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Leadership & Organization Development Journal

Implementing change: matching implementation methods and change type

Robert Waldersee Andrew Griffiths

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Robert Waldersee Andrew Griffiths, (2004),"Implementing change: matching implementation methods and
change type", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 25 Iss 5 pp. 424 - 434
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Implementing change: matching

implementation methods and
change type


Robert Waldersee

Received July 2003

Revised November 2003
Accepted December 2003

School of Management, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane,

Australia, and

Andrew Griffiths
School of Business, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

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Keywords Change management, Contingency planning

Abstract The implementation of organizational change has long been problematic. Over time two
approaches have developed. The participative approach assumes that employee support is a
pre-requisite of change. The unilateral approach argues that behavior must be changed first and
attitude will follow. The results of a study of 408 change episodes indicate that unilateral
implementation approaches are more effective than participative. While employee support was
related to change success, it was the function of change type not participative implementation.
Behavioral-social change types generate more support than technical-structural changes. The
implications for future research are discussed.

The Leadership & Organization

Development Journal
Vol. 25 No. 5, 2004
pp. 424-434
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/01437730410544746

Despite decades of research into organizational change, the results frequently fall short
of expectations (Beer and Nohria, 2000; March, 1981; Tushman and OReilly, 1996). The
weakness of many change results is often attributed to failures in the implementation
process rather than strategy itself (Beer et al., 1990; Dunphy, 1996; Weick and Quinn,
1999). Despite the difficult and complex nature of implementation, research has long
been characterized by a search for the one best way to implement change (Dunphy
and Griffiths, 1998).
Across the past century many change implementation approaches have been
championed, most falling into the two broad categories of participative or unilateral
implementation (Beer and Nohria, 2000; Chapman, 2002). Participative approaches
include sensitivity training, organizational development, participation, teams and job
redesign, while unilateral implementation is often achieved through technological
solutions such as measurement and automation, system and process redesign, and the
restructuring of communication, authority, work rules (Carey, 1967; Deming, 1982;
Emery and Emery, 1993; Hammer, 1990; Lawler et al., 1995; Mirvis, 1990; Porras and
Silvers, 1994).
Two opposing assumptions about the relationship between attitude and behavior
underlie the participative and unilateral approaches. The participative approach
assumes that changed attitudes play a causal role in changing behavior. A key
mechanism of attitude change in the participative methods is the generation of support
for the change among the workforce. Without prior support change is viewed as
unlikely to succeed (Lawler, 1992; Mirvis, 1990; Trist, 1981). It is believed that the
attitude of the workforce determines their performance in the changing organization.

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The opposite causal assumption underlies the unilateral approach. In this case
forced changes to behavior are assumed to cause a shift in attitudes about the change.
The successes experienced by the workforce from forced changes will ultimately lead
to workforce satisfaction and support (Hammer and Champy, 1993).
Although these two approaches to implementation are quite different in their
methods and underlying assumptions, research has not identified one as consistently
superior to the other (Beer and Nohria, 2000; Tushman and OReilly, 1996). With such
distinctly different groupings of implementation methods, the absence of clear research
findings may indicate the presence of critical contingencies that interact with the
implementation methods to determine outcomes (Powell and Posner, 1980).
It is proposed that the type of change itself is a key contingency variable that
interacts with the implementation method to determine change success. Change has
long been typed as either technical-structural or behavioral-social (Leavitt, 1965;
Powell and Posner, 1980). The current study argues that technical and structural
changes can often be implemented without the prior support of the workforce and the
changed behavior will pull along support later. However, behavioral and social
changes such as culture change cannot be implemented by top-down edict to an
unsupportive workforce. For behavioral and social changes, participative
implementation methods that build employee support are most appropriate.
Approaches to change implementation
From the time of Taylor (1911), there has been an ever-changing series of
recommendations to managers on how to implement change. Broadly these
recommendations can be characterized as ranging from unilateral to shared methods
(Greiner, 1967).
Unilateral methods are prescriptive, control and authority based techniques, which
modify objective or formal aspects of the workplace. They tend to be top down,
procedural, focused on resource allocation and follow formal authority lines. Because
objective and formal aspects of the organization can be modified with these methods,
the prior support of the workforce is not necessary. Advocates of the unilateral
approach argue Successful change efforts focus on the work itself, not on abstractions
like participation or culture (Beer et al., 1990, p. 159). Social, relationship, attitude and
behavioral changes will be pulled along, over time, by the irreversible
structural-technical changes. Beer et al. (1990) argue that attitudes and behavior are
primarily a function of job roles and demands. By unilaterally changing the workplace,
attitudes and behavior will adjust accordingly.
In contrast, shared methods are participative, consultative techniques that directly
target the values, attitudes and skills of organizational members. These methods
typically include participation, redesign teams and consultation committees. The
primary goal of these implementation methods is to build employee support for the
change. Because employees are involved, they develop an ownership for the change
(Dunphy and Griffiths, 2002; Emery and Emery, 1993). This ownership ultimately
translates into a commitment and motivation to make the change work. It has long
been considered simplistic to attempt unilateral change without considering support of
employees first (Coch and French, 1948).
Although the relative efficacy of unilateral versus shared methods remains
unresolved, advocates of the two approaches to implementation rarely view their




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prescriptions as contingent on the type of change to be implemented. Rather each is

typically promoted as universally applicable (Hammer and Champy, 1993; Lawler,
1992), regardless of the enormous variations in the characteristics of the type of change
being implemented.

Types of change
Organizational change varies on a number of key dimensions, which may affect the
choice of implementation methods. In particular, the distinction between
technical-structural change and behavioral-social change has been noted for at least
four decades.
Based on a series of small cases, Lawrence (1954) concluded that the technical
aspect of change involves making measurable modifications to the physical routines of
jobs (Lawrence, 1954). Conversely, social change refers to the modification of
established relationships in the organization. Examining production lines, Lawrence
(1954) noted that technical change could be introduced without social change if the
social relationships were accustomed to change. However, in other cases, a change may
be primarily technical, but can create social effects that may impact on the outcome of
change. Although Lawrence observed the basic distinction between technical and
social change, he felt that social relationships based on give-and-take were essential
for any change. Because of the critical need to ensure give-and-take relationships, he
advocated participation as the one best way of introducing change.
Leavitt (1965) expanded the technical and social categories of change, and added a
third category of structural change. Leavitt included computers, measurement,
scientific management, and communication systems under technical change. Social
change encompasses the large set of goals that organizations establish around people.
This includes an empowered workforce, collaborative work arrangements, and
matching personal fulfillment to organizational needs.
Structural changes seek to optimize organizational performance through careful
design of the organizational structure. These changes include redesigning areas of
responsibility and authority, decentralizing profit centers, and reorganizing work
flows. Leavitt (1965) argues that the appeal of structural change derives from a view
that people who are contracted to work will accept changes to the nature of the job that
give consistency, orderliness and hierarchical control. That is, this type of structural
change is often associated with top-down approaches and control-based management.
Beer and Driscoll (1977) collapse technical change and structural change into a
single category, which they view as distinct from the knowledge, and attitudinal
change category. However, they do not view this distinction as key to choice of
implementation method. Although they move away from the one best way
philosophy, the key contingency is not the structural versus social aspects of change.
Rather they suggest that the change methods adopted will depend on the perspective
and values of those involved, the situation in which change is to occur and many other
complex factors.
In sum, the basic categorization of change as behavioral-social or
technical-structural has long been recognized. However, the effect of matching these
categories of change to the implementation approach has not been examined.

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Matching change and implementation approach

Although the change literature has not focused on change type as a key contingency in
the choice of implementation approach, change type is a central contingency variable
in the strategy implementation literature.
The strategy-style matching theory (Slater, 1989), for example, is built on the
premise that the effective implementation of a strategy requires a manager whose style
has strengths consistent with the competencies required by the strategy (Gupta, 1984;
Hambrick and Mason, 1984). The key assumption is that characteristics of the leader
cause them to implement change in a certain way, and this needs to be matched to the
type of strategic change being undertaken.
Strategy-style research has linked several personality characteristics to business
outcomes. For example, three studies have linked locus of control to the pursuit of
product innovation, and therefore success in a differentiation strategy (Govindarajan,
1989; Miller and Toulouse, 1986; Miller et al., 1982).
In short, the strategy-style match approach does not explicitly identify the
implementation actions that flow from the manager style. Rather, it is assumed that the
primary determinants of implementation actions are the personality and background
of the manager, and that managers do not, and cannot, alter their behavior to suit a
situation (Szilagyi and Schweiger, 1984). Nevertheless the strategy-style literature does
provide an indication of the potential importance of matching change type and
Within the change implementation literature, the exceptions to the single best way
emphasis are two contingent change models (Dunphy and Stace, 1990; Powell and
Posner, 1980), which link the type of change to the broad approach to change
implementation. Based on 13 case studies, Dunphy and Stace (1990) propose that the
choice of change implementation method is contingent on the size of the change. The
larger or more transformational the change, the more unilateral the change
implementation methods that should be adopted.
They argue that in large scale, transformational change, the use of top-down
methods such as edicts around structure, job redesign, policy and procedures will be
more effective than shared or consultative approaches. The rationale is that in large
structural changes, participation is too distant from individual interests. Support is
unlikely to be generated, and is largely unnecessary for the framework of change to be
implemented. However, in smaller changes, Dunphy and Stace (1990) advocate
increasing participation. In smaller changes, the potential for consensus or
consultation is greater, which in turn lowers resistance and raises support for the
Although scale is viewed as the key contingency by Dunphy and Stace (1990),
examination of their results indicates that scale is closely related to the
technical-structural and behavioral-social categorization. The large-scale changes
they examined tend to be structural, involving management restructuring, downsizing,
re-engineering and outsourcing, while smaller changes had a stronger
behavioral-social element. The contingent effects observed by Dunphy and Stace are
also consistent with a technical-structural vs behavioral-social contingency model.
In a theoretical piece, Powell and Posner (1980) also propose a model that prescribes
unilateral or shared change methods contingent on change type. Unlike Dunphy and
Stace (1990), they consider the dimension of structural-technical to behavioral-social to




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be the most important contingency for the choice of unilateral or shared

implementation methods.
They argue that the implementation of structural-technical change requires more
directive and less participative methods. Like Dunphy and Staces (1990)
transformational change, Powell and Posner (1980) argue that the workforce does
often not support structural-technical changes. Changes such as downsizing,
reorganizing work flows, automating and deskilling, often involve significant
disruption of social relationships and are unlikely to be supported even with a
consultative process. However, because the mechanics of such changes can go ahead
without employee support, Powell and Posner (1980) believe that it is more feasible to
change the structure through edict and reinforce the changes later with behavioral
For behavioral-social changes, Powell and Posner (1980) argue that shared
approaches to implementation are most appropriate. Intervention methods such as
participation, team building, and process consultation will build support for the change
(Lawler, 1992). Without this support it is unlikely that significant changes in attitude,
culture or behavior can be achieved.
The current study empirically examines the proposition that structural-technical
change is more successfully implemented with unilateral methods and
behavioral-social change is more successfully implemented with shared methods. It
is further proposed that frontline support is more important for the successful
implementation of behavioral-social change and that shared implementation methods
will be most effective in building this support.
A total of 300 large organizations were contacted and asked to provide data on up to three
major organizational change programs that they had undertaken in the previous three
years. The organizations were selected from the highest ranked corporations within the
industry sectors contained in the major lists of top 500 and top 1,000 Australian
companies. Because organizations were selected by sector, the resulting sample consisted
of organizations smaller than would be obtained by a simple rank method.
Data were obtained from senior managers who played a significant role in change.
To ensure that information was given by senior managers who were closely involved
with the changes, each organization was telephoned and the key respondent identified.
The respondents were then sent an instrument in which they described the changes
and implementation methods as well as rating the success and support associated with
each change.
The final sample consisted of 408 change programs that were clearly
behavioral-social or technical-structural. Those that could not be classified were
dropped from the sample. Data on these changes were collected from respondents in
138 organizations. Across all organizations, 66 percent of respondents were human
resource (HR) managers, 6 percent general managers, 6 percent change managers, 5
percent company secretaries, and the remainder were other senior managers. Of the
firms within which these changes occurred, 14 percent had more than 4,000 employees,
47 percent had between 1,000 and 4,000 employees and 39 percent of companies had up
to 1,000 employees, 40 percent were manufacturing and 60 percent service sector.

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Data were collected using an instrument that assessed up to three major changes that
had occurred during the previous three years. For each of the change programs that
respondents identified, they rated the degree to which the change had achieved its
initial goal (change outcome), the implementation methods used, and the support
obtained for the change.
Change type. Respondents were asked to describe the most significant changes that
their organization had undergone in the previous three years. Up to three changes
could be described in three areas on the instrument. Each area contained four lines for
writing a text description of the change. There were no prompts or categories of change
types provided.
Change outcome. The extent to which each organizational change effort was
perceived to have achieved its initial goals was assessed on a five-point Likert scale,
from 1 (not at all) to 5 (exceeded). This was the measure used by Waldersee et al. (2003).
Implementation methods. From Mitroffs (1983) analysis of influence tactics, nine
implementation methods were identified. Using five-point Likert scales, respondents
rated each method on its importance in spreading the change throughout the
organization, from 1 (not important) to 5 (very important). The unilateral methods
were: directives and memos, redeployment of key staff, and job redesign. The shared
methods were pilot programs, training, meetings, problem-solving groups,
development of coalitions, and rewards and incentives.
Support. Respondents rated the support given to the change on a Likert scale, from 1
(resistant) to 5 (supportive) (How supportive was the workforce/union of the change?
and How supportive was management of the change?).



Classifying change type
With all changes being described in open ended text, the first step of classification was
to code the text according to the type of change being described. A random sample of
30 percent of the text descriptions of change was used to develop a content coding
system. This coding system contained 16 types of change, including restructuring,
downsizing, culture change, and strategic planning. All text descriptions of the
organizational changes were then content coded into one of the 16 types of change. To
assess the validity of the types, a second researcher randomly selected 20 percent of the
change descriptions and assigned them to the 16 change types. An inter-rater
reliability of 0.91 was obtained.
Because some respondents provided information on more than one change a danger
is that the changes described were essentially different aspects of a single change
activity. The independence of the changes identified was established with a series of
non-parametric tests. Spearman correlations between the 16 types of changes were
calculated. The correlations were very small and not significant (Table I). As these

Change 1
Change 2
Change 3

Change 1

Change 2

Change 3

2 0.0019
2 0.0219


Table I.
Spearman two-tailed
correlations of 16 change
labels across three
changes identified



correlations indicate that the types of changes reported by respondents are not related,
any response consistency bias on the rating scales would serve to make the analyses
more conservative.
The 16 change types were then classified as technical-structural, behavioral-social
or mixed. Behavioral-social changes were those having primarily a people focus, such
as teams, culture, training, communication and empowerment. Technical-structural
changes, on the other hand, involved primarily structural issues such as downsizing
and restructuring. Mixed changes had both behavioral-social and technical-structural
elements. These included changes such as TQM and socio-technical systems changes.
The mixed changes were dropped from further analysis. Of the remaining changes, 60
percent were categorized as technical structural.

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Confirming the shared and unilateral categories

To ensure that the implementation items reflected the shared and unilateral categories,
a confirmatory factor analysis was conducted with varimax rotation and two factors
extracted. The factor analysis essentially supports the categorization of the items into
shared and unilateral categories (Table II). However meetings loaded weakly on both
factors, possibly indicating an ambiguous question.
Perceived importance of implementation methods by change type
Using the nine implementation methods, a MANOVA was conducted to determine
whether unilateral methods were perceived as more important by change managers in
technical-structural changes, and shared methods more important in behavioral-social
change. The overall MANOVA was significant F 8:1624; p , 0:001: The univariate
tests for each of the methods was significant p , 0:05; with the means in the
predicted direction for each of the nine methods.
The effect of making implementation contingent on change type
To examine the contingent effect of change type (technical-structural and
behavioral-social) and predominant implementation method (unilateral and shared)
on change outcome and support, a second MANOVA was conducted. Average
unilateral and shared scores were computed. The means and standard deviations of the
unilateral and shared methods were almost identical. Therefore, the predominant
implementation method adopted for a change was coded as being unilateral if the
unilateral score was greater than the shared score, and vice versa if the shared score
was greater than the unilateral score. The MANOVA thus consisted of change

Table II.
Factor analysis of change

Pilot programs
Training programs
Problem-solving groups
Job redesign
Redeploy staff




2 0.268
2 0.204

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outcomes, front line support and management support by change type and
implementation method.
The results indicate that there is no significant interaction between change type and
implementation approach. The main effect of method was significantly associated with
change outcomes (F 7:43; p , 0:05). The means indicate that unilateral methods are
perceived as being positively associated with change outcomes more than shared
However, implementation method was not significantly associated with front line or
management support. Rather the main effect of change type was significantly
associated with front line support (F 6:93; p , 0:05). The means indicate that
behavioral-social changes are more strongly supported than technical-structural
Front line support of the change was significantly correlated with change outcome
(r 0:20; p , 0:01). However, management support of the change was not associated
with change outcomes or implementation approach.
In sum, managers perceive unilateral methods to be more important in the
implementation of technical-structural change and shared methods in the
implementation of behavioral-social change. However, this contingent relationship is
not related to change success. Rather, it is unilateral change methods and front line
support that are associated with change success. Although shared methods are
commonly advocated as a way of developing support for the change, it was the type of
change being implemented rather than the implementation methods used that was
associated with front line support.
A contingent relationship between the two major types of change (behavioral-social
and technical-structural) and the two major implementation approaches (unilateral and
shared) was proposed. As predicted, unilateral methods were perceived as playing a
more important role in implementing technical-structural changes than shared
methods of implementation (Powell and Posner, 1980). Conversely, shared methods
were perceived as playing a more important role in implementing behavioral-social
changes than unilateral implementation methods (Beer and Driscoll, 1977). Unlike the
single best approaches advocated in much of the literature, practitioners appear to
view change implementation contingently (Dunphy and Griffiths, 1998; Dunphy and
Stace, 1990; Weick and Quinn, 1999).
Despite the perceptions of the managers, the contingent matching of change type
and implementation methods was not related to the success of the change program.
Rather, unilateral methods were more effective in achieving change outcomes
regardless of the type of change. The results support Beer et al.s (1990) argument that
attitudes, work relationships and behaviors are better changed after the appropriate
structures and roles have been put into place, rather than the argument that support is
a pre-requisite of successful change.
This is not to say that front line support is unimportant. Consistent with existing
literature, front line support was associated with the success of the change program.
However, the results did not indicate that participatory or shared change
implementation methods effectively built this support for change. Rather, front line
support was significantly associated with the type of change. In short, the front line is




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more likely to support behavioral-social changes than technical-structural changes,

regardless of the implementation methods used (Emery and Emery, 1993).
The results are consistent with both forced change and employee support driving
change outcomes. However, the results indicate that support is a function of change
type rather than participative implementation.
If change support is more closely linked to change type than implementation
method, then future research must carefully separate change type from
implementation approach. The tendency for shared implementation methods to be
paired with behavioral-social changes may lead observed levels of support to be
wrongly attributed to the participatory approach rather than the change type.
The results support a growing practitioner literature that indicates concrete actions
taken by change managers are often superior to the traditional prescriptions of
participation (Beer et al., 1990). Forcing change through top-down actions such as
redeploying staff or redesigning jobs may effectively shift employee behavior. With the
context and behavior changed, interventions targeting attitudes may then follow.
Overall, some caution should be exercised in the interpretation of the findings. As
organizations reported on more than one change, there is the possibility of response
consistency bias in the ratings. As the actual change types appear to be independent,
non-independence of the ratings of support and success makes the analysis overly
conservative. This should temper interpretation of the failure to support the
contingency model, or to find a support enhancing effect from participation.
It should also be noted that the majority of respondents were HR managers. It would
be expected that HR managers would have a bias toward shared or participatory
implementation methods and social-behavioral change types. Although the
relationship between social-behavioral change and employee support may be
consistent with the views of these respondents, the finding that unilateral
implementation methods achieved significantly better change outcomes is not
consistent with this respondent group, suggesting that this potential bias does not
account for the results.
In sum, the study indicates that managers hold to a contingency model of change
type and change implementation methods. However, the results do not support the
effectiveness of this model on change outcomes. The study supports the more
contemporary view that unilateral change implementation is more successful than
participatory or shared methods, regardless of the type of change being implemented.
Employee support is also important for the achievement of change outcomes, but the
support does not appear to be generated through participative approaches. Rather
support is highest for changes that are social or behavioral in nature. This is not
surprising given the personally detrimental nature of many technical-structural
changes, including downsizing and dismantling of work groups. In effect, support is
highest for the changes that would be expected to be popular.

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