How Organizations Approach Change: Current Practices



Rapid development of new business technologies and breakthrough innovations have become the new normal for organizations in the 21st century. Businesses today encounter frequent shifts in the global economy, rapid changes to customer populations and fierce competition in an increasingly crowded marketplace. Change affects organizations and their employees both positively and negatively.

To remain viable, organizations must be agile—prepared to act and change quickly as the need arises. To deal with this fast pace of change and innovation, it is critical for organizations and HR leadership to manage change in a way that amplifies positive outcomes and prevents or minimizes negative ones.

Several change frameworks and models (e.g., Kurt Lewin’s three-stage model of organizational change (1951), John Kotter’s eight steps to successful change (1996)) exist to help organizations and HR professionals understand how to effectively approach, manage and navigate change and innovation. By using elements or entire frameworks from these change management models, organizations and HR professionals have found success in addressing change and innovation.

Yet, despite extensive research and evidence linking these formal change frameworks to positive change management outcomes, past and current SHRM Research (2007, 2017) has found gaps and inconsistencies in the ways organizations actively adopt and use formal change frameworks and change management model elements.

A 2017 SHRM study found that more organizations continue to approach and manage change through informal [1] processes (48%) than companies with evidence-based formal approaches (46%). [2] Similar to other research, the study also found formal change management processes to be linked to greater overall effectiveness of initiated change efforts compared with informal change management processes.

It is critical that HR professionals consider the implications of not using formal change processes. By promoting more formalized approaches to change, HR can help organizations achieve greater impact and effectiveness in managing change. The SHRM Foundation’s 2015 Effective Practice Guidelines titled Leading Effective Change proposed a three-phase process for managing change: designing phase, enacting phase and sustaining phase. Leveraging formal change approaches such as this one enables HR professionals to help organizations better deal with the change process itself. Considering the pace at which change and innovation are occurring within our organizations today, the cost of not using formal approaches is too significant to ignore.


Benedict, A. (2007). 2007 Change Management Survey Report (Rep.). Alexandria, VA: SHRM Research Department.

Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading change. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School Press.

Leading Effective Change: A Primer for the HR Professional (Rep.). (2015, September). Retrieved January 18, 2018, from SHRM Foundation's Effective Practice Guidelines Series website:

Lewin K (1951) Field Theory in Social Science: Selected Theoretical Papers (ed. Cartwright D). New York: Harper & Row.

[1] Informal Change Process refers to an unstructured approach through which change occurs within organizations. Specifically, changes within and to organizations are not directly addressed or managed; instead they are passively tolerated and occur independent of organizational leadership or employee activities. Organizations utilizing an informal change process do not have a dedicated change strategy with identified change roles, responsibilities and actions they will take to address and manage change when it occurs.

[2] Formal Change Process refers to a structured approach for addressing change within organizations. The process begins with the awareness of the need for change identified from an assessment within an organization. Potential courses of action are then identified and evaluated, and an action or a set of actions is/are chosen and taken.



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