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Exploring the Implications of Vision, Appropriateness, and Execution of Organizational Change

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Purpose The purpose of this paper was to examine the interaction effects of managers' perceptions of the supporting vision clarity, appropriateness, and execution of a major organizational change on their job satisfaction, organizational commitment, turnover intentions, and role ambiguity. Design/methodology/approach Data were collected from upper and middle‐level managers of a Fortune 500 US manufacturer and maker of consumer goods involved in a large organizational change initiative. A survey was completed by 217 managers, for a response rate of 89 percent. Change attitudes, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, turnover intentions, role ambiguity, and control variables were all assessed. Findings A three‐way interaction between change vision clarity, change appropriateness, and change execution was found to predict managers' job satisfaction, turnover intentions, and role ambiguity. Research limitations/implications The study relied on self‐reports collected at one point in time, allowing for the possibility of common method bias. The complex, nonlinear relationships indicate that method bias cannot fully account for the reported relationships. Practical implications Study results illustrate that the individual experience of major change is multifaceted and that simultaneously considering the combined effects of individual's change attitudes including readiness (in the form of believing a change is needed and appropriate) and the perceived effectiveness of the change execution on key job‐related outcomes can help practitioners understand more fully the implications of organizational change. Originality/value The findings lend support to the notion that individual's sentiments concerning organizational change are interactive and should not be ignored.
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Exploring the implications of
vision, appropriateness, and
execution of organizational
change
Michael S. Cole
Institute for Leadership and Human Resource Management,
University of St Gallen, St Gallen, Switzerland
Stanley G. Harris and Jeremy B. Bernerth
Department of Management, College of Business, Auburn University,
Auburn, Alabama, USA
Abstract
Purpose The purpose of this paper was to examine the interaction effects of managers’ perceptions
of the supporting vision clarity, appropriateness, and execution of a major organizational change on
their job satisfaction, organizational commitment, turnover intentions, and role ambiguity.
Design/methodology/approach – Data were collected from upper and middle-level managers of a
Fortune 500 US manufacturer and maker of consumer goods involved in a large organizational change
initiative. A survey was completed by 217 managers, for a response rate of 89 percent. Change
attitudes, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, turnover intentions, role ambiguity, and control
variables were all assessed.
Findings – A three-way interaction between change vision clarity, change appropriateness, and
change execution was found to predict managers’ job satisfaction, turnover intentions, and role
ambiguity.
Research limitations/implications – The study relied on self-reports collected at one point in
time, allowing for the possibility of common method bias. The complex, nonlinear relationships
indicate that method bias cannot fully account for the reported relationships.
Practical implications Study results illustrate that the individual experience of major change is
multifaceted and that simultaneously considering the combined effects of individual’s change
attitudes including readiness (in the form of believing a change is needed and appropriate) and the
perceived effectiveness of the change execution on key job-related outcomes can help practitioners
understand more fully the implications of organizational change.
Originality/value The findings lend support to the notion that individual’s sentiments concerning
organizational change are interactive and should not be ignored.
Keywords Organizational change, Job satisfaction, Corporate identity, Employee turnover,
Role ambiguity
Paper type Research paper
Organizations are being challenged to retain their competitive edge more than ever
before. In order to compete, organizations have been forced to implement large-scale
change and quality improvement initiatives, which include reengineering, rightsizing,
mergers, job relocations, and management restructuring (Kets de Vries and Balazs,
1997). As a part of such change initiatives, it is common for the company’s executives
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
www.emeraldinsight.com/0143-7739.htm
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Received June 2005
Revised December 2005
Accepted January 2006
Leadership & Organization
Development Journal
Vol. 27 No. 5, 2006
pp. 352-367
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
0143-7739
DOI 10.1108/01437730610677963
to persuasively argue that specific changes are needed, even vital, if the company
wishes to survive. And yet, enthusiasm is often in short supply from those lower in the
management ranks (Strebel, 1996). In part, the lack of enthusiasm can be explained if
one considers the growing body of literature that suggests organizational change
places demands not only on the organization, but also on the individual employees,
both physiologically and psychologically (Grunberg et al., 2001; Pfeffer, 1998; Sverke
et al., 2002).
Interestingly, individuals respond differently to organizational change (e.g.
Barger and Kirby, 1995). For some, change may bring increased satisfaction as
they perceive the change as a chance to grow and learn; others, however, may
react negatively to the smallest change. In their review of the change literature,
Armenakis and Bedeian (1999, p. 307) noted that “as open systems, organizations
depend on human direction to succeed”, and called for a more person-centered
investigation of organizational change. In spite of the recent empirical studies that
have suggested individuals are an appropriate level of analysis when exploring
organizational change (e.g. Judge et al., 1999; Oreg, 2003), an implicit assumption
in much of the organizational change literature is that change initiatives either
succeed or fail uniformly across the organization (Wanberg and Banas, 2000) and
therefore the organization is deemed the appropriate unit of analysis. In line with
Armenakis and Bedeian (1999), we contend that organizational change begins with
the individual, as resistance or support are ultimately individual decisions and
behaviors.
Armenakis and colleagues (Armenakis et al., 1993, 1999, Holt et al., 2006) and, more
recently Bernerth (2004), have asserted the primary mechanism for creating individual
change readiness, acceptance, and institutionalization is the “change message” as
perceived from direct communication and symbolic evidence as the change unfolds.
Armenakis et al. (1999) argued, for example, that the message creates core sentiments
in individuals that they use to guide decisions about their level of support for the
change initiative.
Although scholars have stressed the importance of employees’ beliefs with regard to
organizational changes (Armenakis et al., 1999; Kotter, 1995), few empirical studies
have investigated the linkage between individuals’ perceptions of the organizational
change and job-relevant outcomes (for an exception see Wanberg and Banas, 2000).
The present study examined the extent to which a sample of upper and middle-level
managers’ sentiments regarding an organizational change were associated with four
relevant affective outcomes their job satisfaction, organizational commitment,
turnover intention, and role ambiguity. Moreover, we focused on sentiments regarding
three aspects of the change: the clarity of the vision driving change, the
appropriateness of the change, and the quality of the change execution. Finally, our
review of the literature has revealed that past research has focused primarily on simple
relationships between change perceptions and outcomes, thereby overlooking more
complex models. It is likely, however, that individual perceptions of organizational
change interact in their influence on employee affective outcomes. Therefore, we
investigated the interaction effects of the three change process perceptions on the
outcomes. To the extent relationships are found between management’s change
sentiments and outcomes, the findings might help explain why some change efforts fail
while others are accepted and even championed (see Lau and Woodman, 1995).
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Conceptual framework and study hypotheses
Many models of how to successfully initiate organizational change have been
proposed. In their review of change management literature, Armenakis and Bedeian
(1999) suggested that approaches to change have two main foci: change content and
change process. In the present study, we focus on two content issues the clarity of the
vision supporting the change and the appropriateness of the change. We also look at an
overall assessment of the change process, a rating of the quality of the change
execution.
Change sentiments
Vision clarity. One of the most consistent features across diverse change models is the
ascribed importance of vision and its effective communication (e.g. Kotter, 1995;
McAdam, 2003). One of the key sentiments to creating change readiness and
supporting institutionalization according to Armenakis et al. (1993, 1999) is the sense
that change is needed. Vision provides much of the justification for such a sentiment.
Nutt and Backoff (1997) similarly argued that vision is the trigger for radical,
transformational change. Creating a vision and communicating it account for two of
Kotter’s (1995) eight key steps in organizational transformation. For instance, Kotter
argued that the content of the vision must be sensible and clearly understood by
organizational members; content without clarity is ineffective. Likewise, Collins and
Porras (1996, p. 74) advised leaders that they “must translate the vision from words to
pictures with a vivid description of what it will be like to achieve your goal”. We
therefore expect that changes that are supported by a clear vision will encourage
positive affective outcomes.
Appropriateness. A second key change sentiment emphasized by Armenakis et al.
(1993, 1999) is the sense that the change is appropriate is the specific change being
introduced an appropriate reaction to the need for change and vision? Appropriateness
addresses the possibility that individuals may embrace a vision but not agree that a
specific change is appropriate to support that vision. If the proposed change is viewed
by employees as the incorrect approach to pursuing the vision, change targets may not
be willing to “buy-in” to the change or attempt to make it work. Appropriateness is
very similar in nature to the transformational change issue tension of “several plans for
change” identified by Nutt and Backoff (1997). This issue tension highlights the
possibility of multiple changes in support of a particular vision. Organizational
members are going to feel much better about changes being implemented when they
feel those changes are appropriate.
Execution. Whereas sentiments of vision clarity and appropriateness reflect what
individuals think about the change itself, individual’s perception of change execution
reflects the actual process of introduction and unfolding of the changes within the
organization. Therefore, as an evaluative sentiment, change execution reflects an
individual’s personal experiences with the implementation of the organizational
change. Five of Kotter’s (1995) eight steps for effective transformation deal with change
implementation: form a powerful guiding coalition, empower others to implement
change, create opportunities for short-term “wins” and incremental changes,
consolidate improvements, and institutionalize new behaviors. Thus, a change that
is viewed positively, from a content perspective, can still be perceived by the change
target as being executed well or poorly. In general, we expect effective change
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implementation to be viewed as a positive. However, as discussed below, effective
change implementation may be viewed negatively if the change itself is deemed
inappropriate.
Hypotheses
The change literature indicates that negative attitudes towards change can have
serious, negative consequences for organizations. For example, Schweiger and DeNisi
(1991) found that employees involved in a merger reported decreased levels of job
satisfaction and organizational commitment, and increased intentions to quit their
organization. Similarly, in Wanberg and Banas’ (2000) study, low levels of change
acceptance were associated with decreased job satisfaction and stronger intentions to
quit. Role ambiguity is also likely to increase when individuals perceive organizational
change as not needed, inappropriate, or poorly executed (e.g. Armenakis et al., 1993).
H1. Individual’s perceptions of vision clarity, change appropriateness, and
execution effectiveness will positively correlate with job satisfaction and
organizational commitment, and negatively correlate with turnover intentions
and role ambiguity.
Past research has indeed enhanced our understanding of how organizational change
affects individuals’ attitudes; however, various organizational change researchers have
suggested that an even better understanding may result from the joint consideration of
individual’s change attitudes on job outcomes (e.g. Armenakis et al., 1999; Hultman,
1998). Bernerth (2004) has argued, for example, that change targets must perceive both
the need for and the appropriateness of the change. Taken collectively, we expect the
change attitudes of vision clarity, appropriateness, and execution effectiveness to
interact in such a way that they counterbalance one another, even acting in a
multiplicative way.
Despite calls to examine more complex combinations of change attitudes (e.g.
Armenakis et al., 1999), we are unaware of any published study to guide our hypothesis
development. Based on past theoretical reviews (e.g. Armenakis et al., 1999; Bernerth,
2004), however, we can speculate on the form of the interactions. First, the most
positive outcomes are likely to emerge from change that is supported by a clear vision,
appropriate for the organization, and well executed. Other combinations of the three
sentiments are more difficult to predict. For example, what are the affective
implications for individuals who believe that change is not supported by vision and is
inappropriate but was executed masterfully? Effective execution in such an instance is
likely to be viewed negatively. On the other hand, if it is perceived that a change lacks
vision clarity but is nonetheless appropriated and well executed, the reaction is likely
to be generally positive. Finally, what of changes that are not supported by a vision but
viewed as appropriate or viewed as being supported by vision but not appropriate?
Given these uncertainties, the following hypothesis predicts interaction effects but
does not specify their form:
H2. Perceptions of change vision clarity, appropriateness, and execution
effectiveness will interact to explain incremental variance in individual’s
job satisfaction, organizational commitment, turnover intentions, and role
ambiguity.
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Method
Research setting and change context
The data for the current study were collected as part of a study examining the
transformation efforts of a Fortune 500 US manufacturer and marketer of consumer
goods. Six months prior to the study, the chief executive officer (CEO) retired
(age-mandated) and a new CEO was appointed. In response to growing competition,
the new CEO continued the process begun by his predecessor to transform the
organization into a more dynamic, inventive, and global organization. Although the
organization had made gradual progress in response to marketplace changes, the new
CEO also initiated four significant and integrated strategic changes to help support the
organization’s transformation.
The changes can be described as “second-order” or “gamma” changes involving
major alterations of an established framework or operating method. The four change
initiatives included a corporate-wide restructuring toward a more decentralized
business unit approach, an analysis of the value of jobs followed by a 10 percent
reduction in the salaried workforce, and modifications to the compensation system to
reward individual and group-based performance. At the time of this study, each
change was at a different stage in terms of implementation. The restructuring, job
analysis, and salaried workforce reduction had already occurred, yet all the
ramifications had yet to be dealt with and there was still a lot of uncertainty with
regard to how to operate in the new, smaller organization. The new compensation
system was in the initial phase of introduction.
Participants
Because of the nature of the corporate transformation, the sample was drawn from the
upper echelons in an attempt to survey all corporate executives plus upper and
middle-level managers representing all major locations and functions. Hence,
corporate-level executives from six corporate-level functional areas, executives and
management from four semiautonomous business units and 13 manufacturing plants,
and a large technological support group were surveyed. In total, 245 surveys were
circulated using the corporate mail system and were returned directly to one of the
researcher’s university address in the provided envelope. Respondent confidentiality
was guaranteed and participation was completely voluntary. Of 245 distributed
surveys, 217 respondents completed and returned the survey for a response rate of 88.6
percent. The high response rate was most likely the result of several factors beyond the
promise of confidentiality. The CEO provided strong encouragement for participation
in the form of a letter attached to the survey and a follow-up memorandum. The CEO
also indicated that the data would be used to evaluate the change process. Finally, two
years previously, 155 of the participants had participated in a well-received
action-research project conducted by one of the authors.
The final sample consisted of officers (18.6 percent), directors (49.6 percent), and
managers (31.9 percent). The average age of respondents was 46.7 years (SD ¼6:9),
with an average organizational tenure of 19.8 years (SD ¼9:0). Time spent in their
current position ranged from one month to 22 years (M ¼2:6 years; SD ¼3:38 years).
Although respondent sex was not collected, consistent with the population in this
organization, the sample was overwhelmingly male.
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Measures
Unless otherwise noted, respondents were asked to indicate their agreement to all
measures using a five-point response format (1 ¼“strongly disagree”; 5 ¼“strongly
agree”). Scale scores were computed by averaging the items for each individual
measure.
Change sentiment measures. Respondents were asked to respond to an identical set
of questions for each of the four major changes: restructuring, job value analysis,
downsizing, and new compensation plan. Measures of vision clarity, appropriateness,
and execution were taken from these questions. Rather than focus on sentiments for
each change, the sentiments were averaged across the four changes. Vision clarity
consisted of eight items, two for each of the four change activities: “The vision guiding
[major change activity] has been clear” and “The purpose of [major change activity]
has been well communicated.” Appropriateness consisted of four items, one for each
change activity (i.e. “This [major change activity] has been an appropriate thing for the
organization to be involved in”). Execution effectiveness was also comprised of four
items, one for each change activity: “This [major change activity] has been well
executed.” Internal consistency reliabilities for the scales were 0.86, 0.67, and 0.73
respectively.
Outcome variables. Job- and organization-focused affective outcomes were assessed.
Each of the four outcomes were chosen because of their use in previous applied
research and significance for organizational members’ psychological well-being and
motivation to tolerate and even encourage the organization’s transformation efforts
(e.g. Kivimaki et al., 1997; Porras and Hargis, 1982; Shapiro and Kirkman, 1999;
Sommer and Merritt, 1994).
Two items from the Michigan Organizational Assessment Questionnaire (MOAQ
(Cammann et al., 1983)) were used to assess job satisfaction. The items were “All in all,
I am satisfied with my job” and “In general, I like my job.” Internal consistency
reliability was 0.82.
Organizational commitment was assessed using Mowday et al.’s (1979)
Organizational Commitment Questionnaire (short form). This questionnaire is
reported to measure affective or attitudinal commitment to the organization
(Mathieu and Zajac, 1990). To avoid potential wording confounds, only the nine
positively worded items were included in our measure (see Mathieu, 1991). Examples of
items include “For me, this organization is the best of all possible organizations for
which to work” and “I am proud to tell others that I am part of this organization.”
Internal consistency reliability for this scale was 0.85.
Intent to turnover was measured with two items from the MOAQ (Cammann et al.,
1983): “It is likely that I will actively look for a new job in the next year” and “I often
think about quitting my job.” Internal consistency reliability was 0.82.
Finally, role ambiguity was assessed with 7 items drawn from Rizzo et al. (1970).
Example items included: “There are clear, planned goals and objectives for my job”
and “I feel certain about how much authority I have.” All items were reversed scored.
Respondents who reported being unclear and uncertain regarding their management
role scored higher than those respondents who understood their role as manager.
Internal consistency reliability was 0.85.
Control variables. We included several control variables in our analyses. First, we
controlled for organizational tenure. Second, because our study variables were
Exploring
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attitudinal and collected using a common method, inflation in the relationships due to
common method bias and dispositional-based response tendencies becomes a
particular concern (Spector and Brannick, 1995). Therefore, two dispositional variables
were included as additional controls in the analyses, positive and negative affectivity
(PANAS (Watson et al., 1988)). For each item, respondents were asked to indicate the
extent they have generally felt a certain way based on a five-point response format
(1 ¼“veryslightly or not at all”; 5 ¼“extremely”). Internal consistency reliability for
the positive affectivity (ten items) and negative affectivity (ten items) measures were
0.86 and 0.85, respectively.
Finally, research has reported that managers’ strategic involvement relates to their
willingness to approve and act on strategic decisions (Steward, 1989) and the salience
of strategic visions (Oswald et al., 1994). In addition, Armenakis et al. (1993) suggest
that strategic involvement can engender sentiments supporting change readiness.
Therefore, we felt that our research would benefit from controlling for the level of
managers’ strategic involvement in the four changes. We created a four-item measure
of respondents’ strategic involvement in the changes by averaging the responses to the
following item: “I have been involved in the decision to initiate [major change activity]”
across each of the four changes. Internal consistency reliability for this scale was 0.81.
Analyses
H1 was tested by examining correlations and fourth-order partial correlations among
the change measures and outcome variables. H2 was tested using hierarchical
moderated regression analysis. As noted by Cohen and Cohen (1983), hierarchical
regression allows causal priority to be defined, spurious relationships to be removed,
and incremental validity to be determined. In our four regression models (one for each
of the four outcomes), control variables were simultaneously entered into the first step.
At the second hierarchical step, change vision clarity, appropriateness, and execution
were entered into the equations; the three two-way cross-product terms were entered in
step 3; and the three-way cross-product term was entered in step 4. To control for
multicollinearity in the interaction terms, we followed Aiken and West’s (1991)
deviation score procedure. Inspection of the variance inflation factor scores (VIFs)
indicated that there were no instances of problematic multicollinearity among any of
the variables or interaction terms. Each VIF was less than 3.0, which is far less than the
10.0 threshold suggested by Neter et al. (1996).
Results
Table I contains the descriptive statistics, zero-order correlations, and internal
consistency reliabilities for the variables included in the study. As shown in Table I,
the zero-order correlations all support H1. That is, each of the three change sentiments
positively correlated (p,0:01) with job satisfaction and organizational commitment
and negatively correlated (p,0:01) with turnover intention and role ambiguity
sentiments.
A more conservative test of H1 involved examining the fourth-order partial
correlations that controlled for respondents’ tenure, positive and negative affectivity,
and strategic involvement in the change process. Vision clarity was related to
increased levels of job satisfaction (r12:3456 ¼0:15, p,0:05) and organizational
commitment (r12:3456 ¼0:31, p,0:01), and lower levels of role ambiguity
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Variable name M SD 1 2 3 4 567891011
Control variables
1. Organizational tenure 19.6 8.96
2. Negative affectivity 1.7 0.54 20.02 (0.85)
3. Positive affectivity 3.9 0.53 20.07 20.44 ** (0.86)
4. Strategic involvement 1.5 0.84 20.07 20.07 0.21 ** (0.81)
Major change variables
5. Vision clarity 2.9 0.85 20.02 20.19 ** 0.37 ** 0.12 (0.86)
6. Appropriateness 3.7 0.76 20.15 *20.18 *0.35 ** 0.24 ** 0.44 ** (0.73)
7. Execution 2.1 0.73 20.07 20.31 ** 0.37 ** 0.24 ** 0.63 ** 0.40 ** (0.67)
Affective criteria
8. Job satisfaction 3.7 0.92 20.03 20.47 ** 0.53 ** 0.20 ** 0.34 ** 0.29 ** 0.37 ** (0.82)
9. Organizational
commitment
3.6 0.63 20.05 20.42 *0.53 ** 0.24 ** 0.43 ** 0.37 ** 0.50 ** 0.59 ** (0.85)
10. Turnover intention 2.3 0.99 20.12 0.48 ** 20.41 ** 20.28 ** 20.25 ** 20.24 ** 20.35 ** 20.66 ** 20.52 ** (0.82)
11. Role ambiguity 2.6 0.74 20.03 0.48 ** 20.48 ** 20.30 ** 20.42 ** 20.33 ** 20.43 ** 20.48 ** 0.41 ** 20.49 *(0.85)
Note: *p,0:05 (two-tailed); ** p,0:01 (two-tailed); Internal consistency reliabilities are reported in parentheses. Due to missing data, correlations
ranged from 197 to 217
Table I.
Means, standard
deviations, and
correlations among study
variables
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359
(r12:3456 ¼20:32, p,.01). Appropriateness was found to be associated with increased
levels of organizational commitment (r12:3456 ¼0:18, p,0:01) and lower levels of role
ambiguity (r12:3456 ¼20:17, p,0:05). Finally, execution effectiveness was positively
associated with job satisfaction (r12:3456 ¼0:14, p,0:05) and organizational
commitment (r12:3456 ¼0:33, p,0:01), and negatively associated with intentions to
turnover (r12:3456 ¼20:15, p,0:05) and role ambiguity (r12:3456 ¼20:22, p,0:01).
Even after controlling for tenure, affectivity and strategic involvement, nine of the 12
relationships remained significant and in the predicted direction.
H2 suggested that individuals’ job satisfaction, organizational commitment,
turnover intentions, and role ambiguity would be predicted by a three-way interaction
(vision clarity £appropriateness £execution). Shown in Table II (see Step 4), the
three-way interaction cross-product terms for job satisfaction (DR2¼0:02, p,0:01),
intent to turnover (DR2¼0:02, p,.05), and role ambiguity (DR2¼0:03, p,0:01)
each accounted for significant incremental variance. No support was found for a
three-way interaction effect for organizational commitment (although the two-way
interaction step was significant (DR2¼0:03, p,0:01). These results show that
change sentiment interactions can influence individuals’ affective reactions beyond
their main effects, providing support for H2. It should be noted that the unique
Outcomes
Job satisfaction
Organizational
commitment
Intent to
turnover Role ambiguity
bbbb
Step 1: controls
Organizational tenure 0.02 0.00 20.18 ** 20.09
Negative affectivity 20.29 ** 20.20 ** 0.34 ** 0.33 **
Positive affectivity 0.34 ** 0.29 ** 20.20 ** 20.22 **
Strategic involvement 0.09 0.11 20.20 ** 20.19 **
DR
2
after step 1 0.36 ** 0.35 ** 0.34 ** 0.37 **
Step 2: main effects
Vision clarity (VC) 0.15 0.06 20.03 20.24 **
Appropriateness (A) 0.13 0.10 20.14 20.17 *
Execution (E) 0.11 0.27 ** 20.18 *20.12
DR
2
after step 2 0.02 0.09 ** 0.02 0.06 **
Step 3: two-way interactions
VC £A20.04 0.00 0.04 0.04
VC £E 0.01 20.22 *0.03 20.05
A£E 0.15 0.06 20.14 20.20 *
DR
2
after step 3 0.01 0.03 *0.01 0.01
Step 4: three-way interaction
VC £A£E20.27 ** 0.00 0.24 *0.31 **
DR
2
after step 4 0.02 ** 0.00 0.02 *0.03 **
Overall R
2
0.42 0.46 0.38 0.48
Overall adjusted R
2
0.38 0.43 0.35 0.44
Overall F12.0 ** 14.5 ** 10.4 ** 15.3 **
Notes: *p,0:05; ** p,0:01; N¼197. Only final model results are reported. All tests are
two-tailed
Table II.
Summary of moderated
hierarchical regression
analyses
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variance explained by the interaction terms was found having controlled for a set of
covariates and main effects that explained, on average, 36 percent of criterion space.
To explore and better understand the interactions further, we plotted the three-way
interactions following Cohen and Cohen (1983). Figures 1-3 illustrate the joint
moderating effects of appropriateness and execution on the relationship between
change vision clarity and job satisfaction (see Figure 1), intent to turnover (see
Figure 2), and role ambiguity (see Figure 3). As Figures 1-3 demonstrate, respondents
who believed the changes were supported by vision, appropriate, and well executed
reported generally high levels of job satisfaction and lower intention to turnover and
role ambiguity. Interestingly, respondents who did not perceive a clear vision behind
the changes but believed they were nonetheless appropriate and well executed reported
the highest levels of job satisfaction and lowest intentions to turnover. This would
Figure 2.
Plot of intent to turnover
on change vision clarity £
change appropriateness £
execution excellence
interaction
Figure 1.
Plot of job satisfaction on
change vision clarity £
change appropriateness £
execution excellence
interaction
Exploring
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change
361
suggest that job satisfaction and turnover intentions during change may be less
associated with strategic vision and more associated with the day-to-day realities of the
change appropriateness and execution. However, vision clarity played a larger role for
improved job satisfaction and lower turnover intentions and role ambiguity when the
change was viewed as appropriate but not well executed, or well executed but not
appropriate.
Sentiments that the changes were not supported by clear vision and were
inappropriate but nonetheless well-executed, corresponded to the lowest levels of
satisfaction and the highest levels of turnover intentions and role ambiguity; it seems
that doing a good job implementing a change that is not wanted or justified is the most
affectively distressing situation. Interestingly, vision clarity made relatively little
difference for job satisfaction or role ambiguity when the change was viewed as
inappropriate and poorly executed. Perhaps vision’s influence is muted when it is not
symbolically reinforced by choosing appropriate changes and implementing them
effectively. Finally, the combination of low vision clarity, low appropriateness, and low
execution sentiments was related to average satisfaction and role ambiguity levels.
While it might be assumed that being low on all sentiments would be the most
affectively negative combination, this was not the case. It may be that the poor
execution of a change that is not supported by vision or deemed appropriate gives
some hope that the change might be revised or short-lived.
Discussion
Armenakis et al. (1999) argued extensively that individual’s sentiments concerning
organizational change are interactive and should not be ignored. Results of this study
indicate that employees’ change content and process sentiments have direct and
interactive relationships with important job-related affective outcomes. While our
work is preliminary in nature, the results have interesting implications for the study
and practice of change leadership.
First, change content and process as seen through individuals’ perceptions of vision
clarity, appropriateness, and execution effectiveness were significantly related with
Figure 3.
Plot of role ambiguity
(high scores indicate
managers were unclear
and uncertain regarding
their role as manager) on
change vision clarity £
change appropriateness £
execution excellence
interaction
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important, individual affective outcomes (e.g. job satisfaction, turnover intentions).
These findings are important insomuch as while researchers (e.g. Armenakis et al.,
1999; Bernerth, 2004) have predicted such effects, to our knowledge, however, this is
one of the first empirical studies to substantiate those predictions. These results are
particularly interesting given the organizational levels occupied by our respondents.
Second, the change sentiment configuration that seemed most affectively beneficial
was appropriateness coupled with effective execution. That is, an appropriate change
done well is most welcome. Moreover, when the change was viewed as appropriate and
well executed, vision clarity played little role in influencing the affective outcomes.
This seems inconsistent with the clarion-calls for leaders to provide vision in order to
drive the change initiative. Of course, this interaction only occurred for the three
job-focused outcomes: job satisfaction, intention to turnover, and role ambiguity. We
suspect that the change itself is likely to be more proximal to a person’s job reality than
the vision behind it.
Interestingly, a three-way interaction effect was not found for our
organization-focused affective outcome, organizational commitment the only
interaction effect was the two-way interaction between vision clarity and execution
(B¼20:22, p,0:05). The results suggest that execution is the strongest predictor of
organizational commitment. On the surface, it is surprising that vision clarity seems to
play a supporting role with regard to organizational commitment. However, it is
important to note that our measure of vision clarity is not an assessment of the vision
content. Obviously, future research would benefit from greater examination of the
relative roles that change sentiments play on organizational commitment. Collins
(2001) research suggesting the transformational advantages of “level 5” leaders over
“level 4” leaders may offer some insight. For level 4 leaders, articulating a vision is the
first priority. For level 5 leaders, vision follows a concern for choosing the right people
and building the best leadership team. Concern for sustained execution leads concern
for direction.
The present study’s results certainly do not discount the importance of vision
clarity. As we noted earlier, vision clarity correlated with all of the affective outcomes.
Vision clarity also played an important role in ameliorating the negative effects of a
lack of change appropriateness or the poor execution of an appropriate change. Vision
provided a more distal backdrop against which the more immediate experiences of
change appropriateness and execution can be judged. It may provide hope when
something about the change is amiss.
Our findings further imply organizations would benefit from explicitly addressing
members’ content and process perceptions when making major changes. In this study,
change sentiments were significantly related to important attitudes, including
intentions to turnover, of the very executives, directors, and managers expected to
implement them, encourage employee support, and shepherd the changes to
institutionalization. If an organization fails to address individual’s change
sentiments it runs the risk of increased management dissatisfaction and turnover
and managers who are unsure of their roles within the organization. Additionally,
management’s attitudes can have a direct impact on their subordinates’ perceptions.
Employees typically consider managers to have the most important perspectives on
change because they are the main channel through which information flows and,
therefore, are perceived as the principal change agents of the organization. For
Exploring
organizational
change
363
instance, Leiter and Harvie (1997) reported management’s beliefs regarding specific
changes as well as their general attitudes towards the organization influenced the
perspectives of their staff members.
If change sentiments are important for predicting managers’ affective orientations
toward their jobs and the organization and for supporting the overall success of change
efforts, it becomes important to ask “How can positive change sentiments be created?”
Armenakis et al. (1993, 1999) argue that empowerment is one important way that
positive change sentiments are created. Similarly, work by Oswald et al. (1994)
suggests that involvement in strategic decisions can create commitment to changes
arising from those decisions. Because of this, in the present study we controlled for
strategic involvement and found it was positively correlated with appropriateness and
execution sentiments. Armenakis et al. also identify several other leadership strategies
that can be used to build positive change sentiments. For example, they suggest that
persuasive communication by a credible leader is important. Both internal and external
information can be used to demonstrate change appropriateness and effective
execution. Furthermore, symbolic reinforcement can provide more persuasive support
for positive change sentiments. While these strategies provide practical suggestions
for improving change sentiments, more research is also needed to clarify the best
approaches for particular sentiments.
Specifically, future research on the relationship between change sentiments and
affective reactions would benefit from a more thorough examination of the role of
individual differences. In the present study, we controlled for negative and positive
affectivity but did not include them in any mediating or moderating role. Both
dispositions were significantly correlated with all the sentiments and affective
outcomes. Barger and Kirby (1995) have argued, for example, that dispositional
preferences as captured by Jung’s psychological types strongly influence reactions to
change. Likewise, Kirton (1980) showed that individuals characterized as “innovators”
were more accepting of fundamental change while “adaptors” responded better to
incremental change. It is highly likely that personal dispositions play an important
role in the interpretation of change events as well as the development of change
sentiments.
This study is not without certain methodological limitations that need to be
considered when interpreting the results. First, the data were collected using a single,
self-report questionnaire. When self-reports are used, concerns regarding common
method bias being responsible for the observed relationships often arise. Two points
should be made regarding this issue. First, we employed four control variables that
should have reduced any such effect (but at the expense of a highly conservative test of
our hypotheses). Second, the nature of the interactive effects reported provides us with
a moderate level of confidence that method bias was not solely responsible for our
findings.
A second limitation is the cross-sectional design of the study. Because our data were
collected at a single point in time, we are unable to make causal conclusions. Future
research that looks to develop a longitudinal design in order to collect predictor and
criterion variables before and after the change would be well served. Third, our
analyses were based on a single organization, therefore limiting the generalizability of
our findings.
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Conclusion
In summary, complex organizational changes are becoming ever more common in
today’s workplace. Whereas much of the previous research on organizational change
has focused on macro-level variables, our results support the view that micro or
individual-level variables play an important role in the success of the organizational
change. Furthermore, our results suggest the simultaneous consideration of the effects
of change vision clarity, appropriateness, and execution sentiments can improve our
understanding of organizationally relevant attitudes tied to the change experience.
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Corresponding author
Michael S. Cole can be contacted at: Michael.Cole@unisg.ch
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