Process Theories in Change Management

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Change management is one of the courses that cannot be neglected or misunderstood. It helps to realize why so many things are changing around constantly, what has and can be expected from changes, how the process of change should be organized, and if it is possible to control changes to benefit from them. In this paper, four main process theories will be described and used to explain how change may be interpreted. Teleological, evolutionary, dialectical, and life cycle theories help to view change not only as a line of some interconnected events and decisions that have to be made. These theories aim at introducing change and the sequence of change stages from different perspectives and proving it as an integral process with several strong and weak peculiarities that cannot be avoided.

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Evaluation of Process Theories

Any change manager has to comprehend that the identification of the need for a change is a crucial step in the working process. Still, it is not enough to know the reasons for the change. It is more important to realize what kind of outcomes may be expected and what actions should be taken in order not to fail. There is no place for mistakes that can be made by change managers. However, there are only a few managers, who can recognize the dynamics of change in time and suggest effective solutions (Hayes 2014). The researchers offer to examine change from a process point of view and explain the peculiarities of transformations that can be inherent to change (Van de Ven 1995; Hayes 2014).

The evaluation of the material that can be offered to researchers and change managers shows that there are more than 20 theories that can be used in the analysis of change as a process (Van de Ven 1995). It is unreasonable to identify each theory and describe its basics concerning the concept of change. Therefore, Van de Ven (1995) and Hayes (2014) offered to categorize them into several schools with their traditions, terminologies, and expectations. Four types of theories can be used in the analysis: teleological, dialectical, life cycle, and evolutionary (Hayes 2014).

Teleological theories can be united with an idea that all organizations and companies should have a purpose and pass through an adaptation process successfully because any change is an ongoing and never-ending procedure (Van de Ven & Sun 2011) that involves the formulation of goals, implementation of ideas, learning, and analysis of new material. Besides, it is important to underline the role of a learning process because it helps to understand the essence of change better and realize what kind of knowledge can be used to modify goals and meet the requirements. In other words, according to the teleological theorists, a change should be regarded as a planned activity.

There is also a group of dialectical theories that aim at discussing the change in terms of conflicts and discussions that may take place. The balance of opposing parties is the main requirement that has to be considered in such theories. The ideas of pluralism and dualism are used to explain the importance of change in organizations (Seo & Creed 2002). Therefore, conflictual change turns out to be a result of the evaluation process where oppositions, the sequence of contradiction, and confrontations may be identified as the only means to promote some adjustments (By 2005). Howlett (2009) says about the inability to avoid difficulties and frustration while promoting change, and leaders, as well as managers, have to be ready to introduce solid grounding to explain the dynamics.

Life Cycle theories introduce another group that is characterized by the necessity of a sequence of stages that are crucial for the outcome (Hayes 2014). Regulated change is the core of the theories because each activity and the decision made helps to gain control over the next stage. The supporters of these process theories underline the necessity to establish rules and regulations according to which change can be implemented in the environment.

Still, the investigations show that it is not always possible to understand who should lead the process of change in an organization (Van de Ven & Sun 2011). The alternative explanation of life cycle theories can be found in the work by Banerjee, Felfand, and Sirmans (2003), who discuss the peculiarities of spatial process models of change and the necessity to follow orders even if the conditions for change are not the most favorable.

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Finally, there is a group of evolutionary theories that can be confused with life cycle theories due to the presence of a cycling process. Still, Hayes (2014) explains this process theory as “a continuous cycle of variation, selection and retention” (p. 5). Variations take place in the environment. People have to select some of them to continue working and meet the demands set. Retention is the result that has to be achieved regarding the changes that should be accepted. Such a process may not challenge people, who have to accept change. However, it promotes competition between people, departments, and companies. Therefore, competitive change turns out to be the center of evolutionary theories. It is not enough to survive after the change. It is more important to demonstrate the best qualities and competitive skills during such processes as variation, selection, and retention.

Order of Change Stages

The change process is complicated, and change management is the activity that helps to renew the directions, structures, and capabilities of an organization (By 2005). The theories that have been identified in the project introduce different attitudes to the stages that have to be passed during the change process. Different theorists offer different approaches to how change should be understood and what expectations are possible. The evaluation of Hayes’ work shows that it is possible to divide four theories into two groups that have similar attitudes and perspectives to the ordering of stages in the change process.

For example, teleological and life cycle theories have almost similar attitudes to change because both of them identify change as a planned and regulated activity that has to be taken by any organization. Both theories offer to pay more attention to the survival stage when any organization has to deal with the innovations for the first time. Still, the order of change is more definite in the life cycle theoretical perspective. Teleological theorists respect order; still, they are more concerned with a repetitive sequence of stages (Hayes 2014). Littell and Girvin (2002) suggest not only to identify the stages but also to focus on the assessments of stages that are necessary for change.

Life cycle theorists prescribe different functions to different stages of change. The first stages are used to understand if it is possible to survive changes and develop new issues. The second group of changes helps to recognize the resources that can be used to implement changes. The third stage is the time when such activities as planning and managing. The next stage requires the identification of the improvements observed and so on.

Each stage has its prescribed order and cannot be neglected due to its heuristic value (Littell & Girvin 2002). It means that research methods and a systematic order serve as the best means to prove an idea (or change in this case). Teleological theories do not promote such restrictions to the order of change. Still, they help to realize that change and the expected development can be a repetitive sequence of activities.

Evolutionary theories suggest focusing on the order of change stages in regards to their worth. From a biological point of view, change is the process that is characterized by variation, selection, and retention (Ven 1995). It means that the three main stages have to be taken properly. First, variations are used to identify some new forms that are more appropriate for organizations. Then, it is necessary to select using competition as one of the best options to discover the best and worst options. Finally, there is the retention stage that helps to cover the gap that may take place between variation and selection (Ven 1995). Evolution sees change as a probabilistic progression that can be achieved through variation, selection, and retention.

The dialectical point of view is used by those, who want to believe that there is a certain balance between stability and change. The dialectical theorists do not support the idea of order. They aim at maintaining the balance and regard change as the process when several opposing values or forces possess the required portion of power and lead to change. According to Prochaska and Norcross (2001), any change is progress, and any progress has to promote the balance. Without balance, it is hard to achieve success and solve constructive conflict through productive debates.

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Change Trajectories

According to Ven (1995), change may be introduced as a process that can be repeated with time in a certain description. Life cycle theories and some evolutionary theories explain a change as an adaptation to special organizations forms the order of which can be predicted. Therefore, it is very important to know how to predict change trajectories and be ready for the outcomes (Prochaska & Norcross 2001).

In such cases, trajectories should have an inherent code (evolutionary theories) and the limitations (life cycle theories). The teleological theories, as well as dialectical theories, describe change as a constructed and goal-oriented process. It means that each trajectory should have a purpose, and the awareness of an inherent code is not enough because many external factors may influence the trajectory of change.

In other words, there are two main opinions about change that can be gathered in four theoretical frameworks. On the one hand, change can be affected by people and other factors that may change the trajectories; therefore, the participants of the system where change can be observed can develop change trajectories in regards to their personal needs and the desirable outcomes (teleological and dialectical theories). On the other hand, change has several prescribed features that cannot be neglected or avoided; therefore, change trajectories can be predicted and treated accordingly without considering the possibility of external factors that may influence the development of change (evolutionary and life cycle theories).

Sequence and Outcome

The change sequence is the sequence of all events that have to be observed when the organizational change takes place. It does matter, if the change is planned or unplanned, there is a certain connection between a change sequence and an outcome. Hayes (2014) offers two types of sequences: reactive and self-reinforcing. These types may affect the level of improvements and corrections that can be offered in terms of one change.

The point is that any change is the process that consists of several issues: certain events that may promote the necessity of change, several decisions that have to be made to approve or disprove change, and particular actions that should be organized in a particular sequence, and several outcomes that are expected after the change is offered. Taking into consideration the fact that there should be a certain order of change stages, change sequence cannot be neglected.

For example, Ven and Sun (2011) argue that the effectiveness of the whole action strategy depends on the quality of reflection and evaluation. In case some aspect of change is omitted or misunderstood, the outcome of change may be unpredictable and even negative. Therefore, managers and other stakeholders should understand how crucial the idea of understanding the sequence of change is crucial for an outcome of change.


Banerjee, S, Gelfand, AE, & Sirmans, CF 2003, ‘Directional rates of change under spatial process models’, Journal of the American Statistical Association, vol. 98, no. 464, pp. 946-954. Web.

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By, RT 2005, ‘Organizational change management: a critical review’, Journal of Change Management, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 369-380. Web.

Hayes, J 2014, The theory and practice of change management, Palgrave Macmillan, New York. Web.

Howlett, M 2009, ‘Process sequencing policy dynamics: beyond homeostasis and path dependency’, Journal of Public Policy, vol. 29, no. 3, pp. 241-262. Web.

Littell, JH & Girvin, H 2002, ‘Stages of change: a critique’, Behavioral Modification, vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 223-273. Web.

Prochaska, JO & Norcross, JC 2001, ‘Stages of change’, Psychotherapy, vol. 38, no. 4, pp. 443-448. Web.

Seo, MG & Creed, WED 2002, ‘Institutional contradictions, praxis, and institutional change: a dialectical perspective’, Academic of Management Review, vol. 27, no. 2, pp. 222-247. Web.

Van de Ven, AH & Sun, K 2011, ‘Breakdowns in implementing models of organization change’, Academy of Management Perspectives, vol. 25, no. 3, pp. 58-74. Web.

Van de Ven, AH 1995, ‘Explaining development and change in organizations’, Academic of Management Review, vol. 20, no. 3, pp. 510-540. Web.

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