Organizational Change Management: Lewin’s Theory

Subject: Management Theories
Pages: 12
Words: 3275
Reading time:
12 min
Study level: PhD


In the modern competitive business world, organizations need to optimize their operations to increase the return on investment. This has become the basis of organizational change that is supposed to respond to the changes in the market. With a lot of emphasis on organizational change and the need to gain a competitive edge, different management processes have been pointed out as the key drivers of change in both the private and the public sectors. However, not all management approaches guarantee the anticipated organizational change. By drawing parallels, it can be shown that approaches related to human relations provide better a comprehensive mechanism to management. This is because it focuses on the ‘work person’ who can organize the other factors of production. It is worth noting that the main point of the human relations theory is to make employees feel part of an organization through group incentives, respect for individual personality, and a meaningful work environment and hence taking business’ goals as theirs.

Implications of Human Relations Theory in Change Management

Management is a critical factor in any organization; it determines the competitiveness of a business and the ability to sustain positive change. Different concepts and management frameworks are used as the basis for directing management. For instance, various theories with different principles have become the basis of informing management processes with managers hoping to attain organizational goals by following the principles stipulated in the theories. One of the common theories is the human relations theory. It is concerned with the human factor in an organization. The theory focuses on the importance of relations between managers and employees. The originator of the theory, Elton Mayo pointed out that motivation and the type of leadership are the keys to efficiency and turnaround in an organization (Indabawa & Uba, 2014). Besides, the theory places a lot of emphasis on human behavior and how it is influenced by personal attributes and the work environment (Human relations theory, n.d.). Based on the aspects of relationship and behavior, this paper argues that the theory is the foundation for efficiency and sustained organizational change both in the private and public sectors. Therefore, for managers to achieve the anticipated organizational change, they ought to apply the basics of the theory.

As such, the main point being stressed by the proponents of the theory is the motivation of individuals and groups by applying participatory leadership approaches (Indabawa & Uba, 2014). In summary, the theory denotes the importance of a positive work relationship between the employee and the employer. This is based on the understanding that the needs of human resources are critical in achieving the efficiency and effectiveness that is required within an organization. The human resource determines how other factors within an organization are utilized for the benefit of the entire business. As a result, to achieve the goals of an organization, there is the need for a ‘motive’ i.e. the driving force within a person to perform duties, which forms the main stipulation of the human relations theory.

It has been shown that for an organization to succeed in organizational change, there is a need for the management of social dilemmas among the workers. For instance, to ensure effective management and create value for the business, the managers need to ensure that the motive of the people is addressed (Tummers, Kruyen, Vijverberg, & Voesenek, 2015). For example, there are personal and group interests that can lead to social dilemmas that affect the performance of an organization. To address such challenges, different measures can be applied such as a work plan and focus on the key job. However, these may not yield the desired results as the human will supersede the aspect of a job. Therefore, by inclining to the theory, the managers are better placed to utilize the in-depth knowledge of individual and group performance of the workers. This becomes critical in addressing their needs and enticing them to adopt behaviors that are beneficial to the business (Tummers et al., 2015). Thus, it necessitates the application of measures that examine factors that affect the motive of the employees and hence determine approaches that can be used to overcome self and group interests.

It can be argued that despite focusing on relationships and behaviors of employees; practically, the theory addressed many issues, unlike other management concepts and theories that are limited by their principles. For example, classical management theories put a lot of emphasis on the structure of organization and authority; hence, failing to capture the needs of the workers. A case in point is the emphasis of classical theories on factors such as division of labor and discipline. Even though these are important factors in ensuring that work is completed, they do not guarantee increased productivity and organizational change. It is due to the shortcomings that the human relations theory shifts the primarily normative focus on authority to the needs of the workforce. According to Al-Haddad and Kotnour (2015), the shift is in line with the knowledge that human beings are bound to have self-interests which if not addressed can resist changes in the organization. It is important to understand there is a moral hazard in which the need for the workers can end up distracting the performance of all the sectors of the organization if proper measures are not put in place to ensure that employees are satisfied. Therefore, the human relations theory stresses the importance of addressing the interests of employees to enhance job satisfaction and overall performance.

Still concerning the significance of the theory, the behavioral approach to management has been cited as contributing to sustained organizational change. The dimension of employees’ behavior focuses on the influence of various organizational factors on the work processes. Again, as it is with the relationships dimension, it aligns with the concept that managers are supposed to deal with the ‘people side’ (Indabawa & Uba, 2014). The ‘people side’ as provided by the theory suggests that managers are mandated to select the best possible workers, i.e. the people whose personal traits single them out as the most suited for a particular job. Secondly, the managers should focus on creating a good work environment to maximize the productivity of the organization. This is achieved by ensuring that circumstances in work address the psychological needs of employees to make them ready to deal with the work challenges.

The two dimensions of the relationship between managers and workers and the concept of behavior in the human relations theory point out the need for managers to motivate employees (Manole, Alpopi, & Colesca, 2011). According to Indabawa and Uba (2014), for increased productivity to be achieved in an organization, the managers should not only focus on the job or be attached to the authority. Instead, they should take cognizance of the employees’ needs which can be achieved by studying and understanding the fundamental interests that should be addressed to ensure that they are in an ideal psychological state to work. See figure 1 which exemplifies how the different factors contribute to improved performance. For instance, incentive schemes that are popular with human resource capital should be used to influence the behavior of employees.

There is always a need for organizational rules that dictate the desired code of ethics which in turn ensure that employees perform their duties as expected and shadow the individual needs and behaviors. This can be understood from different perspectives such as the classical theories that have been used since the 19th century to determine interactions of people and the resulting outcomes. For instance, it is worth noting that work environments are critical in shaping behaviors.

Human Relations Theory and Positive Organizational Change
Figure 1: Human Relations Theory and Positive Organizational Change

Therefore, to overcome, detrimental behaviors such as self-interest, there is the need not to emphasize the management that centers on the creation of a framework that ensures that there is an atmosphere of cooperation. This is necessary for increased productivity and attaining the needed organizational change which in turn gives an entity a competitive edge. Also, through the reinforced organizational behaviors, the primary focus is to make sure that different types of social problems are addressed (Osborne, Radnor, & Nasi, 2013). However, it is imperative to note that there are varying schools of thought on the issue of processes meant to instill certain behaviors. Individual preferences can be shaped by frameworks that lead to people attaching meaning to their actions based on the laid down procedures. Also, individuals can set their goals independently irrespective of institutional context. As a result, there is the need for inclusive management processes that promote inclusivity in decision-making to overcome individual preferences. The human relations theory provides an answer to such challenges. As such, an ideal reconciliation of the self-interest of people with the needs of an organization can be perfectly achieved by positive relationships between managers and workers.

Case Example

In the endeavor to determine the significance of the human relations theory in management, Indabawa and Uba (2014) conducted an explanatory and descriptive study in which primary data was collected by the use of questionnaires. The study participants were employees working in private manufacturing businesses and their respective managers. The criterion for inclusion of study participants was that they must have been working for the selected entities for at least two years. The managers and supervisors were supposed to have worked in the respective businesses for at least three years. The selected organizations were in the Kano State of Nigeria. The primary purpose of the study was to investigate how various management approaches contributed to increased productivity. The results showed that in the organizations where the supervisors and managers have adopted processes that promote the welfare of workers, such as a good work environment and incentives such as bonuses, productivity was found to increase.

The study also identified negative human approaches that had significant psychological effects on employees’ performance such as pay cuts and removal of overtime. In drawing inferences, they pointed out the importance of adopting human approaches to deal with workers to enhance productivity. This study exemplified the importance of human resource relations in the workplace. It thus supports the arguments postulated by the human relations theory that by focusing on the employees’ needs, organizations stand a better chance to gain competitive advantage and desired organizational change.

Applicability of Human Relations Theory in Public Sector

Today, the domain of organizational change is not restricted to the private sector; there has been a shift in the public sector organizations. For example, there is the need to develop competencies and enhance the delivery of public goods. According to Hossan (2015), public organizations have been adopting private sector management principles. For example, due to the need for efficiencies in the delivery of services, organizations are being forced to explore their management system and approaches. This is achievable by considering organizational change management theories to direct the change process. For example, there is a shared understanding that human relationships in the public sector play a crucial role in ensuring that efficiency is realized. However, just as it is in the private sector, there are inherent behaviors among the public servants that may limit the desired change.

The principles of human relations theory can be understood by exploring Lewin’s change theory that emphasizes the aspect of behavior and the environment of work. Based on the theory, Lewin stipulates, “…individual behavior is a function of the group environment or ‘field’ which is affected when any modification in group structure arises from changes in certain conditions or forces” (Hossan, 2015, p. 59). This statement points out the importance of the totality of the situation in determining relations and behavior among workers. As a result, it bestows the duty on the management to ensure that the context of work is changed to fit the needs of the employees.

In the management of human resources, Lewin’s change theory provides a 3-step workable model which organizations can follow to ensure that they realize success. The steps include unfreezing, moving, and freezing; these steps constitute the basics of change management in business. A keen analysis of the model shows that it explores human factors that occur when carrying out organizational tasks. According to Lewin, the first set of factors is the driving forces and the resting forces. A case in point, for a chance to take place, it has to be supported by factors that promote positive change, i.e. the driving forces. On the other hand, the resisting forces are psychological and emotional barriers that hinder change (Hossan, 2015). As a result, the human relations theory such in which Lewin’s model is founded has a component that creates a good work environment that enables employees to go beyond their interests and be focused on working for the business. As such, unlike the classical theories that are rigid, the human relations theory need allows the context to unfreeze the prevailing work condition to make it neutral so that the formed behaviors can be unwound and ensure that new desired behaviors are adopted. As such, the change is made possible by putting in place factors that make employees adopt the desired behaviors and at the same time ensuring that resting forces are minimized.

It is worth noting that positive change plays a great role in the continuity of an organization. Unlike in the past, today organizations operate in a turbulent environment. There is increased competition and changing work landscape, and hence managers require the right competencies to manage organizational change (Hossan, 2015). This change normally centers on human resources.

The Alternative: Classical Theories

The classical theories of management were based on the philosophy of organization, plan, and control of jobs, as the points of increasing productivity and enhancing work efficiency. The main emphasis of the approaches was the technical aspects of the operations rather than the personal aspects that contributed to the execution of work; this can be evidenced by the assertions by theorists such as Frank, Fredrick Taylor, Lilian Gilbreth among other classical theories proponents (Indabawa & Uba, 2014). However, these fundamental assertions by the theorists have been challenged by neo-classical theorists that have insisted on the centrality of human relations and behavior as the basis for positive organizational change. Nevertheless, these theories have been criticized for not paying important attention to the job and putting a lot of emphasis on one angle of the individual or the workers. The critics have pointed out that such human relations-related theories are not very different from the classical ones because they center on one aspect and forget other crucial areas of business that also require attention.

Even though such arguments raise crucial aspects of successful and efficient operations of organizations, they fail to realize that the human relations theory presents an inclusive way of dealing with organizational change. This is because the way managers interact with their subordinates determines how the other factors of production are organized within a business. The focus of the welfare of the employees points to the fact that when there are good work relations and conditions, moral good is boosted and the people will not be coerced to carry out their activities. Indabawa and Uba (2014) noted that they take the goals of the organization to be their goals and hence create a good work synergy that is essential for increased productivity. Indabawa and Uba (2014) concur with human relations scholars that, “… if management showed more concern for their employees their satisfaction should increase which would lead to an increase in productivity” (p. 169). It is imperative to note that human relations theory is extensive because it captures behaviors and relations. By covering these two dimensions, it includes aspects of leadership styles.

The scientific management theory had great prominence in the 1900s, and it did put a lot of emphasis on productivity, rationalism, and efficiency that was established through rules. The originator of the theory, Fredrick W. Taylor, argued that the basic issue of the time was the need for efficiency. Despite the focus of the theory being on task planning, it did apportion blame to workers and management for the inefficiencies. As a result, Taylor outlined principles of work which included the development of a science of management, ensuring that science and workman are brought together, equality in the division of labor between management and the worker, and selection of and training of the workman. The main argument put forward by Taylor was that such tenets would ensure a harmonious working relationship between the employer and the workers. A critical analysis of such postulations still points to the importance of human relations even in the classical theories. The only difference is that Taylor’s assertion did not provide for sharing of authority between the workers and the management as is the case with human relations theory where relationships blur the lines of authority (Nhema, 2015).

Therefore, the emphasis of the classical theories is autocratic management and stringent rules, unlike the neo-classical approaches that allow a democratic process. They also emphasize discipline and rationality while the human relations theory points out the need for personal security and social demand as the basis for addressing personal interests to overcome moral hazards. By taking into consideration that human resource is the most important asset of an organization, any change process should center on factors that affect them positively. However, the ability to harness their full potential has not been realized because of the tendency of the employers to emphasize various organizational processes at the expense of the workers.


As argued out in the paper and reinforced by the case analysis of private manufacturing organizations in the Kano estate, it is evident that human relations theory outlines the key to organizational change and attaining a competitive edge. Therefore, the theory is a significant tool in making managers understand how the factor of production can be organized to overcome challenges that hinder productivity. As pointed out, this is critical both in the private and public sectors of management. In the case of the public sector, the human relations theory denotes the importance of putting in place measures to motivate employees to overcome the moral hazard and self-interest that interfere with the provision of public goods and services. Consequently, in the private sector, employee-employer relations are required to ensure that efficiency and work satisfaction are realized. These benefits show that the human relations theory stands out as a guiding framework for organizational change. However, it is also important to understand that there are counterarguments that advocate for balanced approaches to management where all of the factors of production are put into consideration rather than inclining towards one factor. Nevertheless, this counterargument can be refuted by the fact that human relations theory is based on workman’s factors that drive different sectors in an organization.


Al-Haddad, S., & Kotnour, T. (2015). Integrating the organizational change literature: a model for successful change. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 28(2), 234-262.

Hossan, C. (2015). Applicability of Lewin’s change management theory in Australian local government. International Journal of business and Management, 10(6), 53-65.

Human relations theory. (n.d.). Web.

Indabawa, S. L., & Uba, Z. (2014). Human relations and behavioral science Approach to Motivation in Selected Business Organizations in Kano Metropolis Nigeria. Human Relations, 6(25), 1-5.

Manole, C., Alpopi, C., & Colesca, S. E. (2011). The Strategic Role of Human Resources Development in the Management of Organizational Crisis. Economia. Seria Management, 14(1), 207-221.

Nhema, A. G. (2015). Relevance of classical management theories to modern public administration: A Review. Journal of Public Administration and Governance, 5(3), 165- 179.

Osborne, S. P., Radnor, Z., & Nasi, G. (2013). A new theory for public service management? Toward a (public) service-dominant approach. The American Review of Public Administration, 43(2), 135-158.

Tummers, L., Kruyen, P. M., Vijverberg, D. M., & Voesenek, T. J. (2015). Connecting HRM and change management: the importance of proactivity and vitality. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 28(4), 627-640.