Planned Change: 4 Steps of Action Research Model

Organizational Resistance to change

For organizations to survive in today’s competitive business environment, change is inevitable. Change within organizations is important as it promotes innovation and organizational growth. Unfortunately, in most organizations, the change process often faces resistance from all levels of the organization. Resistance to change can be overt or subtle acts of rejecting different ideas or routines in the workplace in favor of the status quo. When it happens, resistance to change often hampers innovation, employer-employee relationships, quality and organizational growth (Beer & Spector, 1993). Thus, it is incumbent upon top managers to identify resistance and devise ways to manage it before it affects productivity.

Resistance to change within organizations can take different forms. Failure to attend change-related meetings, absenteeism, and late submission of assignments are all indications of resistance. Some employees may overtly criticize the change while others may resist change through a collective action involving a labor union. Verbal criticism, sarcastic comments, irrelevant arguments, nitpicking, and outright rebellion are some of the forms of resistance to change (Waclawski & Church, 2002). Organizational resistance to change is manifested through a power struggle. A change in the leadership structure in an organization may result in a struggle for power between competing groups. This hampers organizational growth. The change may favor one group making the other group feel left out and thus becoming resistant to the change. Change that affects the hierarchical reporting structure or existing organizational culture may also face resistance.

Employees may also resort to sabotage or criticism of the project managers particularly if they have not been involved in the change process or if they perceive the change as affecting their interests. Top managers spearheading the change should identify the causes of resistance for each new initiative and strategize how to work around them before they can affect the growth of a business venture.

Planned Change Model

According to Cummings and Worley (2008), an action research model of planned change comprises of four general steps; contracting, diagnosing, implementation and evaluation of the change. The model derives from two models; Lewin’s model of planned change and the positive model (Cummings & Worley, 2008). It is a non-linear model with four overlapping activities i.e. it is not a purely top-down process.

Contracting involves the gathering of data on probable opportunities and potential problems that the organization may face if the planned change is implemented (Cummings & Worley, 2008). The internal program improvement leader, after analyzing the collected data, can decide whether to adopt, stop or defer the planned change to a later date. Also, a given event, process or situation unique to the organization may trigger a change in an organization (Adcroft, Willis & Hurst, 2008). This implies that there must be a valid reason for initiating a transformation. From a holistic standpoint, in all situations, an understanding of the complex web of activities of a project is essential before and during the entire change process. If, after preliminary analysis, the planned change is found to be beneficial, the program leader will formulate contracts that specify the intended change activities and resources to be committed for each activity.

The second action step in this model is diagnosing (Cummings & Worley, 2008). In this step, more detailed information is collected to supplement the initial data gathered in the contracting step. At this level, the program improvement leader will identify the critical success factors and failures of projects in the organization. He/she will employ diagnostic models, communication and engagement of all stakeholders to identify important issues at individual, group and organizational levels (Cummings & Worley, 2008). This would not only ensure that the change program addresses the objectives that led to its inception but would also allow future alterations during the implementation process (Adcroft, Willis & Hurst, 2008) The findings from the analysis are communicated to all employees as well as top managers.

The third action step in the action research model is implementation (Cummings & Worley, 2008). At this stage, the program improvement leader will plan, execute the implementation and formulate strategies for change management. Also, at this stage, internal factors such as organizational reporting structure, culture, and values are considered (Cummings & Worley, 2008). This forms a major source of organizational resistance to change. Thus, by addressing it, the program improvement leader will be able to remedy organizational resistance to change. It requires a review of the previous steps to determine whether or not the desired outcome has been achieved (Adcroft, Willis & Hurst, 2008). The desired outcomes would include more opportunities and minimize threats to the project.

The final step in this model is evaluation, whereby the organization solidifies the change in the entire organization (Cummings & Worley, 2008). It involves an assessment and change management based on employee feedback to find out if the change achieved its intended results. If not, the program improvement leader will revert to the initial action step and repeat the process until the required results are obtained, otherwise, the change or project is discontinued (Cummings & Worley, 2008). Different stakeholders and customers have varying attitudes and perceptions regarding the transformation (Adcroft, Willis & Hurst, 2008), thus, change management is important. The action research model helps to address the issues of uncertainty and organizational resistance to change.


Adcroft, A., Willis, R. & Hurst, J. (2008). A new model for managing change: The holistic view. The Journal of Business Strategy, 29(1). 40-44.

Beer, M. & Spector, B. (1993). Organizational diagnosis: Its role in organizational learning. Journal of Counseling and Development: JCD. 71(6), 642-650.

Cummings, T. G. & Worley, C. G. (2008). Organization development and change. Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning.

Waclawski, J. & Church, A. H. (Eds.). (2002). Organization development: A data-driven approach to organizational change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.