Planned Approach

Planned Approach to Change Management: An Overview

It is generally accepted that there are two main approaches to the management of change: the planned approach and the emergent approach Opens in new window. This literature focuses on the planned approach, the latter is treated here Opens in new window.

  • In the planned approach, change Opens in new window is ‘top-down’ in nature and refers to the sequential process of systematically planning, organizing, and implementing change so that an organization can move from its current state to a desired future state (i.e., realizing its vision) in a short period of time.

In other words, the planned approach views organizational change Opens in new window as essentially a process of moving from one fixed state to another through a series of predictable and pre-planned steps (Burnes, 1996).

Hayes (2002) observes that planned changes in organizations are usually triggered by the failure of people to create continuously adaptive organizations. Thus, planned changes are designed to change the behavioral elements of an organization, such as people, processes and organizational culture, and ultimately lead to improved organizational outcomes (Porras and Silvers, 1991).

Under this approach, change is initiated internally within the organization in response to environmental pressures and the change usually affects many different parts of the organization (Porras and Robertson, 1990). Further, the top management of the organization is not only responsible for initiating the change, but also for its central planning and implementation (Burnes, 1996a).

Burnes adds that implementation under the planned model of change relies on detailed plans and projections as well as on the role of managers. Druhl, Langstaff, and Monson (2001) state that the planned approach to change can be summarized by the following characteristics: developing a vision; communicating the vision; top management determination; planning and programming; and adopting the best practice.

Planned change is synonymous with organizational development which has its origins in the work of Lewin, titled Three-Step Model (1951), who suggested that any effort to bring about planned change in organizations should treat the change as a multi-stage process. Lewin postulated that organizations exist in a state of ‘quasi-stationary equilibrium’, and as a result, tend to be stable and resist change. Therefore, for effective change to occur, the organizational forces that are driving the change must subdue the forces which are resisting the change (Friday and Friday, 2003).

According to Lewin’s three step model Opens in new window, driving forces help to initiate and push the change in the desired direction, while restraining forces work to constrain or reduce the driving forces or direct them in the opposite direction. Change does not occur when these two forces are in equilibrium.

In order to shift the equilibrium toward the direction of the planned change, the driving forces must either be increased or constraining forces removed. By diagnosing the change situation in terms of driving and restraining forces, a basis can be reached for developing action plans to implement the desired change (Hayes, 2002).

In essence, the planned change model focuses on improving ‘the operation and effectiveness of the human side of the organization through participative, group- and team-based programs of change’ (Burnes, 2004, p.888). Lewin (1958) notes that organizational change must be effected by targeting group behavior rather than individual behavior because people in organizations tend to work in groups. Therefore, individual behavior should be viewed, modified or changed in order to align it with the current values, attitudes, and norms or culture of the group. Lewin adds that any improvement in group or individual performance resulting from the change is subject to reversal unless proper measures are taken to institutionalize the improved performance.

The planned change model has several limitations. An important limitation of this model is that it assumes that organizations operate under stable conditions (Burnes, 1966a), and it treats planned change from the perspective of top management and indicates that change is linear (Moorhead and Griffin, 1998). In addition, Dawson (1994) contends that the notion of refreezing is not relevant to organizations operating in turbulent environments.