Chrysalis to butterfly
Ideas for Leaders #073

Establishing Sustainable Change in Organizations

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Key Concept

Leading through change is extremely difficult. Organizational culture is an ‘evolving organism’ made up of many sub-cultures and helping it to change is an incredibly complex task. While there are no hard-and-fast rules to change management, there are things we can do to increase the likelihood of a change initiative’s sustained success.

Idea Summary

Change is frequently experienced as a risky transition in today’s organizations. The impact of the failure of a change initiative can be high; as such, managers and leaders have to get to grips with what change is about, and learn how to manage it successfully. Recognizing this and drawing on research by members of Cranfield faculty, this guide focuses on understanding organizational change and how to engage in and sustain it. However, it’s important to stress management of change is complex and unique to every organization. You can present no hard-and-fast rules or absolute precedent; instead, some pointers are identified here, as well as a number of exercises to help you gain perspective and understanding based on your particular organization.

Understanding organizational culture is absolutely critical (i.e. the “way we do things”). As culture and change are inextricably linked, this understanding is fundamental to making change work. Organizational culture can be defined as an “evolving organism” as opposed to something static, and is made up of many sub-cultures, often overseen by one dominant culture. Awareness of this will bring to light what aspects may help or impede any change initiative.

In terms of behavioural changes that leaders can make, developing self-awareness should be the first step. This is important as it is leaders that set the climate for change, and whether a change initiative succeeds or not will depend on the surrounding environment.

Engaging others is also key; change may bring with it stress, feelings of insecurity, fear of the unknown, loss of confidence. Leaders must understand these experiences and the different stages of feelings individuals will pass through during the transition process.

Finally, the momentum of a change initiative must be sustained, and it is critical to embed strategies which ensure the involvement of key stakeholders.

Business Application

Leaders must promote a positive and supportive climate during change, and to take time to tune in to what they are feeling. Sharing these feelings in a non-blaming way will invite others to support your needs too.

Leaders must find ways to support individuals in the organization through the change process by, for example:

  • Allowing airtime for negative emotions: acknowledge their emotions, listen, empathize and support. Try not to take others’ reactions personally.
  • Communicate: develop and communicate a clear and attractive vision of the future. Give regular updates and offer opportunities for question and answer sessions, if appropriate.
  • Coach people: spend time helping people work through solutions and changes themselves.
  • Build participation: do not just rely on what is captured in operational reports. Face-to-face discussions will help you get to the root of what works and what doesn’t. Encourage people to feel that they are part of the solution.
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Idea conceived

  • 2011

Idea posted

  • January 2013

DOI number




Change Management, Macaulay. S (Editor), Chapman. C, Trinder. J and Williams. D, Cranfield University School of Management Smart Guide (2011) available from the Cranfield Knowledge Interchange


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