The organisational change textbook for people who think

The organisational change textbook for people who think… yes a text book!

Managing and Leading Organizational Change

The book anyone involved in organisational change, development and transformation really should read

Finding a textbook about managing and leading organisational change that I would recommend is rare. Finding one that I would recommend to professional organisational development / organisational change and transformation practitioners, consultants, managers and leaders is even rarer… 

Why most academic text books are pretty useless

Last year (2018) we wrote a research briefing based on work carried out by a team of researchers from The School of Business IT and Logistics, RMIT University, in Australia and the Centre of Commerce and Management, RMIT University and the Department of Management, BITL and Law, Centre of Commerce and Management, RMIT University in Vietnam looking at the issue of whether textbooks had a place in  modern organisational and consultancy learning environments.

The 3 levels of learning resources

The study found that there are 3 levels of learning resources used in educational institutions and organisations:

  1. Low-order learning resources:  largely focus on the regurgitation of factual information and has little impact on transfer of learning into the workplace. 
  2. Mid-order learning resources: mid-order learning tends to focus on the application of the learning to problems and the analysis of that application. These are usually case study based resources.
  3. High-order learning: high-order learning focuses on the creative application of the knowledge to new and novel situations and the evaluation of that learning in the context within which it can and can’t successfully be used. This level of learning resource helps to develop the critical and creative thinking of the reader or user of the resource.

Low and mid-order learning

The study found that the majority of textbook resources focused on low and mid-order learning and lack the sophistication and complexity to support high-order learning especially in helping people to unpick and critique common beliefs.

They tend to repeat the same old (safe) theories and models and rarely question their validity.

High order resources

The study found that high-order learning resources help to develop higher order expert analysis, evaluation and judgement/decision-making. The researchers found that textbooks are generally not designed to develop high-order learning – period.

Text books are usually out of date, sterile and lack any form of real critical thinking

When you look at most learning outside of secondary and higher education (in organisations and consultancies) few people turn to academic text books. There are a range of reasons for this, not least the lack of applicability and the fact that few are up-to-date by the time they get to your hands. Additionally most are written in sterile and tedious formats which are more likely to be the antidote for insomnia.

It is very rare to find a text book that is up to date, relevant, helps with higher order learning and critical thinking and is something that professionals should read. 

A textbook for professionals

Managing and Leading Organizational Change

So, when Mark Hughes’ book, Managing and Leading Organizational Change, hit my desk I was conflicted. Knowing Hughes’s excellent investigative research work around topics like debunking the much vaunted 70% failure rate of change projects (see video here) and a number of similar topics (how the tools and techniques of organisational change tend to get used in practice, for example), I was intrigued as to what an academic of such standing (in my mind, at least) was doing

  1. writing a text book and
  2. how a whole book could continue the probing, critical revelations his research papers tend to do.

Many fellow academics’ ‘text books’ dribble ints bland statements and presentation of models and regurgitation of previous well known and ubiquitous research (some of which lack any research rigour, in a complete reversal of their normal research writing and critical discourse). Most text books of this ilk have little new to add and tend towards the ‘covers the basics for novice learners, but turgid and boring’ category.

It is no wonder that few practitioners, professionals and advanced learners turn to text books as a source of learning and updating their craft.

Most text books of this ilk have little new to add and tend towards the ‘covers the basics for novice learners, but turgid and boring’ category.

Myths – understanding organisational change

So what of this book? I think the first chapter of Managing and Leading Change should give you some sense of the measure and orientation of this book.  It is entitled ‘Myth – understanding organisational change’. 

Hughes (a researcher/reader at Brighton University in the UK) is clearly out to set the course of the book on a firmly critical challenge and evidence-based path and not to trot out the usual models and pseudoscience that underpins the conceptualisations, thinking and judgements of many consultancies, practitioners, organisations and dare I say it, university lecturers.

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The entire book is an excellent example of what can be achieved by a good investigative researcher who refused to just believe, just because it appears in a peer-reviewed research article.

Hughes’s brand of critical inquiry informs, questions and subjects the topic of leading and managing organisational change to a rigorous, interesting and hugely stimulating and thought provoking examination.

He slays many of the old theories and models accepted and trotted out by practitioners and lecturers alike.

My copy of the book is so full of tabs, post it notes and comments that it now resembles something that has been handled by every student at Oxford for the last 20 years.

Taking apart some of our most cherished ideas and gurus…

Hughes takes apart some of our most cherished ideas and gurus (that are still being taught in business schools around the world and exposes them systematically and clinically to a most forensic examination. Most of these hallowed and vaunted ideas have little, if any, robust evidence base.

As observed by the researchers, Calas and Smircich from the School of Management, University of Massachusetts, much writing, particularly leadership and management papers, is more often an exercise in seduction rather than rigour and evidence.

...much writing, particularly leadership and management papers, is more often an exercise in seduction rather than rigour and evidence.

Kotter gets the Hughes treatment

For example, Hughes takes on organisational development and management gurus like Kotter and finds his theories around transformational leadership and organisational transformation not only to be lacking any reasonable research evidence, but, in many areas, counter to the more rigorous and less well known research hidden away in academic journals. Hughes takes on the current mythical leading and managing change narratives, exposes many of them as populist thinking (often made popular and spread by management consultants and the larger consultancies) and then shows what the research really says.

Be prepared to have some deeply held and cherished beliefs about leadership, management and organisational change challenged

If you are prepared to have some deeply held and cherished beliefs about leadership, management and organisational change challenged and if you want to know what the research actually says about leading and managing organisational change, what ideas and thinking have little or no support and to boost your understanding of how it all fits together, then this is the book for you. Managing and Leading Organisational Change should be read, digested and the contents engraved on the hearts of everyone involved in organisational change.

Not the usual text book yada yada

This book is not the usual uncritical textbook. It is a complete course in how to think and what you need to know as a practitioner, professional consultant, manager or leader involved in organisational change. I cannot recommend this book highly enough and it is exactly what The Oxford Review was set up for – to challenge current unsupported thinking and add an evidence-based thinking and knowledge back into practice.

If you want to be ahead of the game, and certainly ahead of the majority of other organisational change, leadership and management practitioners, professionals and consultants, this is the book for you. 

My only regret is that I didn’t write it.

Transparency statement

I received the book free from the publishers, but have no connection with the publishers or the author, nor has any money or other thing of value been exchanged for this review. The review has been done entirely without recourse to the author or publisher or any other third party.

Managing and Leading Organizational Change by Mark Hughes. 2019 Published by Routledge


Calás, M. B., & Smircich, L. (1991). Voicing seduction to silence leadership. Organization Studies, 12(4), 567-601.

Lau, K. H., Lam, T., Kam, B. H., Nkhoma, M., Richardson, J., & Thomas, S. (2018).The role of textbook learning resources in e-learning: A taxonomic study. Computers & Education, 118, 10-24

Chapter titles:

Part One – Introduction

    1. Introduction – Myth-understanding organizational change
    2. The what, why, when, how and where of organizational change
    3. Studying organizational change

Part Two – Managing Change

  1. Management studies
  2. History, learning, and organizational change
  3. Organizational cultural change
  4. Individuals, psychodynamics, identities and organizational change
  5. Groups, teams and organizational change (needs a new line)

Part Three – Leading Change

  1. Leadership studies
  2. Leading organizational change
  3. Power, politics and organizational change
  4. Communicating organizational change
  5. Resistance to change and change readiness

Part Four – Managing and Leading Organizational Change 14.

  1. Managers, leaders and the agents of change (– new line)
  2. Management and leadership tools and techniques
  3. The dark side of organizations
  4. Evaluating organizational change
  5. Sustaining organizational change

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David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page