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Strategic Change Tools in the Organizational Context Research Paper

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Updated: Apr 21st, 2021


Sweeping demographic shifts, technological advances, competition, geopolitical realignments, and other related pressures are combining with security concerns, changing customer preferences, expansion urges, and organizational governance to generate momentous pressure for organizational change (Kotter, 2007; Howard, 1994). A diversity of studies (Haveman, 1993; Kotter, 2007; Amburgay, 1993) have found that organizations need to continually change and reinvent themselves to maintain their competitive advantage in the ever-shifting and continuously more complex business environment of the 21st century.

In his study on organizational readiness for change, Susanto (2008) argues that the ever-shifting business environment generates compelling demand for an organization to continually change and modify its strategy, structure, process, and culture. It is the purpose of this report to identify some of the strategic change tools and models and demonstrate how these tools are applied in the organizational context to ensure the successful implementation of the change process.

Although there is a close association between the theoretical and practical frameworks of change management, academic change management literature is generally inclined to circumvent the terminology of change management tools, models, and techniques (Hughes, 2007). The challenging nature of change management tools and models justifies further discussion given the practical direction of change management as both a critical subject of study and a routine necessity that must be integrated with key business strategies to enhance profitability and competitiveness in the current economic climate.

Towards Understanding Change Management Tools, Techniques & Models

It is imperative to note that although management practitioners often refer to change management tools, there is neither a consensus definition of what is meant by a change management tool nor are there universal benchmarks to demonstrate what a change management tool should comprise (Kotter, 2007). Susanto (2008) notes that the practical situation on the ground determines to a large extent how a change management tool should be adopted and reformulated, if such a need exists, to align it with critical business processes in an attempt to ensure success.

However, Hughes (2007) quotes a definition given by Bain and Co., implying that a change management tool involves a set of concepts, processes, practices, exercises, and analytic frameworks geared towards assisting an organization in negotiating the change process with a high degree of success.

Management scholars and change theorists have often rooted in the differentiation between a change management tool and a change technique. A definition offered by Dale & McQuarter (1998) suggests that “…a tool is a simple stand-alone application; whereas a technique tends to be a more comprehensively integrated approach to problem solving that might rely on a number of supporting tools” (Hughes, 2007 p. 41).

This differentiation, according to Hughes, is potentially valuable in terms of making a distinction between change management tools on the one hand and change management techniques on the other. A change management model can be defined as a guideline used by change managers to optimize the different phases related to the change process, thus making the process more effective (Baekdal et al., 2006).

Change management models, more than anything else, assist change managers to focus on understanding the change factors in addition to the feasible possibilities that the expected change will bring forth. This report will specifically outline some of the change management tools and models and identify their potential application in critical areas of organizational restructurings, mergers and acquisitions, cultural change, and IT-based change, among others.

Identifying Change Management Tools & their Application

According to Hughes (2007), “…the classification of change management tools and techniques is believed to bridge the gap between the popular change management tools and techniques and academic interest in understanding change management” (p. 43). Categorization is intrinsically important because it provides change managers and practitioners with a framework that can be used to make informed choices about the adoption of explicit change management tools in specific organizational contexts. In the same vein, categorization offers academic theorists a framework of enabling further analysis and research into which change management tools are being employed in diverse organizational contexts and appraising their effectiveness. Below, some of the most popular change management tools and their potential application are discussed.

The Three-Step Planned Change Model

The three-step model of change was originally conceptualized in 1947 by Kurt Lewin and continues to enjoy wide popularity among contemporary change managers. According to Medley & Akan (2008), “…the three-step planned change model consists of

  1. unfreezing human behaviour that is supported by a complex field of driving and restraining forces,
  2. moving to learn new behaviours and effectuating required changes,
  3. refreezing an equilibrium to ensure new behaviours” (p. 487).

The unfreezing component generates in managers and employees a felt urge to change, enhancing their motivation to change. As such, this management tool has frameworks that persuade organizational members through some operative mechanisms to discard old behaviours, attitudes, and expectations and become open to acknowledging new ones (Sonenshein, 2010). In business, change managers can actively participate in this initial stage by curtailing hindrances to change, developing incentives to change, and initiating suitable rewards for the intended behaviors. Once the desire for change is demonstrated, organizational members can start to unfreeze older patterns of behaviours and attitudes and embrace new concepts as they experience the value of the discovered behaviours.

In the moving step, this management tool guides organizational through an interactive process where they discover the needed new end state, including values, expectations, attitudes, and behaviours necessary to sustain the new organizational dispensation (Medley & Akan, 2008). It is in this step that the organization introduces a new or revised mission statement, new work strategy, new corporate culture, refurbished organizational structure, on new technology aimed at aiding the new organizational direction and changes.

Lastly, the refreezing step involves shifting focus to reinforcing and institutionalizing the new organizational values, expectations, behaviors, and attitudes to cement long-term operational success. The broader objective of this step is to enable concerned stakeholders to enthusiastically accept and assimilate new practices that will underpin the intended organizational change.

Many contemporary organizations apply this management model to effect structural, technological, and cultural changes within the organizational context. For example, Ericsson, a world-leading provider of telecommunications equipment and other technology services to network operators worldwide, used Lewin’s three-step model to move away from a decentralized structured to a more centralized one in line with its business and growth strategies (Iveroth, 2010).

According to one of the company’s managers, the decentralized structure generated a diversity of challenges with costs, transparency and accountability, fragmented information, and difficulties in the alignment of business strategies. Employees were adequately prepared on the benefits of lowering costs through the adoption of a more centralized structure and the benefits of structuring critical business processes in addition to having a unified information system.

Through the employment of the three-step planned change framework, the planned changes were achieved and cemented, and the organization returned into profitability. Consequently, it can be argued that the model allowed change managers to properly understand the challenges facing Eriksson in addition to providing milestones for assessing progress towards the intended change (Iveroth, 2010)

Force Field Analysis

The force field analysis is a management tool developed by Kurt Lewin for diagnosing organizational problems and situations for change (Cameroon & Green, 2004). This tool is a value when evaluating variables concerned in planning and implementing a change program, not mentioning that the tool is also useful in teambuilding initiatives and when organizations are faced with resistance to change (Wischnevsky, 2007).

The basic premise of the approach is that in any given scenario there exist both driving and restraining forces that to a large extent, manipulate any change that may transpire within the organizational context. Driving forces are basically those forces push in a particular direction to initiate the intended change and keep it going. For example, intense competition in the market may drive an organization to start thinking of ways to improve productivity by employing technology.

On the other hand, restraining forces act for opposing or decreasing the driving forces (McGahan, 2004). For example, an organization trying to introduce technology to enhance its productivity may be met with apathy and hostility coming from employees who are uncertain about the security of their jobs or tenures. According to ACCEL (2010), “…equilibrium is reached when the sum of the driving forces equals the same of the restraining forces” (para. 4).

The organization’s equilibrium can be raised or lowered by making changes to the factors that guide the relationship between the driving forces on the one hand and the restraining forces on the other (ACCEL, 2010). To achieve organizational success, change managers must always ensure that the driving forces outweigh resisting forces (Baulcomb, 2003). In this context, it can be argued that the force field analysis approach provides change managers with a framework to diagnose the relationship between driving forces, restraining forces, and other intervening variables. A multiplicity of organizations has often relied on this approach to enhance their productivity.

For example, Baulcomb (2003) demonstrates how the change tool was used to drive changes in an oncology unit within a hospital setting, which was being faced with the driving forces of increased demand for quality customer service and satisfaction, greater flexibility in the daily nursing management, and shifting nature of the composition of the workforce. The resisting forces included fear among nurses of being unable to cope, changes in work shift, and inability to perform specific procedures. The resistance was partially overcome through reassurances, training, and development.

The Cultural Web

Developed in 1992 by Gerry Johnson and Kevan Scholes, the cultural web is a change management tool that changes managers with a framework for evaluating and changing an organization’s culture in addition to aligning organizational critical processes and elements with one another, and with the business strategy (Cameroon & Green, 2004). According to Menktelow (n.d.), “…culture often becomes the focus of attention during periods of organizational change – when companies merge and the cultures clash, for example, or when growth and other strategic change mean that the existing culture becomes inappropriate, and hinders rather than supports progress” (para. 3).

The cultural web identifies six interconnected components that assist in demonstrating the paradigm or the model of the work environment, and change managers can have a clear picture of what cultural element needs to be changed by analyzing the factors associated with each component (Menktelow, n.d.). The six components include:

  • Stories: encompass past events that employees talked about within and outside the organization;
  • Rituals and Routines: the daily behaviour, attitudes, and actions of people that reflect mutually acceptable behaviour;
  • Symbols: encompass the visual representations of the organization in terms of the entity’s logo, office arrangement, and dress codes;
  • Organizational structure: this entails both the formal structure as depicted by the organizational chart and the informal trends of power and authority that designate whose contributions are most appreciated;
  • Control Systems: depicts the various ways the organization is run and controlled, including financial systems, quality management systems, and reward system;
  • Power structure: encompass the individuals with the utmost amount of influence on organizational decisions, operations, realignments, and strategic direction.

The cultural web is mostly employed firstly to evaluate the organizational culture in its present state and, secondly, to end-state or what the culture is supposed to be. Afterwards, an evaluation between the two is undertaken with a view to identifying the changes that need to be made to attain the intended high-performance organizational culture (Menktelow, n.d.). This approach is mostly used to harmonize the different corporate cultures of two organizations that have merged. It can also be used when organizations relocate or expand to new locations (Cameroon & Green, 2004).

For example, Wal-Mart change team used this approach to align its business processes in acquisitions made in China, particularly after the company realized that it was losing money in some of its operations in the country (Parnell & Lester, 2008). Upon close scrutiny, it was realized that the corporate cultural orientations between Wal-Mart and the acquired companies were miles apart, thus the need for streaming and aligning the resulting cultural orientation to the company’s fundamental agenda of being the world leader in retail business (Turock, 2004).

Cumulative Timed Intent

This strategic change tool is employed when organizations intend to adopt newer technologies for enhanced competitive advantage. According to Ittersum & Fanberg (2010) “…two critical uncertainties associated with new-technology introductions are whether and when the target market will adopt them” (p. 808). The uncertainties pose serious concerns for change managers as they grapple with the idea of modernizing critical business processes to become responsive to the needs of the 21st century.

This change management tool can be used to reduce the uncertainties by surveying customers about their intentions to adopt the intended technology. The rationale behind this management tool lies in the fact that customer intentions are indeed accurate indicators of their behaviours. In addition, the self-reported adoption intentions can be collected at relatively low costs than engaging in costly technology adoptions that may end up insufficiently meeting the needs set by customers (Baekdal et al., 2006). Still, prediction measures have been demonstrated to be an important input in predicting a wide range of behaviours, including purchasing behaviour and sales estimates.

Suggestions have been made that the precision of intention measures can be further enhanced by the incorporation of time into the behavioural intent measurement, thus the concept of cumulative timed intent (Ittersum & Fanberg, 2010).

As such, the management tool provides the framework for the evaluation of both whether and when a particular technology is most likely to be adopted, therefore allowing the adequate organization time to prepare for its adoption and subsequent changes (Baekdal et al., 2006). For example, Cisco has been known to use this change management tool to introduce new technology and new ways of doing things for the company’s global customers (McGahan, 2004). As a direct consequence of their efforts, the company has managed to double the existing customer base and maintain unmatched levels of customer loyalty and satisfaction.


There exist many other change management tools and models apart from the tools and models discussed in this report. Currently, change consultants have developed ready software for change management, but the basic premise is that this software, to a large extent, depend on the principles of the tools and models discussed above. According to McGahan (2004), Lewin’s three-step planned change model has been used to develop organizational-specific change management tools and frameworks.

The fundamental issue is the realization that organizational change within the current business and economic environment is inevitable and, as such, change managers and the management need to have ready knowledge on the existing management tools and techniques that can be used to deal with situations and challenges as they arise (Miles & Snow, 2003). Knowledge of these change management tools and models is inarguably important for the survival of the organization and sustenance of competitive advantage in today’s ever-shifting business environment.

List of References

ACCEL (2010). Productivity Improvement: Force Field Analysis. Web.

Amburgay, T.L., Kelly, D., & Barnett, W.P (1993). Resetting the Clock: The Dynamics of Organizational Change & Failure. Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 1, pp 51-73

Baekdal, T., Hansen, K.L., Todbjerg, L., & Mikkelsen, H (2006). . Web.

Baulcomb, J.S (2003). Management of Change through Force Field Analysis. Journal of Nursing Management, Vol. 11, No. 4, pp. 275-280.

Cameroon, E., & Green, M (2004). Making Sense of Change Management: A Complete Guide to the Models, Tools & Techniques of Organizational Change. London: Kogan Page Limited.

Haveman, H.A (1993). Organizational Size and Change: Diversification in the Savings and Loan Industry after Deregulation. Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 1, pp. 20-50.

Howard, A (1994). Diagnosis for organizational change: Methods and models. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Hughes, S.M (2007). Tools and Techniques of Change Management. Journal of Change Management, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 37-49.

Ittersum, K.V., & Fanberg, F.M (2010). Cumulative Timed Intent. A New Predictive Tool for Technology Adoption. Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. 47, No. 5, pp. 808-822.

Iveroth, E (2010). Inside Ericsson: A Framework for the Practice of Leading Global IT-Enabled Change. California Management Review, Vol. 53, No. 1, pp. 136-153.

Kotter, J.P. Leading Change (2007). Harvard Business Review, Vol. 85, No. 1, pp. 96-103.

Medley, B.C., & Akan, O.H (2008). Creating Positive Change in Community Organizations: A Case for Rediscovering Lewin. Non-Profit Management & Leadership, Vol. 18, No. 4, pp. 485-496.

McGahan, A.M (2004) How Industries Change. Harvard Business Review, Vol. 82, No.10, pp. 86-94.

Miles, R.E., & Snow, C.C (2003). Organizational Strategy, Structure, and Process. London: Stanford University Press.

Parnell, J.A., & Lester, D.L (2008). Competitive Strategy and the Wal-Mart Threat: Positioning for Survival & Success. SAM Advanced Management Journal, Vol. 73, No. 2, pp. 14-24.

Probst, G., & Raisch, S (2005). Organizational Crisis: The Logic of Failure. Academy of Management Executive, Vol. 19, No. 1, pp. 90-105.

Sonenshein, S (2010). We’re Changing – or are we? Untangling the Role of Progressive, Regressive, and Stability Narratives during Strategic Change Implementation. Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 53, No. 3, pp. 477-512.

Susanto, A.B (2008). Organizational Readiness for Change: A Case Study on Change Readiness in a Manufacturing Company in Indonesia. International Journal of Management Perspectives, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp 13-61. Web.

Turock, A (2004). Driving Wal-Mart Growth Engine. Progressive Grocer, Vol. 83, No. 2, pp 28-30.

Wischnevsky, J.D (2007). Change as the Winds Change: The Impact of Organizational Transformation on Firm Survival in a Shifting Environment. Organizational Analysis, Vol. 12, No. 4 pp 361-377.

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