What is Organisational Change?

Organisational change refers to shifts, alterations, and movements within a company that can significantly affect workflows, processes, and culture. This can be carried out in response to changes in the external environment or to improve efficiency, productivity, or profitability.

The process of organisational change can be complex, involving a wide range of activities such as redefining organisational goals, restructuring teams, implementing new technologies (or digital transformation), and altering business processes. It often requires careful planning, communication, and collaboration across various levels of the organisation.

Organisational change can be transformational, radically reshaping the entire organisation, or incremental, involving more subtle and gradual adjustments. Either way, managing organisational change effectively is often challenging, requiring clear communication, change leadership, and a willingness to adapt to new ways of working.

10 Types of Organisational Change

Organisational change can be categorised into different types and should be handled or managed properly.

1. Planned Change

Planned change occurs when changes are intentional and developed strategically. This is a deliberate and structured approach to change within an organisation. Management identifies a need for modification and outlines a systematic process to implement it. The change is designed to achieve specific goals and usually involves a detailed roadmap that ensures a smooth transition.

Long-term planning: Designed with future goals in mind.
Short-term planning: More immediate changes that are often reactive.

2. Unplanned Change

Unlike planned change, unplanned change occurs spontaneously and without prior notice, just like those unexpected bumps on the road. You don’t see them coming, but you have to deal with them. It might be triggered by unexpected external events like economic shifts, natural disasters, or sudden shifts in the market. This type of change can be chaotic and requires quick responses to adapt successfully. Unplanned change can be considered a remedial change or reactionary change, too.

Emergency changes: Immediate reaction to unforeseen events.
Unexpected opportunities: Seizing an unforeseen opportunity.

3. Transformational Change

Think of a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly. Transformational change in an organisation means a complete overhaul, shaping something entirely new. This often involves a fundamental overhaul of an organisation’s systems, processes, or culture. It’s a radical process that may alter the company’s direction, vision, or mission. It often requires strong change leadership and a willingness to challenge the status quo.

Revamping strategy: Starting afresh with new visions and strategies.
Change in leadership: Often accompanied by a change at the helm.

4. Incremental Change

This type of change involves small, continuous adjustments that are made over time, like adding a spoonful of sugar to your tea until it tastes just right. It focuses on improving existing processes or products gradually without altering the core company structure. Incremental change allows organisations to adapt slowly and is generally less risky than more radical approaches.

Continuous improvement: Regular updates and small changes.
Enhancement in processes: Fine-tuning existing methods.

5. Strategic Change

Strategic change refers to significant alterations that align the organisation with its long-term goals. It involves altering the company’s goals, mission, or vision to adapt to the market or industry changes. This type of change is often complex and requires alignment across different levels of the organisation.

Re-aligning goals: Adapting to new market conditions.
Re-branding: Sometimes involves changing the entire image of a business.

6. Structural Change

Structural change involves reorganising the physical or hierarchical layout of an organisation. This can include altering reporting lines, merging or dividing departments, or changing management levels. It often impacts how information flows within the organisation and may require significant adjustments to roles and responsibilities.

Restructuring departments: Merging or dividing units.
Reallocating resources: Like moving employees to different projects.

7. Operational Change

Just like tuning a musical instrument, operational changes are about making everything work harmoniously together. This refers to adjustments in the day-to-day functioning of an organisation, including change includes changes in procedures, technologies, or workflows. Operational change aims to increase efficiency and effectiveness within specific departments or the entire organisation.

Efficiency improvements: Making processes leaner.
Quality control: Ensuring higher quality products or services.

8. Technological Change

With technology evolving like a speeding train, organisations must keep up. Technological change involves implementing new technologies or updating existing ones. It might affect how products are produced, how services are delivered, or how internal communication is conducted. Technological change can drive innovation but may also require retraining, upskilling, and support for employees.

Adopting a new technology: Implementing new technology, software, or machinery.
Upgrading existing technology: Upgrading to the latest version of a software platform.

9. Personnel Change

Personnel changes can have a profound impact on an organisation’s culture and functioning, much like changing characters in a play. It involves alterations in staffing, such as hiring, termination, dismissal, reassignment, or promotions. These changes can affect the culture and dynamics within the team or organisation and often require careful management to prevent disruptions.

Hiring: Bringing in new talents or skills.
Retirements or resignations: Losing a valuable team member.

10. Cultural Change

Changing the culture of an organisation is like changing the personality of a person — it’s complex and requires a sensitive approach. Cultural change deals with transforming the values, beliefs, and behaviours within an organisation. It may be driven by internal decisions or external influences, and often requires a long-term commitment to change deeply ingrained aspects of the company’s identity.

Changing core values: Reflecting new societal norms or business goals.
Revamping communication practices: For better collaboration and understanding.

People laughing in an office

3 Strategies for Successful Organisational Change

Once you identify what type of organisational change you will bring about, the next big thing is to actually make it happen. Follow these strategies to ensure a smooth transition process.

1. Communicate your clear vision and goals

Communication is key to making your employees understand the need for change. This is simply because you can only garner support and cooperation when and from people who understand how such change will impact them. Effective change leaders provide ongoing support and reassurance in order to help employees navigate emotional turbulence or fears they might develop at any stage of the change journey.

2. Secure buy-in from all levels of the organisation

Speaking of support, you need to get everyone on board with the change process – from C-levels and key stakeholders to line managers and employees. It is also a good time to remind you that you should solicit input from your team to make them feel valued throughout this process. Ask them for feedback as you implement change to see where you can make improvements.

3. Come up with a plan

More often than not, success is built upon a solid and well-planned strategy. Having a plan enables you to anticipate potential consequences and develop secondary plans to mitigate any risks.

Leading Organisational Change, Effectively

Organisational change, whether planned, incremental, transformational, or any other type, is a continuous process that shapes the future of an organisation. Like the captain navigating through a stormy sea, understanding and managing these changes are essential for any organisation to survive and thrive.

Managing change is never easy, but there is no change that you cannot bring about without careful planning, employee involvement, and effective change leadership.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What are the main types of organisational change?

The main types of organisational change include planned, unplanned, transformational, incremental, strategic, structural, operational, technological, personnel, and cultural changes.

2. Why is understanding the types of organisational change important for a business?

Understanding the types of organisational change helps change leaders plan, manage, and successfully implement changes that align with the company’s goals and industry trends.

3. How can an organisation effectively manage change?

Successful organisational change can be made possible with a clear implementation plan (change management) and a focus on connecting people to the vision whilst offering the right support throughout the change journey (change leadership).

4. What are common challenges faced during organisational change?

Common challenges include resistance from employees, communication breakdown, alignment issues, and lack of clear vision or leadership.

5. Can an organisational change affect the culture of a company?

Yes, cultural change is one of the types of organisational change that focuses on altering core values, beliefs, and practices within an organisation.

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Written by Jayne Ruff

Jayne Ruff, Occupational Psychologist & Managing Director at ChangingPoint. To find out more about how ChangingPoint can help you align minds to transform your business, get in touch.



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