Why Is Strategic Change So Difficult to Manage?


Heraclitus, the great Greek philosopher said, “You can never step into the same river Twice” (Cashman, 2009, p.14). Change is an inevitable aspect of human life. It has almost become a way of life. However, it is elusive, and difficult to manage. This is the inherent problem that any change management process face. Over three decades, managers and academicians alike have tried to dissect the subject of steering a process of planned and strategic change.

Change management has been eulogized as an ultimate requirement for organizational survival. A large number of pieces of literature on organizational change have eulogized the leaders have been successful in communicating their visions to set in the change process (Sirkin et al., 2005). The change process has been transformed and altered like a chameleon from a participatory process, to the top-down approach. Organizations have been coaxed to employ measures to win the heart of the people. More than two-thirds of the change management processes embrace failure (Sirkin et al., 2005). The more change management gains importance on pen and paper, the less successful it seems to become.

Managing change is difficult, but one of the main problems with change management is the inconsistency and discrepancies about the actual triggers of change. So if seven managers are asked about the factors that led to change, one is likely to gather seven different answers. The reason for this is interpersonal differences, which makes them look at some from a different point of view and perspective.

Change in perspective changes the success factors, which are perceived to be important. Similarly, the experts in change management too, provide different perspectives, colored with their personal beliefs and experiences. Therefore, the change processes that organizations or different departments in an organization face varied approaches in different texture and color that accentuates the turmoil. As there are different views regarding the factors that trigger change, similarly, there are a plethora of views regarding problems or issues that hinder transformations.

The recent concentration of most literature has been at identifying the softer factors that lead to or become impediments to change. Academicians and consultants have tried to point out various issues that cause hindrance to change management. The change management process has pointed out various questions.

For instance, if a change management process should change the culture, structure (Tichy, 1983), organizational inertia (Hannan & Freeman, 1984), issue selling (Dutton et al., 2001), leadership, power (Buchanan & Badham, 1999), employee motivation (Armenakis & Bedeian, 1999), conflict, politics, and resistance (Buchanan & Badham, 1999), etc. Hannan and Freeman (1984) have argued that structural inertia is the inherent aspect in an organization that may arise due to varied reasons like size, complexity, etc. in face of turmoil in the environment, thus, voting for a change process that would allow the organization to naturally simmer down with the process.

Dutton, O’Neill, and Lawrence (2001) point that “issue selling”, a widely used scheme for change, may or may not bring about change initiatives. Many researchers have pointed at the innate resistance to change in human beings as the utmost reason for the change in organizations (Fisher, 2005).

Much has been said about the softer issue of change management. But the harder issue has been overlooked. By hard issue, I mean the tangible, accountable, and quantifiable aspects of the organization, that are easily communicable. I believe, that the harder issues related to organizational change need greater attention. By this, it is not implied that the softer issue loses its importance. On the contrary, they are equally important.

Nevertheless, what I mean is that if the harder issues fail to trigger the initial foundation of change, the softer issues may not be required at all. This paper outlines the importance of the harder issues of change management and shows how these factors lead to hindrance to change. This paper proposes three key areas in the change management process that become a hindrance to change – time, dedication, and endeavor.

The paper tries to answer the question ‘why is strategic change so difficult to manage. To elaborate on the issues of change management, the paper will discuss the issues related to it within the framework of the change process and change leadership. The paper will exemplify the problems through small case studies and identify measures to avoid them.

Change Process

Organizational change may be defined as “an empirical observation of difference in form, quality, or state over time in an organizational entity. The entity may be an individual’s job, a work group, an organizational strategy, a program, a product, or the overall organization” (Palmer & Dunford, 1996, p.692).

Organizational change literature has been adorned with metaphors and clichés that have been drawn from a wide range of literature. However, these have all dealt with issues, which are secondary to the change process. The foundation for the change process has been vilely overlooked. Literature suggests various methods and processes under which the change may be ushered in. however, the areas of the change process that are overlooked are time, dedication, and endeavor. This section will describe the change process and the problem of avoidance of the hard issues that have become an impediment to successful change management.


Organizational change as a transformation and transactional process as that of Lewin (1951) and Bate (1994) found inherent in all successful change processes. The change process that has traditionally aimed at unfreezing, transformation, and refreezing (Lewin, 1951), maintained absolute silence about the duration of the change process. The concept of time, which needs to be managed to bring forth this transformation, has not been explicitly hinted at in either of the models. Employee perception has been mentioned as one of the key components that may lead to change, and failure to contact psychologically the change subjects may lead to failure (Gardner, 2004).

Nadler (2001) has processed change as a task rather than a structure, too is illusive of time. However, these studies are independent of time, which do not look into the harder issue related to time and the duration of the change process. Their focus is therefore on the present. However, the time with its different dimensions is grossly misjudged and paid little attention. Most of the change models and initiatives have concentrated on “here and now” that has been identified s the greatest problem with planned change management (Fisher, 2005).

Look into your room. While changing the look of the room, do you throw away everything? Are all the things in your room unwanted? Only a thorough inventory check will prove that not all is bad. From these practices, the past practices, and procedures receive an ‘all bad’ label and are hardly tried again. Are all that is old bad and unacceptable? As has been observed in the eulogized change process of freeze-change-refreeze, the considerations related to the past and future are completely avoided.

The present-based outlook of the change management process creates a myopic view of the real issues in the past that need to be changed.

The three key processes, that can be derived from change management processes, and that have been usually overlooked are time, dedication, and endeavor.

Therefore, it is proposed in the paper, that all change management processes must follow these three factors very closely before embarking on a change initiative.


Change management requires contribution from not only leadership but also from all the other key stakeholders of the organization. Boosting employee involvement and commitment is key to steering a process of successful change (Sirkin et al., 2005). Though these change processes are initiated from the top management level, middle managers become a vital part of the initiation process.

The dedication of the top management is an essential part of the change process. a change management process must have the support of the top management. If the employees feel that a change initiative lacks the involvement of the top management, they are unlikely to accept change. Sirkin et al. (2005, p.112) point out that “No amount of top-level support is too much.”

The middle managers help in aligning their units with the top management vision (Balogun & Johnson, 2004). The change management process, on the contrary, is mostly constricted to the executives (Lewis, 2008). Research has demonstrated that the commitment and dedication to the change management process from the middle management level is equally important as it is from the top management to coordinate the planning and implementation process. This is so because the grass-root level of management follows their boss closely for direction in times of turmoil, as they are skeptical of the management (Lewis, 2008).

Therefore gaining trust is key to implementing a successful change management process (Lines et al., 2005). Therefore, dedication and commitment towards the change management process are necessary at all levels, especially at the middle management level. This aspect of dedication to the change process is intertwined with the time concept for the change process. Dedication may be termed as the emotional or psychological oneness of the employee with the change process. However, if the past process is dumped for new ones, it may have a psychological impact on her.


The change process requires a completely dedicated effort essential for transforming the organization. Change managers must realize that the employees already have their share of the load, and have to set aside time to help in the change process. Therefore, to set in change, the change management team and its strength must be separately decided upon to initiate the change process. Therefore, decisions regarding the reallocation of work due to the change and a dedicated change management team are an essential part of the transformational process (Sirkin et al., 2005).

As has been pointed out by Kegan & Lahey, “Employees are almost always tremendously relieved when they discover just why they feel as if they are rolling a boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down again.” (2001, p.86) Therefore, setting a different team for implementing team can ease off the load largely. Thus, employees must be engaged as such that they can dedicatedly put in their effort for the transformation.

Change leaderships

The main issue faced by today’s leadership is tackling change and its various complexities. Therefore, there have been increasing questions that have been posed regarding leadership potential in terms of IQ or EQ. In an ever-changing atmosphere, a more acceptable leader can transform and adapt to changes. However, as Cashman (2009) points out that most organizations even today look at intelligence as their main character in a leader rather than the qualities of transformational leadership. Leaders are the ones who draw the attention of the organization to the need to change (Strebel, 1996). Leadership drives the vision that paves the way for successful change management. The leader is first responsible to set the path and direction for the change (Oakland & Tanner, 2007).

Trust is an essential ingredient for successful change. Therefore, trust in leadership is important as the change process plays a big role in employee relations (Lines et al., 2005). It is the task of the leader to continually work with his employees to solve the problems during the process. Lines et al. observes, “… leaders gain access to the knowledge and creative thinking they need to solve problems depends largely on how much people trust them.

Hence, trust and trustworthiness modulate the leader’s access to knowledge and cooperation.” (2005, p.223). Therefore attributes that can promote trust among employees is desirable in leaders. It is a widely accepted view that transformational leadership will lead a change process to success. However, Anderson believes that most transformational changes fail to “return their desired ROI” (Anderson, 2007, p.19).

The main issue with this approach is that a transformation requires a major shift from the normal autonomous course of action to a more streamlined initial phase, which requires centralization of power to a great extent. Transformational leadership does not support this. Therefore, a leadership that can communicate their vision, adapt to changing situations easily, and have attributes that make them trustable is desirable in a change leader.

Change management – a Reality Check

Change is a tough business. A recent study has shown the perception of change by employees – “only 37 per cent of employees will be committed; 25 per cent will resist it; and 38 per cent will accept it.” (Cdeman, 2006, p.33) Thus, acceptance is one of the key hurdles that fail change management initiatives. How can this attitude towards change be changed? One way is to focus on the opportunities that the change process offers rather than communicating the problems that exist.

Here again, a focus is on time. Therefore, the focus should be more of a long-term strategy rather than a limited short-term outlook, which makes one only look at the present and avoid the future. Then there must be a shift from doubt to trust with leadership communicating the plan. Once the implementation process is set to work, a comprehensive plan must be drawn to make the change sustainable. Therefore, the long-term goal must be sustainable change.


Change management is a process that has faced immense theoretical eulogy and practical failures. Therefore, a look at change management and its failures from a different perspective was made in this paper. Three key issues that arose in change processes are time, dedication, and endeavor. Change management has a static outlook, concentrating only on the present while the past and future are overlooked. This blurs the vision.

Dedication is the key to successful process implementation, as this will enable an overall change process to be ushered in. Endeavor from all is essential as change management is a very difficult process and requires a lot of effort. Further, change leadership must be adaptive and trustworthy to embrace change. These harder sides of change management must be concentrated upon along with the softer issues.

Reference List

Anderson, D., 2007. Change Leadership. Leadership Excellence , 24(11), p.19.

Armenakis, A.A. & Bedeian, A.G., 1999. Organizational Change: A Review of Theory in the 1990s. Journal of Management, 25(3), pp.293-315.

Balogun, J. & Johnson, G., 2004. Organizational restructuring and middle manager sensemaking. Academy of Management Journal, 47, p.523–549.

Bate, P., 1994. Strategies for Cultural Change. Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann.

Buchanan, D. & Badham, R., 1999. Politics and Organizational Change: the Lived Experience. Human Relations, 52(5), pp.69-629.

Cashman, K., 2009. Change Smart. Leadership Excellence. p.14.

Cdeman, A., 2006. How to embrace change. Director. p.33.

Dutton, J.E., O’Neill, R.M. & Lawrence, K.A., 2001. Moves that matter: issue selling and organizational change. Academy of Management Journal, 44(4), pp.716-36.

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Kegan, R. & Lahey, L.L., 2001. The real reason people won’t change. Harvard Business Review, pp.84-91.

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Lewis, L.S.L.M.W., 2008. Organizational Change and Managerial Sensemaking: Working Through Paradox. Academy of Management Journal , 51(2), p.221–240.

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Nadler, D.A., Thies, P.K. & Nadler, M.B., 2001. Culture change in the strategic enterprise: lessons from the field. In C.L. Cooper, S. Cartwright & P.C. Earley, eds. The International Handbook of Organizational Culture and Climate. New York: Wiley. p.309–324.

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