Reactions to Organizational Change

Change Recipients’ Reactions to Organizational Change: A 60-Year Review of Quantitative Studies,” by Shaul Oreg of the University of Haifa, Isreal, Maria Vakola of Athens University of Economics and Business, Athens, Greece, and Achilles Armenakis of Auburn University, Alabama, was recently published in the March 2011 issue of the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science.  Professor Armenakis has provided a brief reflection on the article:

Who is the target audience for this article?

The target audience for this article is organizational change researchers, in particular, researchers who have focused in their work on explaining employees’ reactions to change. This includes Ph.D. students who might be researching the topic of organizational change for dissertation topics as well as organizational scientists/consultants interested in conducting research for organizational change projects. The information on the 79 quantitative research articles we reviewed can be used to stimulate testable research questions/hypotheses as well as provide guidance in selecting assessment scales and experimental/quasi-experimental designs that have been used in organizational change research.

What inspired you to be interested in this topic?

We were inspired to undertake this research project for two reasons:  First, because of our continuing interest in the topic of organizational change. Collectively we have been working in the organizational change field for more than 60 years and we have realized that there is a lack of order and structure in extant literature on the topic. Many quantitative studies on the topic have accumulated, but no organizing scheme has been proposed and the comparison of findings across studies has become difficult. Different terminology has been used by the various researchers without a clear picture of what we already know versus what remains to be explained. Second, the last review of the organizational change literature was published in 1999, and there has never been a 60-year review of the organizational change literature. So the research topic was well overdue. We therefore felt that a broad review, along with an overarching model to help organize previous research and update previous review findings, was called for.

Were there findings that were surprising to you?

We followed an inductive procedure in summarizing each of the 79 articles. Thus, the elements/factors we used to describe each article were modified as we progressed in our analysis. We did not anticipate how long the process was going to take. The length of time was also impacted by the fact that Shaul was in Israel and Ithaca, NY, Maria was in Athens, Greece, and Achilles was in Auburn, AL. We worked on analyzing the articles and writing the manuscript over a period of 4 years and exchanged 1600 emails. Of course, without the internet we could not have completed the research.

Apart from the process, we were quite surprised with the content of our analysis. Given that we were familiar with many of the studies we reviewed, the main surprises came, not from any particular finding, but rather from realizing where the research emphasis has been given, and what topics have been relatively neglected. As an example, it was somewhat surprising that so few studies have explored interactive effects when predicting employees’ reactions to change. Even fewer studies have been designed in which data were collected from more than a single source, a point which substantially weakens the validity of previous findings.

How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice?

We think organizational scientists/consultants will benefit from having a convenient source to consult in the design of organizational change research projects. We provide detailed descriptions of the variables and measures that have been used in previous work, and classify these variables into broad conceptual categories. We believe this classification system, which is also presented in several of the tables in the manuscript, will provide researchers with a clearer interpretation of the various variables that can be used to explain reactions to change. We hope our summary of the 60 years of quantitative research will encourage future change researchers to increase the level of scientific rigor of their projects.

How does this study fit into your body of work/line of research?

The topic of organizational change is our primary research focus. Completing this project was a logical step in each of our careers since it follows directly from many of the studies we have conducted. It has added to our organizational change knowledge and will allow us to be more creative and effective in directing research projects undertaken by our graduate students.

How did your paper change during the review process?

We acknowledged at the outset that the manuscript would be much longer than the typical manuscript published by behavioral science journals. As we prepared our first draft of the manuscript we realized we had a lot of valuable information but we thought the length was going to be an issue. When we submitted the manuscript to JABS, the editor and the referees were favorable toward it but made excellent suggestions to improve it, like wanting more information, which we already had but did not include in the original submission. We realized this was going to result in an even longer manuscript than we submitted originally, but incorporated this information nevertheless. In addition, the editor and reviewers made several very helpful points that allowed us to expand our discussion of the conceptual implications of our findings. They also made several practical suggestions that helped us reformat the manner in which we presented our data so that it is now clearer and more “user-friendly”.

What, if anything, would you do differently if you could go back and do this study again?

There really is not much we could do differently. This was a very time consuming and complex project for the three of us to undertake. We conducted the typical (and anticipated) coding/recoding process required in summarizing the articles, but each of us agrees it was a worthwhile and enjoyable effort. That said, with additional time, we might have chosen to keep a record of additional information from each of the studies we reviewed. In particular, information about effect sizes in each of the studies could have been useful for conducting meta-analyses of some sub-sections of the articles we reviewed. This, of course, can still be done in a follow-up endeavor.

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Patricia Howard
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Patricia Howard

I have been unable to gain access to the article, which is a pity as I may have discovered what I ‘could be’ duplicating. So please forgive me if I repeat what might already be included in your study. I was particularly interested in your comment on the literature that might not be existence on the topic of ‘reactions to organisationl change’, as numerous studies have been carried out in the Psychotherapy field. Most psychotherapists of course conduct qualitative studies, however there may be among the findings some of what remains to be explained, with quite naturally various terminologies. As… Read more »