What is organizational change? Definition and steps

What is organizational change? Definition and steps

Organizational change is common in business. The development of new technologies, emerging societal concerns, economic crises or even evolving regulations induce regular transformations, more or less in depth. It is not only a question of keeping up to date, sometimes in a constrained way, but also of improving performance in a context where competitive pressure is increased.

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The manager, in accordance with the strategy instilled by management, leads change projects, quickly and efficiently, in order to maintain the competitiveness of the company while preserving the well-being at work of his team. Responsiveness is all the more important in a particularly changing context, when digital technology is accelerating transformation. Some companies, as part of a major organizational change project, recruit an interim manager to avoid work overload and the saturation effect of change.

What is organizational change?

Organizational change, in management, refers to the entire operational process which leads to a transformation of practices and behaviors in the company. The adoption of a new ERP tool or the objective of reducing the company’s carbon footprint, for example, requires the implementation of an organizational change project.

The transformation induced by organizational change can be:

  • Deliberate and planned: the company relies on a transformation to anticipate strategic opportunities. It is a proactive conception of operational change. Example: because it wants to position itself as a leader in its market, the company raises funds and carries out massive recruitment which requires reorganizing the teams.
  • Submitted and constrained: the transformation is triggered in response to the socio-economic environment. It is a deterministic conception of operational change. Example: the health crisis imposes the use of teleworking, which requires acquiring new tools and adopting new practices at work.
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Stages of organizational change:

  1. Awareness
  2. Put into motion
  3. Stabilization


First step in leading change management: awareness, or “unfreezing”, for “thawing” or “decrystallization”. It was the American psychologist Kurt Lewin, at the end of the 1940s, who used these terms, which have since been widely used. This specialist in behaviorism argues at the time that it is first necessary to “melt” the model in place, in order to remove resistance to change before implementing it. During this organizational change initiation phase, it is a question of identifying the necessary or opportune transformation, then of communicating it to the group to promote collective involvement. Concretely :

  1. Management defines the problem or need.
  2. Possible solutions are listed.
  3. The manager convinces his collaborators of the interest of the change.
  4. The team consults, each employee participates in developing the means of implementing organizational change.

The setting in motion

Second stage of organizational change: setting in motion, also called “moving” or adaptation. It is during this transition phase that the company chooses and adopts the solution in response to the need or the problem. To promote change in good conditions, and make employees operational quickly, the manager trains the teams to use the solution and remains attentive to everyone to overcome the difficulties and any residual resistance. This last point relates to leadership, an essential skill for bringing about change within a company.


Last step: stabilization, or “freezing”, for “refreezing” or “recrystallization”. After melting the old model and giving it its new shape, it is a question of solidifying it. The use of the new solution must be consolidated, until it is anchored in the routine of the company. To this end, the results of the organizational change are monitored and carefully monitored. The manager ensures that these results are communicated to employees, in order to reward their efforts and their commitment. It should be noted that at the end of the 1980s, the American researchers Zmud and Cooper completed Kurt Lewin’s theory by adding an infusion stage, applied to organizational changes in information systems (IS): the new IS infuses, until generate cascading innovations.

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Examples of the application of organizational change

Example of applying a prescribed organizational change

In a context of health crisis, the public authorities or the employer impose teleworking in companies. This type of organizational change is brutal, you have to adapt urgently and the restructuring must be rapid. Therefore, the company relies on increased communication and the contribution of all managers to the project.

  1. Awareness: organizational change is necessary. The company communicates the issues to employees in order to curb resistance and to convince them of the interest of teleworking. Management, in collaboration with managers and listening to employees, is considering several solutions: teleworking on a voluntary basis and partial teleworking, but also the implementation of a new remote collaborative tool.
  2. Getting started: in view of the regulatory requirements and the opinions collected in the company, the choice is made of partial teleworking with the alternating presence of employees in the office. Management is also adopting a remote collaborative platform and training teams to use the new tool.
  3. Stabilization: the manager assesses the appropriateness of the chosen solution, and collects employee feedback after a brief period of use.

Regulation is one of the major triggers of organizational change. The move to a 35-hour week in 2000 also illustrates this type of structural transformation in business.

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Example of application of a constructed organizational change

  1. Management and employees are gradually becoming aware of environmental concerns. An ecological effort is incumbent on the company, and the benefits are shared: more meaning at work on an individual scale, a better brand image on a collective scale. Several solutions are envisaged: a 0 paper policy, less energy-consuming equipment and parking for bicycles.
  2. The best solutions in terms of cost/benefits are selected and implemented, and good ecological practices are disseminated within the company to be adopted by everyone. During this transition phase, the company continuously raises employees’ awareness of the challenges of organizational change.
  3. New practices stabilize and take root in the company. The manager measures and communicates on the results obtained.

Example of application of a voluntary organizational change

  1. In a context of exponential technological progress, and in the era of Big Data, the company wishes to take advantage of innovation to improve performance: it is initiating its digital transformation. The relevant tools are identified, and employees are made aware of the challenges of using data.
  2. The company chooses and implements digital tools, and trains employees in the use of new technologies.
  3. Usage is stabilizing, and new opportunities are naturally emerging.

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