There are many different models and theories of change as change defies simple attempts to categorise and organise. The last few decades have seen a number of popular theories.
It is helpful to have a model or a framework within which to operate as this can help ensure that most aspects of the proposed change are considered. Which model best suits your circumstances depends in part on institutional culture and personal preferences and you will find that any of the models contain similar elements presented in slightly different ways.
This section identifies some of the key theories that have influenced change management thinking over the past 100 years.
Scientific management (1910s)
Promoted change as part of achieving efficiency due to better performing the task. Employers having specific responsibilities for achieving better performance and the method encouraged the scientific selection, training, and development of workers. Taylor, who laid the foundations of the Scientific Management sought to achieve change by using the ‘carrot and stick’ approach – by connecting performance to rewards.
Classical school (1910s)
Listed the duties of a manager as planning, organising, commanding employees, coordinating activities, and controlling performance. Change would be achieved through specialisation of work, unity of command, and coordination of activities.
The individual perspective school (1920s)
Change can be achieved by changing the behaviour of individuals.
Human relations school (1920s)
Change (influencing performance) by changing informal roles and norms and understanding the attitudes and feelings of workers.
The group dynamics school (1940s)
Change can be achieved by changing the groups and teams, rather than the individuals.
Change through adherence to procedures, policies. Rationality, uniformity, and consistency in management lead to equitable treatment for all employees.
Stressed the importance of groups having both social task leaders; differentiated between Theory X and Y management.
Decision theory (1960s)
Suggested that individuals “satisfice” when they make decisions. Participation in decision-making an enabler of change.
Socio-technical school (1960s)
Change introduced through technology and work groups.
Systems theory (1970s)
Represented organisations as open systems with inputs, transformations, outputs, and feedback. Two approaches: hard systems and soft systems.
Contingency theory (1980s)
Change can be successful and drive the organisation forward, if there is a fit between organization processes and characteristics of the situation.
Chaos and complexity theory (1990s)
Organisations viewed as complex adaptive systems. Effects of change difficult to predict. Emphasis on creating the conditions for beneficial change to occur.