Planned Approach

The Planned Approach to Change Management Explained

The vast majority of change efforts in organizations today follow the planned approach to change, which views organizational change as essentially a process of moving from one fixed state to another through a series of predictable and pre-planned steps. (Burnes, 1996, p.186; Iles and Sutherland, 2001).

Under this approach, change 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.

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).

In the planned 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 (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).

Within the planned approach to change management there exists a variety of models. Specifically, Lewin (1946), cited in Burnes (1996), developed three alternative models to explain the change process:

  1. the action research model,
  2. the three-step model and
  3. the phases of planned change model.

The Action Research Model

Action research is based on the proposition that in order to solve organizational problems a rational and systematic approach must be adopted. This would include collecting information, developing hypotheses, taking action in order to achieve the desired objectives and finally evaluating the action. It therefore follows that the change process is in fact a learning situation in which participants learn from the action research.

Action research Opens in new window continues to be adopted by many organizations to help initiate change. However, one of its barriers to use is the need to gain commitment from the organization and the subject of the change. This becomes increasingly difficult when dealing with large organizations. Therefore action research is often used as a first step in a large-scale change program.

The Three-Step Model

Lewinn (1958), cited in Burnes (1996), suggested that in many cases change was very short-lived and after a period of time group-behavior reverted back to its previous pattern. The idea of the three-step model is that change is regarded as permanent. The three steps include:

  1. Unfreezing the present level
  2. Moving to the new level
  3. Refreezing the new level.

The three-step model Opens in new window recognizes that in order for new behavior to be accepted old behavior must be discarded. The first two steps roughly relate to action research and the refreezing can be seen as a logical extension to action research. Refreezing relates to the need to stabilize the organization following a period of change.

The Phases of Planned Change Model

The three-step model provides a general framework for understanding the process of organizational change. However, it still adopts a rather broad approach and therefore a variety of models of planned change have been developed by a number of writers. For example, Bullock and Battern (1958), cited in Burnes (1996), developed a four-phase model of planned change. The model explains change in terms of two major dimensions: change phases and change processes.

Change phases relates to the stages through which an organization moves in planned change. Change processes are the means by which an organization moves from one state to the next. Following is an overview of the four-phase model.

  1. Exploration stage — The stage during which organizations will decide whether to initiate any changes and if so allocate resources to the process. The change processes may include becoming aware of the need to change and searching for external assistance.
  2. Planning phase — This involves understanding the organizations’ problem. The change processes involved may include: searching for information to make the correct diagnosis of the problem, and establishing objectives and gaining support of key decision makers.
  3. Action phase —; At this stage the changes are implemented. The change processes relate to the establishment of arrangements to manage the change process, gain staff support, evaluation of implementation; and taking corrective action if necessary.
  4. Integration phase — This relates to the development of a new status quo. The change processes include reinforcing new behavior through reward systems, disseminating relevant information and encouraging improvements in all.

This model is useful because it makes a distinction between the phases of change and the methods of facilitating change.

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.

Over the last 50 years, this planned change model has generated important conceptual and face validity, with studies suggesting that many models of change processes articulated in a number of disciplines contain similar characteristics (Elrod and Tippett, 2002). As an example, Friday and Friday (2003) suggest that this model can be used to as a theoretical framework for facilitating the management of diversity in organizations.

Not surprisingly, Lewin’s highly influential model continues ‘to be a generic recipe for organizational development’ (Weick and Quinn, 1999, p.363), and it has been reformulated and recast in many forms (McWhinney, 1992). For example, the eight-phase model of Cummings and Huse (1989) and the four-phase model of Bullock and Batten (1985) are attempts to extend Lewin’s model to enhance its practical application.

Criticism of Planned Approach

The planned approach to change is subject to criticism. One key problem with this approach to managing change is that it assumes that organizations exist in different states and that planned change management can move the organization from one state to another.

However, in reality, these assumptions are somewhat flawed because we are living in a turbulent environment in which it is difficult to control the status quo. Instead, organizational change is perhaps more of a continuous and open-ended process than once thought. This approach also assumes that common agreement can be reached and that all those involved are willing and able to adapt to the change. Therefore, this approach tends to ignore organizational conflict and politics. It also assumes that one approach can meet the needs of all organizations in all situations.

  1. T. R. Ramanathan, The Role of Organisational Change Management in Offshore Outsourcing ..., (p.33-34) Planned Approach
  2. Roger Palmer, Richard Meek, Lynn Parkinson, Helen Meek, CIM Coursebook 06/07 Managing Marketing Performance, (p.63) Planned Approach.