questioning those experiencing organizational change: five
subsections sequence the findings according to how change is experienced.
Following this, a framework for ‘leading and coping with change’ is presented to
illustrate how change may be successfully absorbed by an organization. This
framework builds inferentially on the Beer et al. (1990) model based on findings
from the empirical study. We discuss the key elements of the framework in the
light of prior literature in the fifth section, and in the final section, we draw
conclusions and make recommendations that, we trust, may lead to more effective
change management.
Literature review
For the purposes of this article we do not present a comprehensive review of the
literature on managing change. Rather, we use existing literature on leading and
S. Woodward and C. Hendry 156
coping with change to highlight issues that we believe are particularly relevant for
explaining the conjoint relations between leading and coping in the process of
implementing change.
Leading change
In spite of the distinction that management is tasked with creating stability while
leadership seeks to create change (Zalenick, 1977) much confusion abounds, with
academics often using the term ‘leadership’ to refer to quite different concepts. It
has been argued that most approaches to leadership focus on the ‘leader’ because
of an underlying conceptual framework that is based on a feudal paradigm
‘pointing to someone who occupies a high position’ (Barker, 1997: 347).
Managerial leadership is therefore underpinned by the notion of leader as
a giver of direction and as a manipulator of will, who frames and solves specific managerial or
social problems ... resulting from the need for an imposed order and from the need to
accomplish specific goals. (Barker, 1997: 350)
However, leadership under this view cannot work in situations where goals are not
specific, where imposition of order is ineffective, and where there is increasing
internal and external complexity.
Similarly, over the past 20 years or so, there has been an explosive growth in the
promotion of ‘transformational leadership’ (Burns, 1978; Bass, 1999), with a
recent analysis bringing into question some of its rubrics (Tourish and Pinnington,
2002) and the authors arguing for a more inclusive and participatory model of the
leadership process. Thus, alternative perspectives have been proposed to the
traditional hierarchical and bureaucratic form of organization and technocratic or
visionary leadership.
In organizations that are undergoing change it is difficult, if not impossible,
to define and resolve all eventualities. Hence, adaptive situations are not amenable
to leader-driven solutions (Heifetz and Laurie, 1997). Rather, all members need to
deal with problems as they arise. Leadership, in this perspective involves a
learning strategy. Indeed, building a learning capacity within the organization can
be seen as key to a theory of change, and it is helpful to reframe leadership in terms
of ‘managers who foster communities of practice’ (Hendry, 1996: 632).
This kind of managerial leadership involves relationships between managers
and their reports. People are engaged, given support and resources and, thereby,
feel they have some control over changing situations. Knowledge is created
through the transformation of shared experience in performing new activities.
Those involved come to understand the new requirements, and new rules of
relating become tacit as time progresses (Hendry, 1996). Additionally, the concept
of ‘distributed leadership’ usefully emphasizes that leadership functions are best
performed by those who have the necessary knowledge and skills, and that people
other than managers, can also exhibit leadership behaviours. Indeed, Gronn (2002)
argues that conventional views of leadership cannot easily accommodate either
changes in the division of labour in the workplace or new patterns of
interdependence and co-ordination. Rather, we should view leadership as a
process in which the key defining criterion is united agency.
157 Leading and coping with change
Nevertheless, some managers and staff are better able to lead and cope with
change than others. Poor managerial leadership can bring about additional
pressures and, therefore, being sensitive to the coping problems of both managers
and staff is an important aspect of change management.
Coping with change
While all employees need to accommodate and adapt as organizations change
their internal processes to meet external complexity, the transition process can be
difficult where change is radical rather than incremental (Nicholson, 1990;
Bridges, 1992). Organizations changing fundamentally and rapidly can subject
people to additional, cumulative pressures and demands. These pressures can be
translated into stress, and there is evidence that the cost of occupational health and
stress to organizations is considerable (CBI, 2003).
‘Coping’ is proposed as the key to people maintaining well-being and
satisfactory performance. Recent definitions view stress as arising from the
interaction between person and situation (Furnham, 1997), with a prominent
model being that of Lazarus and Folkman (1984) and subsequent developments
(Lazarus, 1991, 1999). This model suggests that the potentially stressful
employee work environment relationship is mediated by two factors—cognitive
appraisal and coping—and that these factors influence immediate and longer-term
outcomes. In the changing workplace, employees are continually evaluating what
is going on and what the significance for them is. They assess whether changes
have any relevance for their well-being, and if so, in what ways. Such evaluations
are of two kinds: A primary appraisal: What will I gain? What will I lose? What
are the potential benefits or harm to me? Is what is happening irrelevant, can I
ignore it?; a secondary appraisal asks: What can I do to overcome or prevent the
negative effects? What can I do to improve my prospects for benefiting from
change? What coping options might be worth adopting? What are the likely
consequences? Will I accomplish what I want to achieve?
In addition, employees reappraise the outcomes that have been achieved as a
result of their coping strategies within a changing environment, learn of the
consequences and make further appraisals. Coping is seen, therefore, as
...constantly changing cognitive and behavioral efforts to manage specific external or
internal demands that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the resources of the person.
(Lazarus and Folkman 1984: 141)
Moreover, there are two functions of coping—dealing with a problem that has
arisen (problem-focused coping) and regulating associated emotions (emotion-
focused coping). Different coping approaches involve regulating emotions in a
positive or negative way (Latack and Havolic, 1992; Kahn and Cooper, 1993).
One example of problem-focused coping is ‘innovative coping’ (Bruce and West,
1996). Innovative coping is an outwardly-directed form of coping strategy. The
implication is that people can change, in an active way, an aspect of a situation that
is seen as stressful. This means that employees can lead, either individually or as
teams, and achieve unit/department goals more effectively, so the organization can
also become a beneficiary. Coping can also be proactive as well as anticipatory
S. Woodward and C. Hendry 158
(Aspinwall and Taylor, 1997: 417) through ‘efforts undertaken in advance of a
potentially stressful event to prevent or to modify its form before it occurs’. Such
notions of coping emphasise the agential, rather than reactive, nature of mutually
defining personsituation transactions.
Change in UK financial services
Although the UK financial services has been a successful sector, contributing
positively to the economy (IFSL, 2003), and the City of London has many
competitive advantages (Corporation of London/LDS, 1999), the sector has been
undergoing regulatory, technological and structural change over the past two
decades (Morgan and Knights, 1997; Taylor and Morrison, 1999). Currently,
financial institutions are subject to ever increasing levels of competition (Knights
and McCabe, 1998; Flier et al., 2001), that are driving the need for yet more
change (Foss and Stone, 2002; La Croix et al., 2002; Bradley and Stewart, 2003;
O’Brien and Meadows, 2003).
Successful change management has become an increasingly important core
competency for financial institutions. Despite more than two decades of change,
there exists strong evidence of difficulties in achieving change management
including: an inability to gain sustainable strategic advantage through IT/IS
(Fletcher and Wright, 1996; Bloomfield et al., 1997), failures of TQM imple-
mentation (Longbottom and Zairi, 1996; McCabe and Wilkinson, 1998; McCabe,
2000), uncertainties about business process re-engineering (McCabe and Knights,
1999), a ninefold increase in complaints to the Banking Ombudsman and a
trebling of complaints to the Building Societies Ombudsman (McCabe et al.,
Changes that have already affected peoples’ experience of employment are an
important complicating factor. Performance, expectations, and attitudes towards
current and future change will be influenced by levels of ‘self-efficacy’, which
influence beliefs about competency to perform (Wood and Bandura, 1989), and by
scepticism and cynicism resulting from experiences of earlier, unsuccessful
change initiatives or ineffective leadership practices and lack of participation in
decisions (Anderson, 1996; Wanous et al. 2000).
Empirical study
To a large degree, change is in the eye of the beholder. Those who see themselves
as creating organizational change as an intentional process (i.e. top management
formally leading change) will have a different perspective to those who are on the
receiving end of change (Kanter et al., 1992). Similarly, case study research shows
there is no one formula for managing change. While many prescriptions,
guidelines and models exist, managers responsible for executing the changes are
selective in the way they use these ideas (Storey, 1992).
To accommodate these different perspectives in our research on change
management in the City of London’s financial services institutions, we undertook
two surveys—one involving senior management personnel responsible for
initiating organizational change, the other covering all other employees (including
159 Leading and coping with change
managers) at various levels who were executing and/or experiencing change. The
aims of the study were (1) to define the skills and attitudes required to lead change
and those needed effectively to cope with change and (2) to develop a model to
show how change is absorbed within the organization
We organize the findings in five sections below, which have been sequenced in
the following way. In the first part, since people continually seek to make sense of
what is happening in their organization and its sector, we detail what employees
and senior managers see as the major external pressures for change, their formal
leaders’ responses, and how these changes have affected them. Then, as
traditional, routinized ways of organizing and performing are disrupted, we show
in parts two and three how people are coping and what resources, in terms of skills
and competencies, are said to be needed to perform well in this changing context.
We then go on, in part four, to describe the particular qualities that change
managers might seek to cultivate in the light of employee needs. In the final part,
we report what organizations do to support people in the change process, and how
senior managers and employees view this. The results provide us with valuable
insights into why many change management initiatives fail to bring about
sustainable change and how these failings might be addressed.
Change and its impact on individuals
Employees perceived the major external pressures for change, during the latter
part of the 1990s, to have been increased competition, changing customer needs/
expectations and technological developments (see Table 1). This is not surprising,
and fits with most accounts of financial services and other sectors (see Ezzamel
et al., 1996; Taylor, 1999; Woodward et al., 2000).
In response, city organizations have been adopting a variety of strategies and
measures to meet these challenges. For example, employees saw an increasing
emphasis on cost measurement and reduction, improved profitability and
shareholder value, service to the customer, and the introduction of new products
and services (Table 2). The changes implemented in order to achieve these
Table 1. Triggers for organizational change (N ¼ 198)
Trigger %
Increased competition 67
Changing/new customer needs and expections 55
Technological developments 43
Internationalization/globalization 35
Disappointing financial performance 31
Legislation/regulation 31
New CEO 26
New competitors 25
Change in ownership 21
Industry in recession 12
Other 15
S. Woodward and C. Hendry 160
objectives have impacted dramatically on people, with two thirds experiencing
change in their departments, half seeing changes in work systems, two in five
experiencing change in organizational structure, and a third of organizations
reducing numbers employed (Table 3). Most employees (7 in 10) found their
working environment to be ‘very pressured’, and while 2 in 5 said ‘I can perform
effectively without any concerns’, 3 in 5 said ‘I can perform effectively, but it puts
a lot of pressure on me’. There exists in the workforce, therefore, a sizeable
proportion who are working in pressured environments but who seem
unconcerned by it. Nevertheless, this pressured environment may be taking its
toll, and people may be unwilling to admit to being unable to cope. This has been
described as the ‘John Wayne’ syndrome (James and Arroba, 1999) where people
are likely to accept the extra demands being placed on them and say ‘I can cope’
up to cracking point.
Table 2. Management has increased emphasis on a number
of factors (N ¼ 198)
Factor %
Cost measurement and reduction 64
Improved profitability and shareholder value 63
Service to the customer 59
Introducing new products/services 56
Removing non-profitable products/services 41
Sales/marketing 41
Business growth 39
Quality improvements 38
Productivity improvements 33
Divesting non-core activities 23
Other 9
Table 3. What are the major work/job changes that have affected you?
(N ¼ 198)
Change %
Changes in structure of department/unit 64
Introduction of new technology /work systems 50
New people brought in 40
New reporting structures 40
Reduction of staff 35
Focus on meeting targets 32
Different working relationships with people at work 30
Different products/services your department/unit is offering 29
Introduction of new ways of working 27
Movements to a new location 17
Other 15
161 Leading and coping with change
Employee coping strategies
Employees were asked to indicate their willingness to respond to further changes
in their job and work environment. A majority of those surveyed appeared to be
ready to welcome change: ‘Change is part of life, and I feel positive about it’ (3 in
5), with only a quarter responding to the effect that ‘Change is part of life which I
need to grin and bear’.
Since coping is all about meeting demands and working within the constraints
of the situation, particularly as presented in problems, employees were asked to
specify the main problems they had to cope with in the changing environment.
Stress at times of change (according to those surveyed) arose from five factors
(comprised from clustering reported problems):
. increased accountability but reduced resources;
. a focus on tasks with a corresponding neglect of employees;
. feelings of insecurity and uncertainty in roles and direction;
. other employees not coping and lacking skills to adapt;
. managers themselves failing to cope, and employing poor coping strategies.
When asked what personal coping strategies they found most helpful,
employees detailed a variety of strategies—some proactive, others more
classifiable as denial or avoidance (see Table 4).
Skills and competencies needed for coping with change
Adoption of negative or positive coping strategies appears to be influenced by the
way employees assess the balance of demands and resources in the changing
Table 4. What personal strategies do you find helpful in coping with these problems?
Extent to which this is a helpful coping strategy
helpful (%)
helpful (%)
Not at all
helpful (%)
Looking at things objective/unemotionally 61 34 5
Deal with problems as soon as they arise 53 42 5
Deliberately separate home and work 51 35 14
Plan ahead more 45 40 15
Do not ‘bottle things up’ 42 47 11
Develop stable relationships 42 47 11
Accept the situation and try to make the most of it 35 49 16
Recognize my own limitations 31 54 16
Talk with supervisor/manager/colleagues 28 52 20
Talk with understanding friends/family 28 41 31
Try to get things done in a different way 23 57 20
Take calculated risks 19 42 39
Generally ignore what’s happening 6 11 83
S. Woodward and C. Hendry 162
employeework environment relationship. Hence, coping strategies are influenced
by the availability of resources. Skills and competencies are a major personal
resource. Employees specified a number of skills and competencies they found
especially helpful in absorbing and coping with change:
. communicating with others holding different perspectives (since nowadays
people work in teams for many activities);
. organizing work and managing time effectively (in response to increased job
scope and the need to meet a variety of objectives);
. assimilating and interpreting information (to identify significant information
and filter out irrelevancies);
. dealing with people (since financial and professional service organizations
deliver many of their services through people);
. innovative problem solving.
As well as specifying these critical skills, employees rated a number of personal
qualities and abilities as ‘very important’. Between two-thirds and three-quarters
rated self motivation (to cope with empowerment initiatives); accuracy of judge-
ment (to achieve stretching targets); an understanding of customer needs (as
organizations become more service-oriented); commercial awareness (as businesses
becomes more complex); an ability to influence and negotiate; an enquiring, lively
mind; and a positive attitude towards change as ‘very important’ (see Table 5).
Senior managers suggested the key personal skills or competencies to perform
well in a constantly changing environment should include a commitment to
change, an understanding of the changing situation, an ability to ‘fit’ the changed
environment, and a variety of personal qualities to help this. This is perhaps
notable for being less concrete in behavioral terms, and imbued with the ‘feudal
paradigm’ of leadership (Barker, 1997) that assumes conformity to the leader’s
Table 5. Importance of personal abilities/qualities in or changing environment (N ¼ 198)
Personal abilities/qualities
important (%)
important (%)
Not at all
important (%)
Self motivated 76 24 0
Accuracy of judgement 68 31 1
Understanding of customer needs 66 30 4
Ability to influence and negotiate 65 31 4
Commercial awareness 64 34 2
Positive attitudes towards change 62 35 3
Enquiring/lively mind 60 38 2
Open and receptive to others’ views 58 40 2
Confident and able to sell one’s skills 58 40 2
Considerate of others 47 45 8
163 Leading and coping with change
Leading change skills and competencies
Much of the pressure created by organizational change may be alleviated if those
leading change focus on people aspects in addition to strategy and other
organizational elements. However, this crucial element is still ignored by a
sizeable minority, with a third of senior managers acknowledging that people
aspects were ignored in their change programmes.
Only 1 in 5 employees rated management as ‘very able’ in implementing
organizational changes. Nearly all the rest were equally divided in their responses,
giving a rating of ‘average ability’ or ‘poor’ (although acknowledging their
managers were probably no worse than others). Despite the low rating,
nevertheless, employees seemed to be quite sympathetic and appreciative of the
difficulties involved in leading and managing change.
Employees were asked to specify the ways in which those leading change
sometimes create difficulties or make it hard for employees to absorb or adapt to
change. The key areas which employees saw as barriers to absorbing and coping
with change were clustered into six categories:
. communicating (not being kept informed, receiving conflicting messages,
wanting to understand but not being given explanations);
. the change process itself (when change is perceived as happening too slowly
or too fast, when leaders are seen to hold unrealistic expectations, or when
change is managed with incorrect sequencing);
. relationships (including situations when change leaders seem remote and
isolated from employees, do not exhibit constructive attitudes and
behaviours, or behave in an autocratic fashion);
. consultation (when employees do not feel they are informed or consulted, and
when staff needs and ideas are disregarded);
. skills and experience (when change leaders are seen as lacking the required
skills, abilities and experience, and when the change leader lacks credibility);
. motivation for change (when there appears a lack of involvement or
motivation for change at the top, or among senior managers elsewhere in the
Employees were also asked what managers could do that was most helpful to
enable them to cope with change. Of 19 items compiled from the traditional
change management literature, all but one was rated ‘very helpful’ or ‘quite
helpful’ (Table 6).
Senior managers identified similar, although fewer, competencies—strong
leadership and clarity of purpose/mission together with generating enthusiasm,
involving employees, and communicating well. Again this is notable for being
shorter on concrete behaviours and having a ‘top-down’ perspective.
Organizational support
Finally, employees were asked to what extent they agreed with the statement:
‘Adequate problem prevention and support has been provided to employees to
S. Woodward and C. Hendry 164
help them cope with changes introduced into this organization.’ While a
majority of the senior managers agreed with this statement, less than 1 in 4
employees did. There is, therefore, a discrepancy between how each sees the
level of support provided. For example, a majority of employees reported their
organization ‘provided them with sufficient authority to get their work done
effectively’, and there existed ‘good working relationships’, but for other
factors, only a minority reported availability of support (Table 7). The most
common support mechanisms reported by senior managers, on the other hand,
included discussion with employees about career development prospects so
they could be properly matched with their new job responsibilities; giving
information and/or consultation as to where the company is heading, and what
employees’ roles and responsibilities will be; skills training; redesigned pay
and compensation packages; and steps to ensure alignment of structures and
Comparing this with what employees say, we note that managers and
employees agree about some of the important things, but disagree on how
adequate the provision of these is. Ebadan and Winstanley (1997) found a similar
discrepancy in the provision of career counselling in their study. Managers also
stress relatively few sources of support. Finally, employees emphasise almost
entirely those things that give them a sense of autonomy and control, while
managers emphasize the things which they, as managers, control. This follows
the pattern whereby employees identify a wider range of useful behaviours, while
senior managers express a traditional model of leadership.
Table 6. Key skills/competencies needed by those leading change (N ¼ 198)
Extent to which this helps others to
adapt/absorb change
helpful (%)
helpful (%)
Not at all
helpful (%)
Communicate vision/direction to others 93 7 0
Gain the support of key people needed to effect change 84 16 0
Develop a realistic vision/direction for change 84 15 1
Energize and enthuse others 76 22 2
Explain reasons for decisions 70 30 0
Be fair and equitable in treatment of people 70 30 0
Be consistent in word and deed 70 30 0
Involve people so they do not feel change is ‘done’ to them 69 29 2
Listen to employees 68 30 2
Produce realistic plans, schedules, deadlines 68 28 3
Take difficult, unpleasant decisions without undue delay 64 34 2
Convince people of the need for change 60 37 3
Maintain focus and persist in the face of difficulties 49 44 7
Set high performance standards 40 46 13
Sell benefits but also acknowledge costs for some 39 54 6
165 Leading and coping with change
Development of a ‘leading and coping with change’ framework
When asked why change programmes fail, senior managers give reasons that are
similar to those given by employees, including a lack of commitment or
enthusiasm for change, inadequate and/or conflicting messages, insufficient or
inadequate HR supporting mechanisms and poor project management. This
suggests that senior managers know what some of the problems are. What is
missing from this, however, is any sense of change as a process that binds leading
and coping together. To make sense of the coping strategies, competencies and
leadership skills outlined above within a model of organizational change, we set
out now a ‘leading and coping with change’ framework to address existing change
management failure.
Dominant models for change management often prescribe a sequence of steps
or stages. Collins (1998) refers to these prescriptive models as ‘n-step’ recipes, and
argues that such approaches provide weak theoretical accounts. In contrast, we
contend that a more profitable approach is to view leading and coping in terms of
recursive organizing social processes of changing and learning. When we view
them as a social process (Weick, 1979; Hosking and Morley, 1991) within a
transactional world-view, then:
persons, processes and contexts mutually define one another and serve as aspects of the whole,
not as separate elements. These aspects do not combine to yield the whole; they are the whole
and are defined by and define one another. (Altman and Rogoff, 1987: 32)
In familiar settings, people use existing knowledge, hold expectations and apply
tacit rules that underpin habitual ways of performing. However, in changing
Table 7. How does your organization help prevent problems and/or help you to cope
with changes? (N ¼ 198)
Provision %
Sufficient authority to get my work done effectively 61
Good working relationships 51
Clear understanding of what I am expected to do and deliver 44
Sufficient resources to get my work done effectively 43
Fair and equitable rewards for my efforts 42
Opportunities to contribute to the full 37
Training in new skills/competencies, or updating 37
Clear understanding of my place within the organisation 33
A clear view about where the organization is heading 31
Involvement in decisions which affect me 28
On-the job opportunities to develop marketable skills 27
Useful feedback on my performance 25
The ability to manage work-home conflict 21
Communications that are open, clear, direct and frank 20
A view that people are treated with dignity and respect by the organization 19
Knowledge about my career prospects in the organization 14
Advice on possible career moves outside this organization 2
S. Woodward and C. Hendry 166
situations, people need the help of others to construct their sense of self, create a
sense of social order, and provide cues on how to act. Hence, organising processes
are, in part, intrinsically cognitive, involving sense making and translating
understanding into action. It is important, however, for leaders and managers to
appreciate that this reality-building process is not located within the traditional
view of communication as ‘transmission’ and of organization as a ‘conduit’, but,
of communication as ‘social interaction’ and organization as emerging through
‘co-ordinated activity’. In this view, language is a socially shared tool for
signalling and co-ordinating leading and coping with change activities. Figure 1
illustrates the relationship between leading and coping processes, and highlights
the importance of people creating new organizational contexts through new ideas,
responsibilities and relationships developing and informing the skills people need
to adapt to new role demands. Beer et al. (1990) argued that too little attention is
paid to meeting these new demands and that support for change is based on
employees’ personal experience of changing workgroup inter-dependencies. In the
framework we use their notion of sequencing interventions, by which change
unfolds through learning.
Recent investigations of learning in the workplace have shown, moreover, that
most learning is non-formal, neither clearly specified nor planned. It emerges,
naturally, out of the demands and challenges of work (Orr, 1991; Eraut et al.,
1998). The focus for change management should, therefore, be people in work
groups and ‘communities of practice’ (Brown and Duguid, 1991; Lave and
Wenger, 1991). This points to the key role of groups, tacit knowledge, experiential
learning and the location of learning in a socialization process (Hendry, 1996).
Leadership discourses are material resources that can be used in the context of
different communities of practice. As resources for the negotiation of meaning and
formation of identity, they will be shared across practices but will be differentially
integrated within each community of practice (Wenger, 1998).
By combining the notion of ‘communities of practice’ to describe changing
workgroup interdependencies, and, thereby, linking learning and socialization
processes at individual, community and structural levels, our ‘leading and coping
with change’ framework emphasizes the following key features.
. As new directions and situations are created, employees assess how these
affect them. If they view these positively, they will adjust their expectations;
if negatively, dissatisfaction results. Feeling they have the resources and
capabilities to cope will help with a positive reaction.
. Employees continually assess management support, credibility and
competence, in the light of the climate for change they create and the
resources managers provide to help them adapt. While employees tend to
appreciate the difficulties managers themselves face in leading change, they
also readily punish those managers who neglect the people aspects and create
unnecessary pressures on them. The impact of employees judging managers
and the effect of this on the success of change programmes is often forgotten.
. As change unfolds, employees continue to evaluate what is going on, and
apply various coping strategies. If demands are felt to tax or exceed their
resources, they are more likely to respond with denial, avoidance or stress.
167 Leading and coping with change
. Providing support for employees to learn new competencies, through formal
training or informal coaching, helps them to develop the skills to manage the
new situations they are faced with; while showing responsibility for
performance in the emerging situation, enhances their sense of autonomy and
control. In terms of organizational support, employees emphasize almost
Figure 1. Leading and coping with change model
S. Woodward and C. Hendry 168
entirely those things that give them a sense of autonomy and control.
Unfortunately, managers leading change tend to stress the things they control
as the most important factors for success.
. Similarly, the success employees experience in meeting the requirements of
the new situation will reinforce feelings of control.
Lewin’s theory proposes change as a transient instability that interrupts the
naturally stable equilibrium of an organised institution through a threefold linear
procedure. However, we suggest a different perspective: that ‘leading and coping
with change in the process of implementing change’ is a dynamic holistic process,
with change as intrinsic and, therefore, that changing the ‘organization’ is
achieved simultaneously with changing the relationships, competencies and
capabilities that define it. The relationship established between those formally
leading change and other employees involved in distributed leadership is key. The
successful joint management of this relationship will determine whether desired
changes will be achieved, in conjunction with the development of necessary skills
and competencies, and the creation of reinforcement and incentive systems.
Macro-level forces for change have created pressures for financial service
organizations to respond. Many have been reconfiguring themselves and
introducing new technologies, with the aim of becoming ‘flat, fast and flexible’
and, thereby, more responsive to heightened competition. However, these can be
viewed as merely ‘surface level’ phenomena, since the ‘deep structure’ of change
takes place through the individuals and groups that comprise the organization
(Shani and Stjernberg, 1995). As Colin Carnall has commented
One of the problems we each experience when we attempt to relate models of change with our
real-world experience of change is that formal models of change generally give an impression
of change as a neat, orderly sequence of activities or stages. Conversely, our experience is
usually altogether more ‘messy’. Activities are often going on in parallel. We often recycle
through different stages as we pilot a new organisational design or new marketing policy only
to find that in some respects it does not work. (1995 1999: 170)
In particular, as Spender and Grinyer observe:
It is the continuity of human activity embedded in a sustained social context that is the source
of the organization’s integrity through change ... The key is the interplay of cognition, values
and action. (1995: 909)
The process of changing the organization through ‘leading and coping with
change’ is based on the notion that people are not in an organization but that the
activities of people and organization can be viewed, from different standpoints, as
aspects of a mutually constructed whole—in part-whole relationship. Therefore,
the extent to which the organization successfully leads and copes with change is a
reflection of the extent to which its different members lead and cope. The
adaptation of persons and organization involves dynamic mutual modification.
Discussion of key elements of the framework
Those with formal responsibility for leading and resourcing change may create
new directions and situations in one of two ways. First, by establishing a shared
169 Leading and coping with change
goal, which becomes progressively less abstract as the uncertainties of activities
are addressed by employees; and, second, by allowing communities of practice to
evolve and then shaping and making purposive, emerging patterns of action. In
either model, the role of the CEO, and leadership team, is not as the source of
innovation but, rather, as the creator of an energizing context (Spender and
Grinyer, 1995: 921).
Similarly, rather than viewing the aim of change as being, solely, the attainment
of particular objectives, the focus shifts to the ‘process of aiming’, which allows
for a dynamic adopting of modified aims as situations change. Acting with the
environment is contrasted with acting on the environment, and successful
interaction of leading and coping processes will result in the production of well-
coordinated performances. Coordination usually occurs without deliberation, but
when problems become defined as such, they arise from a blocked cycle of activity
(Clancey, 1997). Problem solving requires positive individual and collective
coping strategies.
Yet, as formal leaders restructure expectations, different understandings about
the nature of the ‘changing organization’ may develop among the various
members, different expectations about changing roles and responsibilities may
arise, and definitions of what is important may change. With changes in each
employee’s job/task requirements, a concomitant change can occur in working
relationships because, as stated earlier, the individual is related to wider social
groups in part-whole configuration. Conway suggest we might think of this in two
ways: ‘task performance’, which refers to the core technical behaviours involved
in the formal job description; and ‘contextual performance’, which refers to
behaviours that support the situation in which the technical behaviours take place.
‘Contextual performance’ elements include team working, helping colleagues,
professionalism and supporting organizational objectives. These are often
discretionary, non-job specific competencies, which can be particularly important
for supporting organizational long-term success (Conway, 1995).
Both types of performance are important aspects of the ‘process of aiming’, but
some leaders may increase task demands to such an extent that resources for
contextual performance become unavailable. Communities of practice can help
coordination in both forms of performance, but contextual performance is more
tacit since, unlike formal job descriptions, no explicit standards are set and formal
sanctions are not invoked. However, the formation and functioning of
communities of practice may be adversely affected where resources are restricted
through an over emphasis on task performance, which ignores additional aspects
of practice needed to get the work done.
A changing organizational requirement, for many employees in banking and
finance, has been the expectation that they will move away from undertaking
narrowly defined tasks according to procedures, towards flexibly engaging in
broader and emerging work roles requiring new skills and knowledge. Flexible
role orientation (FRO) and role breadth self-efficacy (RBSE) have been identified
as two important precursors to people behaving proactively and undertaking a
range of integrative and interpersonal tasks (Parker, 2000). Parker argues that for
employees to change existing behaviours, changes are required in two
psychological states. First, employees need to develop a view of their role and
S. Woodward and C. Hendry 170
responsibilities that aligns with changing employer expectations by developing
FRO—seeing that broader problems are their responsibility, and recognizing the
importance of addressing problems themselves, rather than expecting others to.
Second, employees must feel capable of behaving in the required way by
possessing RBSE. Self-efficacy refers to people’s judgements about their
capability to perform particular tasks (Bandura, 1989), and research has shown
that people with high task self-efficacy perform better and will persist when
problems arise. RBSE is, therefore, a judgement about capability across a range
of proactive interpersonal and integrative tasks. A similar concept of ‘extra’
role behaviour termed ‘taking charge’ to effect workplace change (Morrison
and Phelps, 1999) has been found to result not only from felt responsibility and
self-efficacy, but also from perceptions of top management ‘openness’ and
psychological safety (Baer and Frese, 2003).
While major demands result from role ambiguity and conflict, job performance
difficulties, work overload and the failure of others to cope, resources may be
made available through job enhancement and providing greater employee control,
decision-making responsibility, and autonomy. Making resources available can
create a climate in which employees may be willing to change and actively help to
bring about change in their area of responsibility. In contrast, in situations of
inadequate or lost resources, where people’s expected levels of performance are
threatened, coping efficacy (that is, the degree to which a person believes that he or
she is capable of controlling threatening situations) is likely to be reduced. To the
extent that active involvement in the task and context realignment process is likely
to lead to employees’ greater felt mastery and control over the work environment,
coping efficacy will be enhanced. Indeed, enhanced job autonomy and improved
communication quality has been shown to lead to higher RBSE (Parker, 1998).
Similarly, expectations about performance may be seen as either resources or
demands. Where expectations can be met, these are seen as manifest resources
because they confirm employee adjustments to workplace changes. On the other
hand, unmet expectations will be viewed as demands. Meeting these demands
requires the investment of further resources. Where employees do not feel in
control, or feel a loss of control, they are likely to be unable to deal proactively
with changing expectations and consequent problems that arise with changing
procedures, practices, and relationships in the course of workplace change. Hence,
situational appraisal, coping resources and coping strategies affect employees’
ability to absorb workplace change. Additional, and avoidable, pressures are likely
to be created in situations where others fail to cope or lack the skills to adapt, and
where managers themselves fail to cope. Such a climate is more likely to engender
negative coping strategies.
The study highlights the clear judgmental aspect of the relationship between
leaders and led when change is being initiated or executed. Employee adaptation is
influenced by assessments of management support, credibility and competence.
Employees want direction, and envisioning is an important change leadership
skill, but it must be seen to be realistic. As Alan Bryman has observed:
Organizational members are not passive receptacles, but imaginative consumers of leaders’
visions and of manipulated cultural artefacts. (1996: 323)
171 Leading and coping with change
While the formal leader’s role may be seen as providing explanations,
legitimations and rationale for changing organizational activities—that is,
engaging in symbolic management (Pfeffer, 1981)—employees are often critical
of their managers’ skills, abilities and experience. They assess senior managers’
willingness to bring about change and measure their credibility to lead change.
Employees judge leaders in terms of how they try to bring about change. Do they
‘energize and enthuse others’; do they ‘explain reasons for decisions’, so
employees can understand why change is needed? Are additional pressures on
employees induced by change leaders failing to communicate effectively,
managing the change process incorrectly, behaving inappropriately and so on?
How formal leaders try to bring about change is part of the wider issue of
employee relations. Employees report that relationships will be positive if formal
leaders are judged to ‘treat people equitably’, ‘lead by example’ and ‘hold two-
way conversations’. The notion of two-way conversations is particularly
important. While managers seek to change the way people think about what is
desirable, possible and necessary (Zaleznik, 1977: 71), and leadership is the active
promotion of changed values, beliefs, assumptions and expectations about the
organization and what it seeks to achieve, sense-making results from the
interpretation of the messages that leaders convey. Management support and
guidance, and inviting conversation rather than ‘commanding and controlling’,
helps employees develop their understanding and expectations about working
differently. Indeed, Ford and Ford (1995) have emphasized the importance of
conversation when they talk about change as a communication-based and
communication-driven phenomenon, while Barrett et al. (1995: 353) contend that
‘discourse is the core of the change process’, Ensuring extensive communication
was found, in part, to be a key predictor of success in business process
reengineering initiatives in the financial services sector in Australia (Terziovski
et al., 2003).
Additionally, leader employee relations are likely to be positive if leaders are
judged to ‘treat people equitably’. This finding is supported by prior research into
organizational justice that has shown that when employees see themselves as
being treated fairly, they develop many of the attitudes and behaviors required for
successful change (Cobb et al., 1995). The wider notion of ‘fair process’ is also
relevant here. Kim and Mauborgne (1997) propose three elements of ‘fair process’
in the way a company makes and executes decisions. These are to: (1) engage
people’s input into decisions that directly affect them; (2) explain why decisions
are made the way they are; and (3) make clear what will be expected of employees
after the changes are made. A lack of fairness can induce people to resist change
even when it would benefit them directly.
Leaders are also judged in terms of their ability to effect change through change
content skills. For employees, this includes showing realism in what can be
achieved in planning, scheduling and milestone setting; keeping focused; and
adopting appropriate timing and sequencing in the change process (Huy, 2001).
Also, leadership, it has been argued, is acutely sensitive to context, so ‘leading
change’ involves linking action by people at all levels of the organization
(Pettigrew and Whipp, 1991). This involves both ‘public performance and
backstage activity’ (Buchannan and Boddy, 1992).
S. Woodward and C. Hendry 172
Leading change is a very public activity. Leaders are being watched from all
angles, and what they do and how they do it is an important element in
successfully bringing about change. Failing to show an appreciation of the balance
between workplace demands and employee resources and to allow people to
develop competencies needed to perform well in a changing situation creates a
strong negative impression. Consequently, in change programs where people
aspects are ignored, employees will still be active in interpreting what is
happening and how well (or poorly) change is being led and managed. This
becomes an element in the process of change itself.
Implementing new initiatives will, inevitably, create problems. However, pro-
blems that arise in the process of trying new policies, technologies or behaviours,
are a major source of learning and improvement (Tyre and von Hippel, 1997). Since
conscious problem solving arises within a blocked cycle of activity, the situation
in which this puzzle’ occurs is the context where practical action enables us to
test out and determine whether anticipated consequences occur or whether alter-
native actions are needed. And, because adaptive situations are not amenable to
leader-driven solutions, they are the province of communities of practice. When
leadership is reframed, in terms of ‘managers who foster communities of practice’,
people are encouraged to strike up relationships to solve problems (both within and
outside formal role relationships) (Hendry, 1996). In mutual engagement, through
actions whose meanings they negotiate with one another, within their joint
enterprise, and through their shared repertoire, informal distributed leadership can
also occur. Opportunities for learning through local engagement and wider
participation will influence how employees apply coping strategies.
In addition to coping, employees identified a number of skills and competencies
that are especially helpful to absorb and cope with change, including problem
solving, organizing work and managing time effectively, and understanding
customer needs. Organizational structures and policies that enable cross-
functional communication, encourage good working practices and reward
innovative problem solving are likely to facilitate these skills and competencies.
However, senior managers, according to employees, often seem unable to create
the conditions where these skills and competencies can be developed. As Beer
et al. (1990) found, few organizations seem to be aware of the need to equip
employees with skills, resources and opportunities so that they can cope with new
tasks and demands. If organizations took the trouble to specify what a ‘high
performing coping individual’ looked like, they could put in place recruitment and
training so that employees could deal with change effectively as it occurs.
Similarly, in talking about meeting the changing requirements of organizations,
work, and jobs in terms of ‘communities of practice’, our thinking about
organizations is influenced by the perspective that learning cannot be designed—it
can only be designed for—and, hence, facilitated or frustrated by the leading and
coping processes. In addressing problems as they arise in the contexts of activity
all employees can lead through using their critical knowledge of engagement to
alter direction. This sharing of the control of performance and, thereby, direction,
enables local adaptations as part of the overall change management process.
Poor change leadership skills are a key impediment to change. Since leaders
are themselves part of the change process they too need learning and support
173 Leading and coping with change
mechanisms. Mentoring by someone who has more experience of leading and
managing change, setting up action learning groups for all those leading the
change process (Hartley et al., 1997), or engaging an outside consultant (Porras
and Hoffer, 1986; Margerison, 1989; Morgan and Sturdy, 2000), can provide some
means of support. As Binney and Williams propose:
successful leaders in change combine leading and learning: they lead in such a way that
learning is encouraged; they learn in such a way that informs and guides those who seek to
lead. (1995: 7)
Employees often implicitly appreciate the need to learn to work differently and
adjust their expectations to a new reality. For example, the notion of ‘lifetime
employment’ and an ‘organizational career’, once prevalent in many financial
service organizations, has been severely eroded (Hendry and Jenkins, 1996), and
for many working in retail banking this is seen as a radical change requiring a new
way of thinking about employment and its meaning for them (Littlefield, 1995).
However, in other occupations and among groups such as graduates, the
‘unwritten contract’ has always been rather different. Hence, the type of people,
their experiences and expectations of change will affect their adaptability and
requirements for support. Contrary to the pessimistic view that people resist
change, our survey showed that, while change puts pressure on employees a
majority, nevertheless, see change as a part of organizational life and feel positive
about it.
In cases where ‘resistance’ is highlighted this can more usefully be recognized
in terms of ambivalence (Piderit, 2000) with the need for redefining the mutual
obligations and commitments that exist between employees and the organization.
As others have argued, the notion of ‘resistance’ needs to return to its system roots
rather than its current psychological definition (Dent and Goldberg, 1999).
Similarly, resistance is often manifest as a fear of being unable to cope with new
job demands and may, therefore, be addressed in a variety of ways. Since
employees determine their responsibilities, level of commitment to work and
the company’s values, by questioning three dimensions—basic task and
performance requirements, the psychological contract and the social aspects of
the personal contract—how a company answers these questions is one of the keys
to successful change (Strebel, 1996; Rhoades and Eisenberger, 2002). The worst
case scenario is where employees accept the absence of support and adapt through
lowered expectations. As Herriot et al. observed:
[managers in the financial services sector] would welcome organizational help to develop
themselves further so as to be able to meet new demands. Sadly, however, they do not expect
such help. (1996: 188)
Similarly, we found a clear discrepancy between senior managers’ and
employees’ perspectives on the existence of reinforcement and incentive systems
to support change. This is despite the fact that HR practices have been proposed as
one of the most powerful levers to help bring about change, since they have a
visible impact on the attitudes and behaviours of employees (Tichy, 1982; Ulrich,
1987). Under such conditions, it is not surprising that many change initiatives fail.
Where senior managers stress limited sources of support and emphasize things
which they, as managers, control, the mismatch may be made worse, not better.
S. Woodward and C. Hendry 174
Testimony to this is the significant discrepancy between senior managers’ and
employees’ perceptions on whether changes had affected employees’ perform-
ance. In our surveys, senior managers believed that employees’ performance had
increased in terms of efficiency and effectiveness ‘in most cases’ whereas, nearly
half employees reported ‘no effect’. Other examples of this disconnection between
senior managers’ perceptions and employees’ perceptions has been usefully
illustrated in other findings (Doyle et al., 2000). In change programmes, most
employees may prefer to keep their heads down and let change roll over them.
Leading change has, therefore, to be an active process of engagement.
Conclusion: process of implementing change and implications for learning
Adopting the ‘leading and coping with change’ model as a conceptual tool in the
process of implementing change has a number of implications for learning, some
of which have been touched on above. We suggest a further three ways in which
change management skills may be enhanced.
First, those formally leading change need to become better aware of the part
they play in the change management process. Hence, workshops that engage senior
and middle managers in confronting their own assumptions about what ‘leading
change’ means, and what change means for those who are having to adjust to new
ways of doing things, can prove valuable. For this to happen, producing a business
case for the workshop would help to engage with the senior management team in
considering the people factor when focusing on organizational change. Middle
managers who are responsible for leading self-managed work groups would need
to be, similarly, mutually engaged before the workshop, to help them appreciate
the activity. In successfully constructing a different way of talking about change
management, some outcomes will be that formal leaders will pay attention to
different things (such as coping and learning) and act differently (through engaging
with emerging communities of practice) as their world view changes.
Second, people, at all levels, like to appear capable and competent in the
workplace. During periods of distinctive change they assess what new ways of
working are needed, what demands these provide and whether they have the
resources to meet these demands. In this event, questionnaires could be developed
as diagnostic tools for assessing employees’ needs. For example, by identifying
which skills and competencies are important to have in order to adapt and cope
with change, and assessing the extent to which managers and staff possess these
important skills. Or, identifying how employees see themselves within the
changing workplace since, in the coping process and within communities of
practice, identities also need to change.
The questionnaires can be used in a variety of ways. First, replies from
employees could be aggregated to help inform change leaders’ perspectives.
Second, the results could be used on a personal level, such as in an appraisal
interview, to determine personal development plans. They could also feed into a
performance management system. The questionnaire survey process inevitably
becomes part of the change process itself; employees need to know the purpose
of the survey, goodwill can be created by feeding back the findings and
demonstrating actions resulting (or reasons for not acting). The survey process can
175 Leading and coping with change
also be used as a vehicle for workplace learning by involving work groups actively
in the feedback process, appreciating reasons for responses and identifying ways
of reducing fire-fighting activities (which can often arise from tensions between
authorities and responsibilities). Thirdly, since change leaders, who are in the
public eye, have to adapt and cope with change themselves they may, therefore,
need support.
Since improvement in leading change skills and competencies can best be
undertaken as the change process unfolds, we propose the use of action learning
teams: these can be of two types. First, a group of managers, who are responsible
for managing change projects can get together and help each other deal with
problems that arise as the change process unfolds. This would be an ‘educative’
community of practice designed for engaging with other leaders in critically
reflecting on practice. Another approach would be to invite managerial leaders and
employees into a more collaborative, less-hierarchical setting conducive to
dialogue. Here, multiple local realities can be voiced, participants can learn new
ways of relating, and leadership becomes dispersed. Future Search (Weisbord and
Janoff, 1995) and other similar methods of large group interventions (Manning
and Binzagr, 1996) can be used to facilitate learning across a constellation of
communities of practice,
with dialogue thereby facilitating personal and
organizational development (Dixon, 1998). Additionally, regardless of level and
status in the organization, the rapid pace of change in the sector is driving the
strategic importance of continuous competence in professional development
(Storer and Rajan, 2002).
Callan (1993) observes that research is ‘curiously silent’ about how people react
to organizational change and, particularly, about how to facilitate positive
accommodations and adaptations to change. In this article we have sought to cast
some light in this area, and, particularly, to show the interrelated nature of leading
and coping with change, and therefore the importance of encouraging leader- and
employee-led change, of both a formal and informal nature. It is only when change
leaders appreciate what managers and employees need, and managers are able to
delegate, develop staff and renegotiate role relationships, that change is likely to
be effective. Such an awareness, and the supportive behaviours and mechanisms
that are indicated, then become an important part of the change leader’s own
competence set for managing change.
Appendix: survey design
Sampling method
For the survey of senior managers responsible for initiating change, a sample
framework was generated by SIC codes for financial services and business/
Although for convenience the ‘leading and coping with change’ model adopts change management as task
alignment at the unit level, we do not conflate this social configuration with ‘community of practice’. It is
important to recognize discontinuities that are integral to discrete practices by viewing inter-connected practices
as a ‘constellation’, where relationships may arise through sharing historical roots, competing for the same
resources, or having related enterprises (Wenger, 1998). All of these relations can create continuities that define
broader configurations
S. Woodward and C. Hendry 176
professional services supporting the sector, all located within the City of London,
which was the geographical focus for this study. A data-set of 955 companies was
obtained from a commercial firm, and a further 120 organizations comprising
building societies, and business and management consultants were added, making
1075 firms in all. A structured, random sample of 250 companies was derived from
this and questionnaires sent to all of these, with follow-up letters and phone calls.
The response rate of 12% from 30 firms, was disappointing, although not
uncommon and in line with recent survey responses in the UK (Marc Thomas,
personal communication). Executives who responded nevertheless represented
organizations with a total of more than 156 000 employees. It is also worth noting
that the two traditional requirements of survey research have been representative
sampling to permit generalization from a sample to a population and a high
response rate to reduce the likelihood of bias in the obtained data. However, recent
research has shown that when probability sampling methods have been used we
should no longer presume that lower response rates necessarily signal lower
representativeness (Krosnick, 1999).
Initially, we had hoped to draw our employee sample from companies
responding to the first round, but these generally declined to cooperate further.
Instead, we derived a purposive sample with the aim of producing maximum
variation, to collect data and identify any key themes that might appear. Any
patterns emerging from such heterogeneity are likely to represent important factors
(Patton, 1990/2002). Prior to selecting the sample, we adopted a number of selection
criteria including diversity of occupational grouping, place of work (with no more
than one respondent per site), age and gender. Eight hundred individuals were
identified through membership of relevant Institutes, Associations and other bodies
in the City of London (with some of these helping in questionnaire distribution), and
these were sent a self completion postal questionnaire. One hundred and ninety-eight
completed questionnaires were received, giving a response rate of 25%.
Respondent characteristics
Financial services is a complex sector, comprising many services and products.
The surveys sought to capture this complexity and diversity, and sampling details
are included above. Since a typical response for a mailed survey is around 20%,
and because of the indeterminate size and nature of the population being surveyed,
sample characteristics are of greater consequence and, hence, are detailed below.
In both surveys, nearly all of the respondents were male (90% of the senior
managers surveyed: 75% of other employees), while around 7 in 10 of the
employee group were aged between 26 and 45 years, with the same proportion of
the senior manager group aged over 40.
Senior managers were evenly spread in terms of length of time in the company,
with one third having been with the company three years or less, a third between 4
and 10 years, and the rest more than 10 years. All were located at head office and
most held positions of chairman, CEO, managing director, partner or HR director.
A quarter came from insurance with between 10 to 15% coming from each of
investment/fund management, wholesale banking, retail banking, broking and
consultancy/professional services.
177 Leading and coping with change
Proportionately, fewer employees (including managers and staff) had been with
their organization less than three years, with the remainder (70%) equally divided
between medium- to long-term service. Around a quarter worked for insurance
companies and a similar proportion for investment/fund management firms. The
rest were fairly evenly spread between wholesale banking, retail banking, broking
and consultancy/professional services. Around 90 different job titles were given.
These were clustered into insurance-related jobs; professional/support staff;
management positions; trading/dealing; investment-related positions; adminis-
tration/backroom and retail banking positions.
Questionnaire design
In following a quantitatively based relational survey methodology (Bradbury and
Lichtenstein, 2000), the researchers searched the academic and business literatures
reporting on what had been happening in the sector, to identify issues of relevance.
They also carried out a small number of interviews with informed people from the
sector to identify core issues and close-ended categories likely to be of most
relevance to respondents. The surveys were undertaken sequentially, with senior
management responses informing some of the categories used in closed-ended
questions posed in the employee survey. Since the questionnaires were designed
using internally-generated perspectives, the assumption is that the information
provided through the survey, using both closed- and open-ended items will be
richer and more complete (Anderson, 1996). The questionnaire was then pilot
tested with a small number of people from the sector.
Choice of survey items reflected a desire to explore with senior managers and
human resource specialists having formal responsibility for ‘leading change’, four
key areas:
1. Changes introduced (for example, type of major changes introduced into the
organization, triggers for change initiatives, depth of change introduced,
manner and focus of change implementation, desired outcomes, and steps
taken to sustain change).
2. Opinions about employees’ reactions to change (such as the expectations of
employees to introduced changes; manifest reactions to change; impact of
change initiatives on roles, responsibilities and accountabilities and
performance; skills/attitudes employees’ required for coping with changes
3. Organizational practices—such as the level of support provided—as
evidenced in prior preparations for change and HR system changes.
4. Opinions on skills and attitudes believed necessary to successfully lead
organizational change, and reasons why change programmes fail.
The second survey of employees (including managers at all levels except top
management) investigated five areas:
1. Perceived changes in the job or work environment that employees have had
to cope with (such as key triggers for organizational change; resulting
S. Woodward and C. Hendry 178
changes of emphasis on strategic imperatives; management’s ability in
implementing change).
2. Opinions on how experience of change to date, and anticipation of future
change, had affected employees (including the nature of the working
environment; work/job changes; different work performance expectations;
impact of changed employer expectations on attitudes to work and to the
employer); how changes have manifest in behaviours/performance and
attitudes; willingness to respond to further changes.
3. What employees perceived as the requirements for coping (problems caused
by changes; personal strategies for coping with these problems; skills and
competencies needed to absorb and cope with changes).
4. Skills and competencies needed by those leading change which will assist
others in the process of absorbing change; ways in which those leading
change create difficulties or make it hard for people to absorb/adapt to
5. Organizational practices (ways in which the organization prevents problems
and supports employees’ changing).
In both surveys, as well as closed questions, a number of open-ended questions
were inserted to capture further variations in experience in these areas.
Data analysis
Numerical data was entered onto spreadsheets and incorporated into SPSS version
9. Closed question responses were aggregated as frequency data and, where
comparisons were possible, cross tabulations were generated with
tests of
association undertaken. However, because of the small numbers involved, few
substantive differences across groups could be identified. This did not present a
problem because the main focus of the study was on differences in perceptions
between top managers of change and others who are recipients of change (which
they, as managers, may have helped execute). Open-ended responses were content
analysed and clustered under emerging themes.
We would like to thank Focus Central London (formerly CILNTEC) for funding
this study and acknowledge the help of Maria Charalambous in developing and
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Notes on contributors
Sally Woodward is Lecturer in the Faculty of Management at Cass Business
School (formerly City University Business School). She lectures in organizational
behaviour and research methods, and has a special interest in consulting to
management, and in the strategy and management of knowledge intensive
services, which she teaches on the MSc in Internal Auditing and Management, and
the MBA. Recent publications include Managing Change Successfully (with
Williams and Dobson, Thomson Learning, 2002) and ‘Higher education
opportunities in management consulting’ (with Williams, in B. Curnow and
J. Reuvid, The International Guide to Management Consultancy, Kogan Page,
Chris Hendry is Centenary Professor in Organizational Behavior in the Faculty of
Management and Associate Dean for Research at Cass. He was previously
Principal Research Fellow and Associate Director in the Centre for Corporate
Strategy and Change at Warwick University and is well known for his publications
in the areas of HRM, change management, learning organization, innovation and
industrial networks.
183 Leading and coping with change
  • ... However, many studies indicate that resistance, incompetent leadership, contextual factors, organisational politics and resource limitation are the dominant factors contributing to the failure of most change initiatives (Oreg, 2006;Wainaina et al., 2014;Woodward & Hendry, 2004). Due to many reasons, HEIs are extraordinarily resistant to changes (Marshall, 2010). ...
    ... The unique nature of HEIs, especially, being loosely coupled systems with professional autonomy and the unique culture of the academy requires a distinct approach to managing changes (Mehari, 2016). Moreover, most changes are introduced typically in a traditional top-down approach, which promotes leader-driven solutions (Woodward & Hendry, 2004). This is usually done in universities without open communication of the issues in a timely fashion with academicians and supporting staff as they are directly linked to or involved in the process. ...
    ... Heifetz, Grashow and Linsky (2009) also clearly stated the need to shift responsibility from the shoulders of authority figures and authority structures to stakeholders. One interviewee said, 'People are naturally resistant to order unless they are part of the decision', which is similar to themes in Parry (1999) and Woodward and Hendry (2004) of the need to involve stakeholders in change decisions. ...
    Universities are making changes to fulfil their education, research and community service responsibilities. Exacerbated by limited experience of systemic change management approaches, most change initiatives fail to address institutional problems. Therefore, this study has tried to propose adaptive design as a promising approach to create adaptive changes in universities. Guided by a pragmatic philosophical viewpoint, this research followed a practice theory to understand actions and decisions related to changes. Staff members and students were invited to reflect on their perceptions of the principles and tactics extracted from adaptive design and their implementation in the university. Also, the study tried to identify major challenges to create adaptive changes by using a mixed method-sequential explanatory approach. Survey and interviews were made to gather relevant data. The finding reflected that tenets of adaptive design, its principles and tactics are important tools to lead and institutionalise change initiatives. This may affirm the significance of the approach if accepted and scaled up as an alternative change management theory.Keywords: Adaptive design, adaptive leadership, design thinking, change.
  • ... :Woodward & Hendry, 2004 iiGill, 2001 iii Ibid. iv(Greenwood & Hinings, 1996 v Cook and Macaulay, 2004 vi Ibid. ...
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    Spiritual intelligence (SQ) does find its roots back in the paradigm of religion nevertheless the business use of spiritual intelligence has nothing to do with religious beliefs. Because of the fragmented literature and lack of empirical studies, Spiritual Intelligence (SQ) is gaining interest of researchers. Researchers believe that the change management process can benefit greatly by introducing spiritual perspectives in the organizations which is believed to compliment change process by helping employees meet new and on hand goals with added rapidity. Acknowledgment of spiritual intelligence as the primary aspect of the human persona has broadened the possibilities towards managing change. Spiritual leadership holds the attitude or values considered important to intrinsically motivate one self and others to have feeling of connectedness with the outer world. This incorporates sense of meaning, well-being, vision and a culture of love where people feel loved, appreciated and cared. The spiritual leadership is considered an ultimate way for transformation of organizations because such leadership can incorporate vision, faith, and altruistic love in employees necessary for change process. Yet there is a need to empirically test the claims about spiritual intelligence with reference to change management. This paper intends to focus on exploring contribution of Spiritual intelligence in the construct of Effective change management.
  • ... Besides, most changes are introduced typically in the traditional top-down approach, which is submissive to leader driven solutions (Woodward and Hendry, 2004). Documents on Ethiopian higher education reform indicated a top-down decision practice made by the government and its agency without adequate consultation and involvement of academic staff of public universities (Teshome, 2003). ...
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    Initiating, implementing, and sustaining reforms are the most daunting and challenging aspects of change in higher education institutions. This research argues that to survive and thrive in a changing environment, adaptive capacity is fundamental. Thus, this study aims to serve two purposes. While the leading purpose was measuring the adaptive capacity of universities using a conceptual model developed based on literature review, introducing the critical components that determine adaptive capacity was secondary. Therefore, guided by a pragmatic approach this study has tried to maintain both subjective reflections and objective data during data collection and analysis. Accordingly, to attain the purpose of the study mixed research design particularly, a sequential explanatory approach was used. To gather relevant data from the target population, the questionnaire was distributed and 594 completed and useful questionnaires were returned from 133 leaders at different position, 268 academic staffs and 193 support staffs, which was a 62.06% response rate. Besides, 15 interviews and documents were reviewed. Finally, among the composite indicators approach, structural equation modeling (SEM) mainly principal least square path modeling (PLS-PM) was used to measure and analyze adaptive capacity using XLSTAT software. As a result, the adaptive capacity of universities was found unsatisfactory i.e. lower than moderate. This indicates universities might not fully implement the change ideas they wish to introduce into their system. Consequently, the identified gaps and challenges in the studied universities strengthen the argument for the need to assess universities adaptive capacity using a model and make appropriate intervention before struggling to introduce any change initiative without a fertile ground.
  • ... Finally, the lack of communication about change decisions is another important problem that has been detected. According to Woodward and Hendry (2004), the inadequate communication by a change agent is one of the main obstacles to organization members absorbing and coping with the change. ...
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    The public sector is facing multiple changes. In a constantly changing environment, that is more and more demanding in terms of innovation and performance, the concept of leadership is of particular importance, as it is one of the few tools available to public managers. Based on the transformational leadership theory, the aim of this study is to explore how transformational leadership characteristics influence organizational change within the public sector in Lebanon. To serve this purpose, a qualitative approach is adopted based on a series of semi-focused interviews conducted with ten public managers running 10 public administrations. These administrations have undergone significant changes over the past five years. The results point out the importance of transformational behaviors adopted by public managers in leading change within the public sector in Lebanon, despite the multiple obstacles. They confirmed the role of two transformational dimensions related to idealized influence and inspirational motivation in the successful implementation of organizational change. This study contributes to better understanding of the role of transformational leadership in promoting change in the public sector.
  • ... Woodward and Hendry [15] analyzed that in a changing workplace, employees are continually evaluating what is going on and what is its significance for them. Human beings naturally want to be involved in every culture; some employees are frustrated with trying to get some of their employers to adopt new ways of doing things. ...
  • Article
    Purpose: Universities are making changes to fulfill their education, research and community service responsibilities. However, the effectiveness of change initiatives is always in questions because changes especially in developing nations are carried out under multidimensional pressures. Exacerbated by limited experience of systemic change management approaches, most change initiatives fail to address institutional problems. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to propose adaptive design as a promising approach to create adaptive changes in universities. Guided by pragmatic philosophical viewpoint, this research followed a practice theory to understand actions and decisions related to changes. Staffs and students were made to reflect their perception for the principles and tactics extracted from adaptive design and their implementation in the university. In addition, the study tried to identify major challenges to create adaptive changes. In doing so, the research used mixed method—sequential explanatory approach. Survey and interviews were made to gather relevant data. The finding of this research confirm that adaptive design is an excellent alternative approach to create adaptive changes in universities. This may prove the significance of the approach if accepted and scaled up as an alternative change management theory. However, in the target university, leaders and change agents rarely used a change management approach that resembles adaptive design, which in turn may be the reason for failing to bring adaptive changes (deep and pervasive). Consequently, it was reflected that business as usual do not suffice, and hence, universities have to continually update themselves with up-to-date change management approaches like adaptive design. Besides, it was outlined that institutions should revisit why and how they are introducing changes. Design/methodology/approach: The study followed mixed research–sequential explanatory approach. Multistage stratified random sampling was used to select respondents which included staffs and students. Questionnaire for 219 respondents and in-depth interviews with purposely selected six relevant interviewees were employed. One sample t-test, ANOVA and content analysis techniques were used to analyze data. Findings: The finding of this paper reflected that tenets of adaptive design, its principles and tactics are important tools to lead and institutionalize change initiatives. This may prove the significance of the approach if accepted and scaled up as an alternative change management theory. However, in the target university, leaders and change agents rarely used a change management approach that resembles adaptive design, which, in turn, may be the reason for failing to bring adaptive changes (deep and pervasive) in the institution. Consequently, it was reflected that business as usual does not suffice, and hence, universities have to continually update themselves with up-to-date change management approaches like adaptive design. Besides, it was outlined that institutions should revisit why and how they are introducing changes. Research limitations/implications: The basic limitation of this study is the problem of supporting literature evidence from other similar research findings, since the authors hardly find similar research outputs. Besides, this research might probably have a problem of transferability to other organizations, because the samples of this study were too limited given the huge number of staffs, which may not represent the whole population besides the interview was made only with volunteers. Moreover, it was conducted only in universities. For this reason, care must be taken to deduce any of the results to other population. Practical implications: The research reflected that the university has to work to build change adaptive culture. In doing so, developing deep investigation and open discussions of challenges are necessary to understand adaptive problems. Besides, the university has to try to use adaptive design as an alternative change management tool, collaborative thinking for creative solutions, using group change strategies, and creating clear communication systems on the types and impacts of changes (meaning making), as well as acquainting staffs with the necessary skills to do adaptive works are among the practical implications forwarded as recommendations. Social implications: This research has reflected on the change management approaches of higher education institutions. The social value of universities are determined by their contribution as a result of efforts made to upgrade themselves via various reform initiatives. To enhance the reform/change process, universities are investing huge resources to adopt and implement innovative approaches. However, the change efforts need to be guided by a systemic approach and by introducing adaptive design might contribute a lot for universities to enhance their social contribution. Lessons from adaptive design have implications to overcome challenges associated with human elements like resistance, collaboration, owning and implementing changes, etc. Originality/value: This research is originally conducted extracting valuable lessons from adaptive design introduced by Bernstein and Linsky (2016). This investigation has tried to study adaptive design in one of the universities in a developing nation with a major purpose of supporting or refuting the approach. This study tried to capture staffs’ perception for adaptive design approach. Besides, an attempt was made to find out systems that resemble adaptive design in the university’s change management process. Moreover, the common challenges to create adaptive changes were traced. Studying the case in the university and common challenges helped to recommend the need of adaptive design confidently.
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    The transformation brought about by digital marketplaces will be the key challenge for any industry in the coming years. The media, IT and telecommunications sectors have struggled to adjust to a changing business environment for almost two decades. Now, companies from the financial services, transportation or even engineering sectors are ripe for disruption caused by technology and new business models. The only way to survive this process is by thoroughly preparing the entire organization for a transformation of unprecedented scope.
  • Article
    The organizations, in the present days,are facing a dynamic environment which makes that no organization is immune towards change. Technological changes, innovations in communication, movements in the job market, globalization, make the organization face continuous challenges regarding competition, general non-stability of the macro-environment, merging and re-engineering of the work processes. To face these challenges, the organization reassesses the strategies, structure, policies, actions, processes and their culture. So the organizational change (OC) is inevitable in the environment where the organizations operate. Organizational change can be a very small change (additional) or it can be fundamental (transformative). Regardless of the form, function or size that the organizatioal change can make, there is an agreement between the community of the researchers that the pace of the organizational change has never been as high as in our days and it must be considered as a “feature which is present in the organizational life both in the operational level as well as in the strategic level” (By, 2005). Researchers already see the organizational change as a feature, present and continuous of the organizational life, inconsistent with the previous conceptualism that viewed the organizations as relatively stable systems, which developed over time through additional planned changes, which took place in regular and predicted phases (Burnes, 2004; Cummings -Worley, 2009). The famous expression “organizations don’t change, people do”, creates the need for change agents to understand that employees have different reactions to change initiative, because they have different personal experiences, motivation levels, socio-demographic characteristics, knowledges, values and different behavior models