Thomas V. Mecca, Ed. D.


September 25, 2004




This paper was adapted by the author from a series of papers developed for presentations at both the 1999 Conference of the South Carolina Technical Education Association and the 2003 National Science Foundation’s Principal Investigators Annual Conference.





The Magnitude of Change

            The disruptive impact of major change on colleges and universities is less avoidable today than it was in the past. The pace of change experienced by higher education institutions was slow enough to accommodate the application of traditional administrative approaches to managing the process of organizational change. In recent years, however, college and university administrators have found they are less able to respond effectively as the volume, momentum, and complexity of changes have accelerated.

Previous administrative experiences of a simpler era no longer provide an adequate guide to the organizational challenges being currently experienced by their institutions.  Programs of graduate study in higher education administration and management development programs provide little, if any, training in the knowledge, skills, methods or techniques essential for administrators to lead an effective process of organizational change. For organizational change to be successful, administrators need to demonstrate the ability to understand the dynamics of the change process, the human response to change, and the determinants of a successful change process.


The Dynamics of Organizational Change

What is “Change”?

In today’s world, the word “change” is used so much that its meaning has been confused and diminished. Anything new and novel that appears on the horizon is labeled change.

Described simply, a change is a shift in some condition or situation from its present state to a new and different state. A change can range from minor shifts in procedures or technology to a revolutionary shift in roles within a society.  The word “change” is often used to refer both to a shift that occurs in the organization’s external environment, as well as the changes that occur inside of the organization in response to shifts in its external environment. In this paper, the term, environmental change, will refer to external shifts and the word organizational change will refer to the internal shifts made by an organization as it responds to external shifts.

The degree to which change represents a shift also poses another definitional issue. Both incremental change and transformational (i.e., revolutionary) changes do take place in the real world. The major difference between the two lies in the depth of the change. Incremental changes generally affect only a particular part of the organization, or, if it is organization-wide, require no alteration in the organization’s existing culture and core values.  In contrast, transformational changes affect all parts and levels of the organization. It is a change of sufficient magnitude that it requires change in not only the established behaviors of people within the organization, but also the organization’s basic core values and culture.  Organizations undergoing a transformation change, therefore, must look at changes taking place at multiple levels of the organization and across all groups. To successfully make such a change, the change process must be designed and implemented in a coordinated fashion if the result is to be thoroughly integrated into the organization’s on-going activities.

The uses of the words “change” and “transition” interchangeably also creates confusion. Although the words “change” and “transition” are synonymous to many people, they represent two very different processes. As described above, change is a shift in the external environment or in a set of circumstances. Transition , however, is the psychological process an individual goes through in adapting to the change itself.

The Process of Change.

In his classic model of change, Kurt Lewins (1958) described the change process of an organizational system such as a college or university as a series of transitions between three different states: unfreezing-transition-refreezing.  Still considered one of the most accurate descriptions of how change occurs (Kelley and Conner, 1979; Kezar, 2001; Schein, 2002), the model describes change as a series of transitions between different states. No change will occur unless the system is unfrozen, and no change will last unless the system is refrozen. Most theories of change tend to focus only on the middle state and therefore cannot explain the inability of change initiatives to produce change in the first place, or to maintain the changes that have been achieved. The states and the underlying processes that have to occur in each state are outlined in Figure 1.

Unfreezing state: The initial state of the system reflects a condition of relative stability.  When a disruptive force affects the status quo, people are motivated to discontinue some aspect of their behavior.  Their established frames of reference, accepted patterns of behavior and old methods of operation are invalidated. Unfreezing invalidates established frames of reference and accepted patterns of behavior. Old methods and behaviors become inoperative. This in turn generates tension, ambiguity,


Figure 1.



and confusion as to what is appropriate. People feel a high need for a new operating framework. The confusion that results from their inability to understand and control the environment produces stressful situations and a need to reduce the anxiety. People have a desire to seek out, process and utilize information to create a new state of stability. They are eager to do whatever is necessary to regain some sense of control. These unpleasant aspects of the unfreezing state make it possible for new learning to occur.

The present state reflects the current condition of relative stability or the status quo. Unless this state is modified by a disruptive force, it will continue indefinitely. When the status quo is disrupted, it “unfreezes” the present state. This unfreezing from the present state to a state of transition occurs when people are motivated to discontinue some aspects of their behavior.

Unfreezing, the most difficult and important stage in the change process, creates the motivation to change. This is accomplished by changing the forces acting on the system such that the present state is somehow disconfirmed, some anxiety or guilt is aroused because some goals will not be met or standard or ideals will not be maintained and enough “psychological safety” is provided to make it unnecessary for individuals or

groups to psychologically defend themselves because the disconfirming information is too threatening or the anxiety or guilt is too high.

How the unfreezing occurs will vary with the circumstances. Often administrators find change easy to manage because they encounter a system that is already unfrozen. For example, the new president of an institution that knows it is in great economic difficulty unless it changes has a much easier time making changes than the visionary president who tries to initiate change in a successful institution.

Systems can exist in a partially unfrozen state because they received disconfirming information at some earlier time in their history, but they will not have changed because there was not enough psychological safety to allow the individual or group to consciously accept the necessity of change at that time. Organizations described as being “ready to change” often have had strong disconfirmation in the past, but have not felt secure enough to do something about their situation.

What unfreezing does is to motivate the individuals or groups to look for new solutions that will bring things back into equilibrium and that will once again produce confirming information that things are “okay”. Because they are uncomfortable, people are more likely to pay attention to information, ideas, suggestions, or even directives that were previously ignored. Once unfrozen, people become active problem solvers and  motivated to change.

Transition state: The transition state represents a phase of the change process when people are no longer acting as they used to, but neither are they set in a new behavior pattern. It is a “fluid” state in that the motivation to change has disrupted the present equilibrium, but the desired state has not yet been formed. The motivation to change has disrupted the system's present equilibrium, but the desired state has not yet been formed.  Confusion results from the inability of people to understand and control the environment producing stressful situations.  Tension is generated because people have a need for a new operating framework of behavior.  The need to reduce anxiety promotes a powerful desire for seeking out, processing and utilizing information to create a new state of stability or revert to the old state.  When people without a sense of equilibrium are uncomfortable, they are eager to do whatever is necessary to regain it.  These unpleasant aspects of the transition state make it possible for new learning to occur if planned.

The transition state embodies danger and opportunity for the person or organization involved. One of the consistent findings about the change process is that there is initially a decrease in an organization’s performance during the transition as the change is implemented into the ongoing activities of the organization (Fullan, 2001). This “implementation dip” represents not only a drop in performance, but also the


Figure 2.



uncertainty of individuals within the organization as they encounter unfamiliar situations that require new skills and knowledge. Successfully working through the implementation dip, therefore, requires administrators and other change leaders to not panic when things do not go smoothly during this phase of the change process. Effective leaders recognize that change is a process, not an event, and show empathy towards individuals who display anxiety, confusion and uncertainty during the transition portion of the change process.

Refreezing state: At some point, the uncertainty of the transition state, in conjunction with the need for stability, begins a process of stabilizing and integrating the change. This process of learning new behavior patterns is called refreezing.

Once the person or group has achieved a new set of cognitions and attitudes, and has begun to express these in new daily behavior, there remains the state of refreezing. For the new behaviors to last, they must first fit into the personality of the individual and the culture of the organization that is being changed. Otherwise, the behavior will be only a temporary adaptation to the pressure of the change situation and will erode once the change agent has ceased to disconfirm the old behavior. Refreezing at this level can be thought of as “personal integration.” Even if such personal integration has taken place, new behaviors may not remain stable unless they also fit into the ongoing relationships and the work context of the person or group that has changed. If the unfreezing and transition states are well planned and managed, the result of the refreezing process is the desired state. If the first states are, however, not handled appropriately, the people and the organization will refreeze, but not necessarily in the desired state.

Change as a Perpetual Process.

The model of change described above depicts a set of stages that imply a kind of orderly chronological progression. In reality, organizations are constantly bombarded by various kinds of unfreezing forces and experiencing the new confirmations or disconfirmations that will determine what gets refrozen. For an organization to successfully respond to these forces, organizational change must be seen as a perpetual process that can be analyzed into discrete stages only for purposes of planning a specific change initiative. Once into the change process, leaders of the change process must work simultaneously on all the stages, re-conceptualizing what is going on as new information surfaces and discovering areas of the organization that are not unfrozen.

Critical Aspects of Impact.

The impact of change on an organization is manifested in multiple ways. There are various aspects that are impacted in organizational change. These are as follows:

Roles in the Organizational Change Process

      During any organizational change process, four roles are essential to the

success of the change process. These are the change sponsor, the change agent, the change advocate, and the change participant.

·        Change Sponsor – A sponsor is the individual (or group) with the power to determine that change will occur. They are responsible to introduce the change and legitimize it by using their organizational power and influence to legitimize the change. In most institutions, a change sponsor is usually performed by executive or upper administration.

All roles act interdependently in all three states (unfreezing, transition, refreezing) of the change process, but certain roles are more critical at specific states of a change project.  Without the power and influence of change sponsors to unfreeze the status quo and effectively oversee the implementation of the change process, the likelihood of change is extremely low.  Change agents demonstrate their greatest contribution by serving as planners, diagnosticians, implementers, translators, ombudsmen, coaches, and negotiators among sponsors and participants during the transition phase.  Change advocates help sponsors understand the implications and importance of the change. Change participants determine whether or not the intended modification of knowledge, skill attitudes, or behavior actually occurs during the refreezing phase.

When an organization is involved in a major organizational change that significantly disrupts the standard activities and behavior of organizational participants, high levels of commitment from all four roles are essential. The importance of commitment is not only limited to the role of participants. Sponsors, even though they legitimize a change, and

agents, even though they implement it, may develop serious doubts about the change once the process is underway. Lack of commitment from any of the change participants raises serious questions about the durability of the change.


The Human Element in Organizational Change

The Importance of the Human Element

Most projects designed to change the organization are initiated with minimal attention given to the human aspects of change and to the resistance which generally occurs during the actual implementation. Administrators display little understanding about the critical role that the human element plays in influencing the orderly transition phase of a change effort. Typically, they focused on the operational and technical aspects of accomplishing change within their institutions.  Focusing on fulfilling traditional administrative functions, they use the common management approach of “tell and sell” to implementing change (Fossum, 1989, p. 3). 

When confronted with the uncertainty caused by change, most people attempt to maintain a sense of control over their lives.  This sense of control is created when people feel they understand their environment and can adapt to it as changes occur.  This understanding derives from an individual's frame of reference (or perceptual schema of reality) that allows one to interpret and understand what is occurring in the present and what to expect in the future.

            When change disturbs an individual's pattern of expectations of the future, uncertainty increases and disrupts the individual's sense of control.  If the change is minor (one which does not significantly threaten expectations) the individual makes psychological adjustments to his or her expectations and adapts to the change.  If the change is major (one which causes old expectations to become invalid) individuals react with feelings of uncertainty, disorientation, confusion, and loss of equilibrium.  These feelings result from inconsistencies between what was expected and what is perceived.  Individuals no longer know what to expect from themselves or others.  Major change in an organization that results in a disruption of expectations of its members always causes a level of crisis.

Human beings, and consequently their organizations, exhibit certain limits to the amount of change that they can assimilate over a given period of time.  Beyond these limits, individuals can no longer effectively adapt to change within their organization.  Healthy coping behaviors are replaced with dysfunctional behaviors (e.g., increased anxiety, confusion, miscommunication, low morale, defensiveness, and territoriality) that prevent the adoption of the new behaviors required by the change. To avoid these symptoms, administrators responsible for the implementation of major organizational change need to know what impact change efforts will have on those individuals or groups who need to alter their knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behavior to accommodate the change.

The Psychological Nature of Change

Human beings experience change when they are faced with a situation that they perceive is beyond their current capabilities. To deal with the situations they normally encountered, human beings have to believe that they have the capability to deal with it. The capability of  individuals  to deal with change consists of  not only having the ability to deal with the change, but also the willingness to apply that ability while understanding both the risk and opportunity the change poses. Most individuals develop the abilities and willingness to use them in solving the challenges they have previously encountered successfully. They do not see these challenges as representing any significant change in their lives because they are usually able to accurately predict what the outcome of a situation will be. Their expectations of the outcome are upset, however, when they encounter a challenge that they perceive as beyond their capabilities. The resulting disruption in the balance between their perception of their capabilities and the demands of the challenge encountered represents the discomfort posed by change.

An individual’s perception of a change situation determines whether resistance will occur. The same situation can be perceived as a positive change by one person and a negative change by another. The perception of whether individuals perceive a change as positive or negative depends not only on the difference in how people perceive the nature of eventual outcome of the change, but also the degree of influence and control people  believe they have in determining the outcome. Persons are more comfortable with change   when they not only possess the ability and willingness to change, but also from the degree they feel able to predict and control it. Individuals perceive change as negative when they are unable to anticipate it, dislike its implications and feel inadequately prepared for its effects. Where once they experienced emotional equilibrium because they had some control of the situation, they now experience the anxiety because they are unable to predict and feel they have no, or little, control over a situation they perceive as chaotic. Thus, it is not the magnitude of change, but the degree to which one’s expectations are met and the ability to predict the outcome that determines peoples’ perception and emotional response to change.

Change is considered minor when it does not significantly disrupt what people anticipate will happen. In such circumstances, they simply adapt to the change by making minor adjustment in their expectations and readily lose any feelings of minor stress that initially appear. When a change is major, however, peoples’ expectations are no longer valid and they believe they have lost control over some important aspect of their lives. A feeling of being in their comfort zone disappears to be replaced by their experiencing confusion, anxiety, fear, anger and a loss of emotional equilibrium. 

Before planning (or even contemplating) an organizational change project, change sponsors and agents should try to systematically anticipate participants’ perceptions and identify who might resist the change and why. Some common categories of reasons people resist change are:

·        A desire not to lose something of value

·        Misunderstanding of the change and its implications

·        Belief that the change doesn’t make sense for the organization

·        A low tolerance for change

The Emotional Response of Change

Persons leading a change effort need to understand what to expect at the emotional level of the change experience and the psychological phases people must go through to adapt successfully to changes affecting their work patterns. Emotional responses of participants typically accompany major institutional change and affect acceptance of that change.  These responses develop as the “emotional cycle of change” that consists of   predictable phases (Kelley and Conner, 1980). Understanding the emotional cycle process allows individuals leading the change project to interpret and deal with current behavior of those affected by the change and to help them to develop more realistic expectations of the change's outcome.

 When these phases are ignored or not taken seriously, resistance to change usually increases. Change projects are not likely to be successful when participants only understand what to expect in terms of the project's goals and rewards.  It is also important to prepare those affected by the change for any emotional shifts that might occur in themselves or others because of the project.

During the change process, the emotional responses of change participants shift from feelings and attitudes of the certainty of success in the early stages to satisfaction at the project's completion.  When an individual becomes voluntarily involved in the significant change activity or project, the level of positive feeling (optimism) concerning that venture is often directly related to the person's expectations of what will be involved.  Although individuals may become pessimistic about their ability or willingness to accomplish the task, the more they learn about what is involved in the project the more likely they are to eventually come to accept and support it.

Positive response to change - As persons make the transition from the state of “unfreezing” to the state of “refreezing”, persons who have a positive response to the change typically go through the following five emotional phases shown in Figure 3.


Figure 3.



Negative response to change - Persons who have a negative response to the change experience a different cycle of eight emotional phases. These phases are shown in Figure 4.

·        Stability. The announcement of the change has not occurred yet. The status-quo is representative of the state of the organization.


Figure 4.


·        Immobilization: The initial reaction to the announcement of the change is shock. The change is so alien to the participant’s frame of reference that he or she is often unable to relate what is happening, resulting in temporary confusion or complete disorientation.

·        Denial: The participant is unable to assimilate new information regarding the change into his or her frame of reference. Information related to the change is often rejected or ignored. The common reactions are: “It won’t last. It won’t affect me” or “If I ignore it, it will go away”.

·        Anger: The individual exhibits frustration, hurt and, at times, irrational, indiscriminate lashing out at those in close proximity. These emotions may be directed at individuals who are the friends, family and colleagues who are blamed, criticized and treated with hostility.

·        Bargaining: To avoid the negative impact of the change, participants begin to negotiate. Bargaining can take many forms including extension of deadlines, reassignments, exception from the change, etc. This phase is the beginning of acceptance because the participant recognizes that he or she can no longer avoid confronting the change.

·        Depression: In this phase, participants normally respond with feelings of resignation to failure, and being victimized. They display a lack of emotional and physical energy. There is also a general disengagement from one’s work. Although unpleasant, depression represents a step in the acceptance process as the full impact of the change is being finally acknowledged.

·        Testing: Participants begin to regain a sense of control by freeing themselves of feelings of depression and victimization. The new limitations posed by the changes are acknowledged and ways are explored to redefine goals that will make it possible for them to succeed within the new framework represented by the change.

·        Acceptance: The change is now responded to realistically. While the participants may not still fully like the change, they are more grounded and productive within the new context.

Working through the phases with both participants who respond negatively and participants who respond positively requires time and energy. Those leading the change project the need to provide the appropriate support at each phase if participants are to be able to successfully pass through each phase. Not to do so results in people getting stuck at one or more phases. Dysfunctional behavior then escalates which can consume even more time and jeopardize the success of the change project.

Resistance to Change.

Organizational change would be relatively simple if it could be limited to machines or physical facilities.  In reality, however, major organizational changes always require people to modify their behavior.  Adding this human factor increases the complexity of the change process significantly.  The difficulty is the fact that most change initiatives ignore the influence the human element has on a project's success.  Many change efforts, however, are seen as totally unacceptable and resisted by the people involved.

Resistance accompanies any major change regardless of whether the change is self-initiated or initiated by others. Whenever, people’s expectations are significantly disrupted, the end result is resistance. All change disrupts the single, fixed reality that is created by a person’s frames of reference. People’s frames of reference allow them to interpret the fluctuating, changing stimuli of the outside world and create some perception of reality they need to maintain the psychological equilibrium needed to function. Change disrupts those frames of reference and creates a sufficient discrepancy between what is anticipated to happen and what actually happens. The greater the uncertainty of what could occur and the longer this discrepancy occurs, the greater the ambiguity and the loss of control felt by people. As the familiar becomes increasingly irrelevant, people are more likely to either overtly or covertly resist the proposed change.

Resistance is the human reaction that opposes any disruption in the status quo that results in a sense that control is lost. Regardless of whether the change is perceived positively or negatively, resistance is a natural reaction. The major problem is not resistance itself, but the inability of leaders responsible for the change to anticipate resistance, understand its dynamics, and respond effectively.  Most administrators tend to become overly involved in technical components of a change project (charts, dates, outcomes, etc.) and neglect the human aspects (feelings, attitudes, communication gaps, relationships, etc.)



The Participant's Perceptions of the Impact of Change

Regardless of the administration's assessment of objective reality, the impact of any proposed change on participants within the organization is a function of their perceptions of how the change will affect them in their work environment.  For this reason, their perceptions of a change may vary markedly from the perception of the college administration.

Due to this variation in perspectives, it is sometimes easy to underestimate the participants' negative perceptions of change.  For example, the installation of a new information technology system may appear very beneficial to the senior members of a college or university because it will ultimately allow quicker and wider access to information.  On the other hand, the staff – the participants – may resist the change because they will have to learn to use new, complex software and develop a new set of technical skills.

 It is also possible to overestimate participants' positive perceptions of a change.  Even though participants appear to be initially pleased with the change, they may have second thoughts once all implications of the change are understood.  For best results, therefore, leaders of change projects should early in the planning process assess the impact of change from the viewpoint of the individuals being affected by it. (See the section entitled “Critical Aspects of Impact” for factors impacting an organizational change.)


Determinants of Successful Change

There are four major determinants governing the successful implementation of a change project:  the readiness of the organization, an implementation plan, building commitment to the change, and the skills to carry out the plan.  Because these four factors function together, a weakness in any one can greatly decrease the potential for successful change.

A Well Designed Implementation Plan

A well-constructed implementation plan is a second major determinant of successful organizational change.  Administrators and institutional leaders often neglect to establish a systematic process they can follow when implementing organizational change. This results in critical design issues, organizational impacts and implementation details being often overlooked. As a result, the entire change effort is ineffectively implemented.

There are a number of model processes described in the literature for planning and implementing change in organizations. Although all of these recommended processes no doubt contain some valuable ideas, many are either vague or overly complex in describing what administrators need to do to implement a change effort within their institutions. More significantly, many are contradictory in the steps necessary to successful implement change (Fullan, p.31).

At a minimum, it should identify the following:

The process illustrated in Figure 5 synthesizes the major steps suggested by a number of the models of the organizational change process found in the literature. It

consists of four major steps: creating a shared vision of the change, designing the future

state resulting from the change, planning the change and the transition, and implementing and making the appropriate corrective adjustments to keep the change effort on-course. Because the organizational change and transition process is dynamic in nature, the

process incorporates the key tasks required for administrators to lead change while providing a framework for administrators leading the change effort to understand their roles and responsibilities during the process.

Step 1. Creation of a vision of the change: The first step requires building commitment of participants to a compelling vision of the future if the change occurred.  It is critical at this step for organizational leaders to both envision and sell the change within the institution and to develop the structure and strategy for implementing it. Whether the need for change originates externally or internally, the people asked to change often have


Figure 5.



questions about the reasons they need to change and how the change will make the organization more efficient or effective.

Step 2. Design of the future state: The second step in the process involves translating the vision for the future state into operational terms.  People affected by the change will want to know what will be new and changed and how they will be expected to operate once the change has been done. In this step, the current state will be analyzed to determine the implications for the future, options for the future state will be explored and a detailed blueprint for the changed organization will be completed. In this step,

individuals responsible for leading the change process decide how work will be accomplished, how information will flow, and how people will interact as the change is put into place.

Step 3. Plan for the change and the transition: This step, the third in the process, requires planning the change (how the organization will make the change itself) and planning the transition (how it will get its people through the transition necessary for coming to terms with the change). An active and participatory planning approach should be used to plan the change. People who will be implementing the change should examine the design to determine its impact on the organization and to develop the activities needed to implement and align parts of the organization. This section of the overall implementation plan should identify who needs to do what, when they need to do it, and what resources will be needed to put the design and alignment decisions into actions.

The plan of the transition deals with the human element of change. In this section of the implementation plan, the individuals leading the change effort (i.e., sponsors, agents, advocates) outline the specific steps and activities and schedules by which the change participants will receive the information, training and support needed to make the transition successful.

Step 4. Implementation and adjustment: Implementation involves providing ongoing vision, keeping plans on schedule, troubleshooting, and continually attending to and supporting the individuals leading the change effort as it gets underway. To effectively implement a change and transition plan, change leaders also need to build in ways to monitor the progress of the plan and the impact on the people affected. This allows them to take appropriate corrective action before problems cause the change effort to stray off-course. It also enables the organization to identify early successes that, if celebrated, serve to motivate and reinforce new behaviors. It is also important at this stage of the process to re-examine the impact of the change on the organization’s systems and take steps to establish long-term strategies to align systems with the change.

In addition, the design of implementation plans must be appropriate to the level of disruption associated with the change being initiated.  In order to do so, the "impact factor" or potentially debilitating effect of a specific change on an individual participant or group of participants needs to be determined.  Changes having high impact entail greater risk of implementation failure than do those having low impact.  Attachment B lists critical variables, which can be assessed to measure the impact of change on the participants in an organizational change effort.

Readiness of the Organization’s Culture.

Organizational readiness refers to an organization's ability and willingness to accomplish a specific change.  It is the degree of the strength of the organization's culture that affects the ability of participants to make the necessary transition through the emotional impacts caused by the change. To be truly institutionalized and integrated into the organization’s life, change must occur at the deepest level of the organization, its culture.

Organizational culture is the basic pattern of shared beliefs, behaviors, and assumptions acquired or learned over time by members of an organization.  It occurs in both conscious ways (i.e., stated goals, statements of institutional philosophy, policy and procedure manuals) and unconscious ways (i.e., informal ground rules, unofficial guidelines, "the way things are done around here.")

Although not always readily apparent, culture is a very powerful force in guiding organizational members' day-to-day behavior.  Culture serves as a predictable guide to appropriate behavior for members of the organization.  It often serves as a powerful means for defining, justifying, and reinforcing its operations.  As such, it is resistant to change and requires significant time and resources to be modified.

Integration of a specific change into the institution's ongoing activities may not be effective because the culture that has been effective in supporting the institution's past success may not support the changes needed for the institution to achieve success in the future.  It's not that change initiatives are ignored as much as that they just don't make sense to people when viewed from the old cultural perspectives.  Whenever there is a discrepancy between culture and change, culture always wins.

An institution's culture is always an issue, therefore, a major organizational initiative requires a major shift in the way administrators, faculty and staff operate.  Most major organizational changes are likely to require some realignment of the culture when the changes caused by initiatives are implemented.

Commitment to the Organizational Change. Commitment building is the third determinant of successful change implementation.  The level of commitment demonstrated by participants toward a change is a critical variable in the adaptation process.  It provides the critical bond between people and the change goals.

To achieve real change, each member of the organization, functional area, and the organization as a whole must go through a process leading to an informed, effective and aligned commitment to the desired changes and the desired outcomes.

As the work environment of participants becomes more complex, organizational change requires more from participants than just learning to adjust.  For organizational change to be effectively integrated into the daily operations of the institution, participants must come to believe in the change and commit themselves to its full implementation.  A person is said to be committed to a specific outcome when he or she pursues that goal in a consistent fashion with the passing of time and in varying situations.  The committed person rejects behavior that has immediate benefits if it is not consistent with a strategy. In this regard, the central question for persons managing the change effort becomes, "Is there enough commitment to implement the changes I am responsible for and to assure successful achievement of the intended goals?"  Administrators involved in organizational change activities must know what it is, what must be done to prepare for it, how it is developed, and how it can be lost.

One of the most important issues that must be dealt with in implementing organizational change is how to build sufficient commitment that sustains the change through the implementation into the ongoing life of the organization. The lack of commitment on the part of people is one of the most prevalent factors which contribute to failed change projects (Conner, 1992).

Commitment is a powerful but little understood phenomenon. People are considered to be committed to a specific outcome when they pursue a goal or specific behavior in a consistent fashion. Over time and in varying situations, the committed person persists in activity that will help achieve the desired change and rejects courses of action that are not consistent with a goal of the change.

The process of commitment:  The process for achieving commitment to an organizational change is shown in Figure 6. For lasting commitment to evolve, the process must be viewed from a developmental perspective. It consists of various phases each of which includes stages that advance the commitment to the building process. Each stage represents critical junctures where the outcome can either threaten or facilitate the necessary degree of support for the change to advance participants’ commitment to the next level.

The three phases of the commitment process are preparation, acceptance, and commitment. The preparation phase represents the point in the process where participants encounter and become aware that a change is a possibility. The acceptance phase consists of participants making some judgment about the change or forming some disposition (i.e., “good” vs. “bad”) toward the change. The commitment phase also consists of the change demonstrating its worth over time and being incorporated in on-going activities of the organization to the degree that it is congruent with the interests, goals and values of organization and the people within it

Successfully completing each stage increases the degree of support for the

change. For example, awareness results from successful contact. Understanding must occur before a positive perception can be produced. Short cuts to achieving a high degree of commitment do not exist. Each stage of the process depends on the successful completion of prior stages. If it is desired that the participants’ level of commitment reach that of institutionalization and internalization, then implementation plans and the behavior of both sponsors and agents must be consistent with the stages of the model.

The phases and stages described below represent the degrees of support for an organizational change.




Figure 6.



The commitment model has many implications for those involved in designing and implementing significant changes within their organization. Commitment is expensive and time consuming. Building commitment is a developmental process, but critical to the eventual success of a change project. Many writers admonish leaders of organizational change to either build commitment or prepare for the consequences of failure.

Implementation Skills.

The fourth major determinant of successful organization change is the implementation skills of the sponsors, agents, advocates, and participants.  The effectiveness of even the most comprehensive implementation plan depends on those who enact it.  Rather than relying totally on experts to deal with change problems, training all levels of administration - particularly those in top-level administration positions - in the concepts and skills of implementing organizational change is generally necessary and a major factor in the eventual success of the project.  Administrators leading a change initiative need not be experts in the change field, but they should be capable of diagnosing the need for change, communicating the need and vision for the change, and designing intervention strategies to implement changes with minimum resistance and maximum support.  Specifically, they need a level of knowledge and skills in the following areas:

·        How to manage change effectively.

·        How people change and resist change.

·        How to diagnose an organization's readiness for change.

·        How to design change plans.

·        How to identify and relate to people's emotional responses to change.

·        How to reduce and manage negative reactions to change.

·        How to communicate a vision and the plans for change effectively.

While these skills are useful for all three roles (i.e. change sponsor, change agent, change advocate) to demonstrate, those listed below are the basic skill areas most consultants indicate as the most critical for successful organizational change efforts.



To adapt to organizational environments that are in constant transition, it is essential that college and university administrators learn how to lead their institutions through major organizational transitions that assimilate change.  As institutional leaders, administrators have a particular responsibility to be able to reframe the thinking of those they guide and lead them successfully through the organizational disruption that inevitably results from responding to change.  Institutional leaders must go beyond determining what needs to change.  For their institution to survive and prosper, administrators in key leadership positions must obtain the knowledge and skills needed to design and implement successful organizational change strategies for coping with the shifts in the external environment. They must understand the concepts fundamental to organizational change. These include the dynamics of the change process, the human responses of the institution’s personnel to change and the determinants critical to implementing the transitions of organizational change in a manner that has the possibility of the greatest success.


Selected Bibliography and References


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Bergquist, W. (1992). The four cultures of the academy: Insights and strategies for improving leadership in collegiate organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Bridges, W. (1991). Managing transitions: Making the most of change. Reading, MA: Perseus .


Butterfield, B. S (Ed.). (1998). Process and organizational redesign: Leading change in college and universities. Washington, D.C.: The College and University Personnel Association.


Burke, W. (1995). Organizational change: What we know, what we need to know. Journal of Management Inquiry, 4(2), 158-171.


Chang, R. Y. (1994). Mastering change management: San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.


Connor, D. R. (1998). Leading at the edge of chaos: How to create the nimble organization. New York: John Wiley and Sons.


Dannemiller, K. S., James, S. & Tolchinsky P. D., (2000) Collaborating for change: Whole scale change. San Francisco: Berret-Koehler.


Eckel, P. D., Hill, B., & Green, M. (1998). En route to transformation. On Change: Occasional  Paper, no. 1. Washington D.C.: American Council on Education.


Eckel, P. D., Hill, B., Green, M., & Mallon, B. (1999). Taking charge of change: A primer for colleges and universities. On Change: Occasional  Paper, no. 3. Washington D.C.: American Council on Education.


Fletcher, B., Bell, A., Buttery, J., & Whittaker, M. (1992). 50 Activities for achieving change. Amherst, MA: Human Resource Development Press.


Fossum, L. B. (1989). Understanding organizational change. Menlo Park, CA: Crisp.


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Holman, P. & Devane, T, (Eds.). (1999). The change handbook: Group methods for shaping the future. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.



Jaffe, D. T. & Scott, C. D. (1999). Getting your organization to change: A guide for putting your strategy  into action. Menlo Park, CA: Crisp.


Kanter, R. (1983). The change masters. New York: Simon & Schuster.


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Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.


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Norris, D. M. & Morrison, J. L. (1997). Mobilizing for transformation: How campuses are preparing for the knowledge age. New Directions for Institutional Research, 94. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


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O’Toole, J. (1999). Leading change: The argument for value added leadership. Boston: Ballatine.


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Pritchett, P. (2002). Shaping corporate culture: The mission critical approach to culture integration and culture change. Plano, TX: Pritchett.


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Steeples, D, (Ed.). Managing change in higher education. New Directions for Higher Education, no. 71. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Tierney, W. (1988). Organizational culture in higher education. Journal of Higher Education, 59, 2-21.


Van de Ven, A. H. & Poole, M. S. (1995). Explaining development and change in organizations. Academy of Management Review, 20(3), 510-540.