A Simplified Model of Organisational Change

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Change must happen in all firms.  If there’s no change, failure results as the external environment changes around the firm and it loses competitive advantage.  But how can a manager perceive change let alone plan for it?  The following is a simplified model with which change can be thought about and planned.

A firm can be likened to a system.  This is of course one of many views, but it’s a particularly useful approach.  This leads to the input/process/output model.  A more evolved version is the IDEF0 model (see www.idef.com).  This system model describes how inputs (or independent variables like ‘number of days of staff training’) are converted through ‘cause and effect’ relationships to outputs or dependent variables (like ‘increased sales’).   An example of model use might suggest that additional training causes an increase in turnover.  But using the IDEF0 model, the inputs and outputs are only one part of the story.  We need to find the effect that IDEF0 ‘mechanisms’ or enablers have and think through any activities that might prevent or ‘control’ the relationship.

Buchanan, Fitzgerald et al (2005) illustrated that there are 11 factors in all that have a bearing on the effectiveness and sustainability of any change in output.  These eleven are shown below.

These eleven factors bear on the change process.  The IDEF0 diagram above shows the conceptual form.  The manager would like a change in input to lead to a change in output (where there is a causal or ‘cause and effect’ relationship).  The manager might seek improved profits through improved employee engagement.  Employee engagement with the job and the firm might reduce costs, for example.  A management intervention on employee engagement (perhaps by increasing autonomy – the ability to take personal responsibility for an aspect of work) might enable the change.  But only if certain of the eleven factors allow it.  So the manager needs to think though how the change might be enabled and what factors need to be supported to ensure sustained results.

Using the model further to explore the relationship between intended input and desired output, we could imagine that the relationship may exist so long as the managerial style and approach is right.  If it’s wrong, the causal relationship is not enabled and increased profits are not realised regardless of the interventions tried.  This explains why managers often criticise apparent management rules of thumb about cause and effect.  Managers can try as hard as they like to get more out of staff but if their approach is wrong, they’ll fail.  If the relevant factors are not supportive, an apparently obvious result will not occur or will only occur momentarily.

Getting the modelling right is not an exact science.  There’s no ‘do this… and you’ll get that… so long as this…’.  But the model gives a way of thinking through what might happen and what the most likely outcomes might be.

Psychologists refer to this as the variance model of organisation change.   Under this, one can look at causal relationships and see change – but only if appropriate enablers are present.

TimelessTime has years of experience in organisational change.  Could TimelessTime help you effect change in your organisation?  Call us now.


Buchanan, D., Fitzgerald, L., Ketley, D., Gollop, R., Jones, J. L., Lamont, S. S., Neath, A., et al. (2005). No going back : A review of the literature on sustaining organizational change. International Journal of Management Reviews, 7(3), 189-205.

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