6 (research based) guidelines for achieving and sustaining organisational change

6 (research based) guidelines for achieving and sustaining organisational change

Organisational change


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A study just published in the Journal of Health Organization and Management by a team of researchers tried to find an overarching roadmap or model for organisational change. Their initial task was to look at all the previous research to see if they can create a roadmap or set of stages for organisational change from the existing research, that works.

Their first finding was that the evidence from the previously published research based on the various models of change varied wildly in terms of success. In fact, what they quickly found from the research was that no one model or process of organisational change worked consistently and reliably across different organisations and situations. The results were very mixed.

While the authors could not find a definitive process or road map of what to do stage by stage, through an extensive literature review they did however find six principles for a health system to consider when planning such a change process.

6 research based guidelines for achieving and sustaining organisational change

1. Align vision and action

There needs to be an understanding at all levels of how the change applies to staff at every level. If a process is changed for example, everyone involved including the internal recipients of the process need to understand what has changed and what it means to them and why the process has changed. Understanding the why makes a significant positive impact and enables everyone to work with the change and integrate it into their routines.

2. Make incremental changes

Bureaucracies are renowned for their internal cultures of conservatism. Bringing change about by baby steps ensures that quality of output isn’t impacted, and that major change also doesn’t face resistance within the organisation. The trick is how you sequence the changes.

3. Foster distributed leadership

Leadership shouldn’t solely come from the top, but should be brought about by all those in management, from the first line managers right up to the Chief Executive. Management is seen as crucial to successful change. Leadership here is defined as any “activities tied to the core work of the organization that are designed by organizational members to influence the motivation, knowledge, affect, or practices of other organizational members.” The aim with distributed leadership is that these activities and the mind-set should be the responsibility of the entire management population.

4. Promote staff engagement

Engagement is a two-way process. Where staff have genuine concerns about the way the change policy is brought about, it is important that they are listened to. However engagement is more than just listening to the staff. The intention here is to engage the staff positively in the change and the need for change, using their ideas and understanding to create change and the pressure for change.

5. Create collaborative relationships

The authors described this as, “the importance of interventions that promote collaboration and raise awareness of organizational and inter-organizational functional interdependencies.” Organisations require many departments to work together to achieve the the aims of the organisation in question. The change process should not only take into account such interdepartmental communications and collaborative relationships, but it should be aimed at increasing collaboration. The researchers found that where there was an increase in collaborative practices, change tended to embed faster and the staff tended to engage better in the change process.

6. Continually assess and learn from cultural change

Change should be continually assessed at every level and compared to how it was intended to be. This monitoring is there to ensure that the vision of the change process is turned into reality. The feedback from the continual monitoring helps the leadership to nudge the change in the right direction and importantly to learn and correct any mistakes. For example an envisaged change may start to create problems elsewhere in the system of the organisation. The monitoring and learning process will highlight problems and success and enable the change to be ‘tweaked’. A vital part of this learning process is to keep an eye on the effects of the change on the culture.

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Cameron David Willis Jessie Saul Helen Bevan Mary Ann Scheirer Allan Best Trisha Greenhalgh Russell Mannion Evelyn Cornelissen David Howland Emily Jenkins Jennifer Bitz , (2016),”Sustaining organizational culture change in health systems.”, Journal of Health Organization and Management , Vol. 30

Spillane, James P. (2006). Distributed leadership (1st ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. pp. 11–12. ISBN 0-7879-6538-3.

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David Wilkinson

  • Belinda Harper says:

    Thanks for this posting. I like the focussed 6 guidelines. It’s good to have something as a guide. I have subscribed to your blog as it is very useful. Thank you.


  • Sarah Neesham says:

    This makes a nice check list. Thank you

  • Robert Ellis says:

    Hi David,
    Thank you. Interesting as ever. It’s nice to see what the research says rather than just uninformed opinion. These make a lot of sense and I think I prefer guidelines to a model to slavishly follow anyway.


  • Damian Lost says:

    Nice post. It’s interesting the research couldn’t find a change model that worked properly. Very useful. Thank you

  • Jen Smook says:

    Thank you for this. These are really useful.

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