Change Management: Insight From An Empirical Study

Change Management Insight From An Empirical Study

Anna Siegrist
Research Analyst, pmX
M Sc Project and Enterprise Management, University College London

We are living in a fast-moving world, one in which business is continually evolving and where fierce competition determines our professional environment. In addition, the increasing global context of business adds further complexity to the management of organisations. In this unpredictable environment, change and adaptation are important issues that all organisations have to face. The significance of this transformation and its complexity resulted in the emergence of numerous studies and theories of ‘best-way practice’ on change management during the last half century. Because a change process can be imitated but its outcome cannot be guaranteed, the field of change management leaves room for speculation and debate.

Failure Rate of Change Interventions

Today, change management can be defined as a discipline with no clear boundaries and varied approaches, a subject on which change management scholars worldwide argue over and demonstrate little agreement on due to their contradictory views. However, when it comes to examining the successful implementation of change initiatives, there is less disagreement between the representatives of the different approaches. It is generally agreed that the majority of change resolutions (70-80 per cent, depending on the source) fail. This high percentage of change intervention failure has a negative impact on the people involved as well as on the financial output of the organisations attempting to implement change, which normally leads to frustration and tremendous extra costs.

A reason for this failure, despite extensive investigations, lies in the lack of empirical evidence and the unchallenged acceptance of contemporary change management theories. Additionally, it was proven that the knowledge transfer between practitioners and academics is missing and that research in this field has to take the form of a more multilevel examination.

An Empirical Study

In the context of a University College London MSc Dissertation research was conducted to overcome this high failure rate of change intervention and to provide further empirical evidence by investigating the different management approaches.

The hypothesis was set that synergies can be created out of implementing a synthesis of the traditional top-down/planned and the novel bottom-up/emergent approaches. The research was conducted by implementing a mixed research method, where qualitative data was gained from semi-structured interviews and quantitative data obtained from web-based questionnaires on recent change interventions that took place in organisations with a Western culture.

To prove the hypothesis, as a first step, each interviewee presented in detail a change intervention case they were involved in. They were then asked to retrospectively consider the effects specific tools and techniques would have had on their cases. At the end of the interview, the participants were further asked, based on their experience, what internal and external factors will influence the change management approach in the future. This data was then complemented by the findings of the questionnaire, where participants had to answer 42 questions on the organisations going through the transformation covering:

  • the people involved in the change intervention
  • the change intervention itself
  • and the management approach in general.


In Conclusion

To sum up the findings of this MSc dissertation, it is suggested to organisations to have a good consultant and/or facilitator, to be willing to invest money and time to overcome the high failure rate, and to create a companywide awareness of the importance of the emergent approach as a fundament to successfully implement a change intervention with a connected top-down and bottom-up approach.


Built upon this fundament a company should provide 5 pillars to support the connected approach by:

  1. choosing the right people to participate in a change intervention,
  2. outlining the need for change
  3. articulating the values of humans and of teamwork,
  4. facilitating organisational workshops and learning systems
  5. establishing a clear framework for the people involved,

Finally, an organisation should establish an openness to debate, create a culture of transparency and have a flat organisational structure to finalise the connected approach.

If you are about to undertake a change initiative, see how your project preparation and planning stacks up against industry peers, best practices and the concepts discussed in this study – Click here to take the pmX Transformational Change Self-Diagnostic