Organisational Change & Development

Organisations change – owing to external factors, internal factors, or both – sometimes randomly or chaotically, sometimes according to a development plan – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, sometimes to replace one set of problems with a different set.

External factors might include changes in legislation, market demands, or externally imposed mergers (for example), while internal factors might include changes in the distribution of resources, in key personnel or in shifts in the balance of power.

Organisations affected in this way include primary and secondary schools, further and higher education establishments and their departments, psychological services, social work services, other welfare agencies, voluntary agencies, local councils and their departments, central government and its departments, and so on.

This explores:

  • Change methodologies flowing from practitioner experience
  • Conceptualisations of organisational change & development in the literature
  • The evidential basis for effective methods of organisational change
  • The role and effectiveness of research in processes of organisational change (including the role of self-evaluation in self-improvement)

Practical materials

Practical Materials, Manuals & Toolkits

Ainscow, M., Beresford, J., Harris, A., Hopkins, D., Southworth, G., & West, M. (2000). Creating the conditions for school improvement: A handbook of staff development activities. London: David Fulton.

Beresford, J. (1998). Collecting information for school improvement: Model questionnaires and research instruments. London: David Fulton.

Brewerton, P. M. & Millward, L. J. (2001). Organizational research methods: A guide for students and researchers. Thousand Oaks, CA & London: Sage.

Brighouse, T. & Woods, D. (1999). How to improve your school. London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Drakeford, B. (1997). The whole-school audit. London: David Fulton.

Drakeford, B. & Cooling, J. (1998). The secondary whole-school audit. London: David Fulton.

Hopkins, D. (2002). Improving the quality of education for all: A handbook of staff development activities (Second edition). London: David Fulton.

Harris, A. (2002). Leading the improving department. London: David Fulton.

Jonker, J. (1998). Toolkit for organisational change. :Fenman Ltd. ISBN: 1872483631 (314 pages – £195).

Saunders, L., Stradling, B., & Rudd, P. (2000). Raising attainment in secondary schools: A handbook for school self-evaluation. Slough: NFER.

R. M. Belbin, M. & Belbin, R. M. (1996). Management teams: Why they succeed or fail. London: Butterworth-Heinemann. ISBN: 0750626763.

Belbin’s Self-Perception Inventory gives individuals a means of assessing how they can best contribute to teams. Leads to a typology of “Useful People to Have in Teams”

Consequences of Deficient Organisational Structures

Source: Child (1988) Organizations: A Guide to Problems and Practice. London: Paul Chapman.

There are a number of problems which characterise the struggling organisation and which even at the best of times are dangers necessitating alertness. Child suggests the following list, which he says structural deficiencies will exacerbate.

  1. Motivation and morale may be depressed because:
    1. Decisions appear to be inconsistent and arbitrary in the absence of standardised rules.
    2. People perceive that they have little responsibility, opportunity for achievement and recognition of their worth because there is insufficient delegation of decision making. This may be connected with narrow spans of control.
    3. There is a lack of clarity as to what is expected of people and how their performance is assessed. This could be due to inadequate job definition.
    4. People are subject to competing pressures from different parts of the organisation due to absence of clearly defined priorities, decision rules or work programmes.
    5. People are overloaded because their support systems are no adequate. For instance, supervisors have to leave their job to chase up materials, parts and tools as there is no adequate system for communicating forthcoming requirements to stores and tool room.
  2. Decision making may be delayed and lacking in quality because:
    1. Necessary information is not transmitted on time to the appropriate people. This may be due to an over-extended hierarchy.
    2. Decision makers are too segmented into separate units and there is inadequate provision to co-ordinate them.
    3. Decision makers are overloaded due to insufficient delegation on their part.
    4. There are no adequate procedures for evaluating the results of similar decisions made in the past.
  3. There may be conflict and a lack of co-ordination because:
    1. There are conflicting goals that have not been structured into a single set of objectives and priorities. People are acting at cross-purposes. They may, for example, be put under pressure to follow departmental priorities at the expense of product or project goals.
    2. People are working out of step with each other because they are not brought together into teams or because mechanisms for liaison have not been laid down.
    3. The people who are actually carrying out operational work and who are in touch with changing contingencies are not permitted to participate in the planning of the work. There is therefore a breakdown between planning and operations.
    4. An organisation may not respond to changing circumstances because:
    5. It has not established specialised jobs concerned with forecasting and scanning the environment.
    6. There is failure to ensure that innovation and planning of change are mainstream activities backed up by top management through appropriate procedures to provide them with adequate priority, programming and resources.
    7. There is inadequate co-ordination between the part of an organisation identifying changing market needs and the research area working on possible technological solutions.
  4. Costs may be rising rapidly, particularly in the administrative area, because:
    1. The organisation has a long hierarchy with a high ratio of chiefs to Indians.
    2. There is an excess or procedure and paperwork distracting people’s attention away from productive work and requiring additional personnel to administer.
    3. Some or all of the other organisation problems are present.

Ten Commandments for Stifling Innovation and Development

  • Promote partisan behaviour
  • Suspect new ideas from below
  • Criticise freely, praise sparingly
  • Count things often
  • Make approval difficult
  • Decide in secret
  • Distribute information sparingly
  • Delegate nasty things
  • Show no interest in problems (they are a sign of failure)
  • Assume the higher you go, the more you know 

Ways to Fail at Implementing Change

  • Do not involve the individuals for whom the programme is designed in identification of need, planning or implementation of the programme.
  • Assume rational argument is sufficient (“Change cannot be achieved by brute sanity alone” – Bernard Shaw).
  • “Large planning and vague ideas make a lethal combination” (Fullan).
  • Provide many one-shot disconnected staff development activities.
  • Give only token administrative approval to the change.
  • Introduce several changes at once.
  • Insist on fidelity to a single form of change (“Leadership commitment to a particular version of a change is negatively related to ability to implement it” – Fullan).
  • Take offence at disagreement.
  • Expect full implementation in one year.

Ways of Avoiding Change

Save Time and Effort with this Checklist of Stock Responses

(set in a Higher Education context, but widely applicable)

  1. It’s been done before.
  2. It has never been done before.
  3. It’s an old idea, isn’t it?
  4. It’s a new idea, isn’t it?
  5. It’s too specific
  6. It’s too general
  7. Not if it means another committee.
  8. We will have to have a committee to oversee this.
  9. We tried something similar in 1963.
  10. Don’t they do that sort of thing in the Geography/Divinity/Sanskrit Department?
  11. We don’t have the money right now.
  12. We are a bit short on space at present.
  13. We don’t have staff with the right training.
  14. It’s a good idea but it might upset the janitor / secretary.
  15. We would need to consult the Faculty Board / External Examiner.
  16. The Dean would not like it.
  17. l am personally in favour, but the unions, you know.
  18. It might work in new/old universities / FE / industry / schools.
  19. It doesn’t fit any syllabus.
  20. It’s an American idea isn’t it?
  21. Is this something to do with the Common Market?
  22. But you can’t get an exam pass in it.
  23. It fits more comfortably with the American / European / Australian system.
  24. It’s not another multi-disciplinary thing is it?
  25. In my subject there is so much content and factual information students must have.
  26. All these schemes are all right in theory, but……..
  27. We’re not interested in ‘transferability’, we’re producing doctors / lawyers / engineers.
  28. The External Examiner / Faculty Board wouldn’t understand it.
  29. But the course content is prescribed by our Professional Body.
  30. What empirical evidence is there that this will be better than what we do now?
  31. Did I not read a scathing article about this in the Times Higher?
  32. We are waiting for a report from SHEFC / the Academic Audit Unit.
  33. I don’t have the power to implement it.
  34. You don’t have the right to suggest it.
  35. Our University runs on tradition, we don’t need ideas.
  36. Have you not heard about the CUTS?
  37. When we get our new building….
  38. I’m retiring / on sabbatical next year, but if you talk to…..
  39. I have not actually read it, but it seems to me….
  40. We would need to set up a working party.
  41. Won’t this encourage cheating and collusion?
  42. It doesn’t matter if it’s beneficial, we can’t set a precedent.
  43. But how is it assessed?
  44. Perhaps you could put your ideas on paper.
  45. This is an Educational Establishment. We don’t have a policy.
  46. It might cause inter-departmental strife.
  47. It might cause intra-departmental strife.]
  48. There is no space in the timetable.
  49. It sounds too political / radical / simple / complex / difficult.
  50. But who will be responsible for overseeing the change?
  51. Students have a busy schedule already.
  52. You’ve been reading A.S.Neil / Illych / Steiner etc.
  53. Ah yes, but the ‘New Universities’ are different.
  54. Is it to do with the Employment Department / Academic Audit / Funding Councils?
  55. We are saving up for a Computer Lab.
  56. University is not the place for this kind of thing.
  57. All our graduates get jobs – there’s no need for us to change.
  58. Will it stop them writing on the toilet walls?
  59. It will never replace the lecture / tutorial / final exam.
  60. I think it’s a wonderful idea. Come back after the exams or perhaps next year.

Practitioner Experience and Wisdom

The conceptualisation of an organisation and its boundaries is rarely straightforward. What might appear on the surface to be one system with one raison d’etre often turns out to feature a number of sub-systems which do not always work in harmony toward a single mission. Indeed, the declared and undeclared objectives of key stakeholders might differ substantially. Additionally, the notional organisation and its sub-systems might be differentially loosely coupled to external systems of various sorts – in other words, they are open rather than closed systems.

Various conceptual models of organisational change and development can be found in the literature, but many of these have little substantive empirical foundation. Much of the early work in organisational change drew on field theory (Lewin), early systems theory (von Bertalanffy) and cybernetics (Wiener), utilising concepts such as homeostasis, negative entropy and equifinality.

Organisational change is constant, and occurs in complex, turbulent and often chaotic social and political micro-ecologies – purposive organisational development does not take place in a static context. Consequently, a one-time fix is doomed to failure in the medium to long term – the need is to establish self-sustaining and adaptive systems, to make the organisation more self-analytical and adaptable.

One might be tempted to look for consistent developmental stages and/or pathways in organisational development by analogy with child development. This might include some consideration of the extent to which normal maturation and spontaneous remission can be allowed to take their course, as against the need to intervene with more or less scaffolding. However, these might prove elusive, given the complexity of large organisations and the failure of the school improvement movement to identify even one magic bullet.

Organisational development (OD) has strong cognitive as well as social and emotional components – the existing belief systems of organisational players are important in resisting or sabotaging development (whether intentionally or not). Especially in dysfunctional or unhealthy organisations, organisational players might have inaccurate or bizarre attributions. Role theory is also important – regarding notional and actual roles played, and multiple misperceptions of allocated and acted roles.

In the affective domain, there are issues of the various explicit and implicit motivations to change in various organisational players (is anyone motivated to change per se?). Likewise, obstacles to change might be real or imagined, explicit (let’s try to put them off) or implicit (let’s leave a bear trap). This is coupled with confidence/belief in the ability of self and others to change. Berne’s Transactional Analysis seems likely to be relevant here (the “Ain’t It Awful” Game often figuring large). This might offer a framework for feeding back to organisational players regarding their own behaviour. The status and credibility of the external OD consultant is potentially also entangled in attribution and role confusion.

Organisational development also requires the timely and effective deployment of organisational tools. A consultation model of service delivery might provide a Trojan horse here. The school development plan and associated inspection offers a potentially powerful tool which can be utilised positively providing anxiety can be controlled to effective levels and the inspection process has (and is seen to have) some reliability and validity. All organisations notionally espouse objectives and targets, but players will have a more or less hidden agenda of additional personal targets and objectives that may be parallel or in conflict – these might be in addition to the official targets or instead of them.

Organisations in need of development typically do not have adequate management information systems in the problematic area, or are not paying any attention to that information. One-off micro-contextual data-gathering activities (research, even) might be important here, especially under the label of systematic and inclusive initial “needs assessment” (an activity which under that label is difficult to resist). This is often usefully coupled with an audit of existing resources (material and human, including intellectual capital). However, the establishment of relevant and effective management information systems for the future is likely to yield more enduring impact.

Initial one-off research might however be important in loosening ancient schemata and attributions, as well as demonstrating that it can be done. Successful OD will involve not only a realistic and shared vision of a desirable and possible future, but also achievable and differentiated steps to target for the players. Organisational behaviour modification methods might be pertinent, encompassing practice, fluency, automaticity, shaping, fading, backward chaining, forward chaining.

Solution Focused thinking also seems highly relevant to organisational development (de Shazer, 1991; Rhodes & Ajmal, 1995). The notion of envisioning both blue-sky perfection and the immediate minute increments, with emphasis on what to do next rather than retrospective diagnosis of sick systems, fits perfectly. Retrospection might be shaped to explore what has already worked here in the past, i.e. positively rather than negatively focused some linkages to Video Interaction Guidance methodology here). This area should be explored further.

Organisation-to-organisation mentoring might present possibilities. The mentoring organisation might offer a model of successful organisational change, but this would need to be perceived as a reasonably proximal model in a reasonably similar context by the protégé organisation, given that selective perception is inevitable. The issue of what motivates the mentoring organisation to devote scarce time resources to this activity also requires systematic consideration. The unit of analysis is relevant here – department-to-department mentoring within an organisation might be feasible, offering a bottom-up practice-oriented element to what might otherwise be top-down policy initiative that fails to translate into reality on the ground. Alternatively, reciprocal cross-organisation departmental mentoring might be feasible.


Journal Papers

Beer, M. & Walton, A. E. (1987). Organization change and development. Annual Review of Psychology, 38, 339-67.

English, D. J., Brandford, C. C., & Coghlan, L. (2000). Data-based organizational change: The use of administrative data to improve child welfare programs and policy. Child Welfare, 79 (5), 499-515.

Hannay, L. M. & Ross, J. A. (2001). Internalizing change capacity in secondary schools through organizational change. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 47 (4), 325-340.

Harrison, J. (1999). The clock and the compass: Sifting the important from the urgent. Educational and Child Psychology, 16 (4), 16-31.

Jensen, A., Malcolm, L., Phelps, F., & Stoker, R. (2002). Changing patterns of thinking: Individuals and organisations. Educational Psychology in Practice, 18 (1), 35-45.

Kerr, T. (1991). Leadership and our community. Educational and Child Psychology, 8 (2), 7-33.

Lozeau, D., Langley, A, & Denis, J. L. (2002). The corruption of managerial techniques by organizations. Human Relations, 55 (5), 537-564.

Lucas, D. (1995). Steps to change: The Northampton support, teaching and educational psychology service. Educational Psychology in Practice, 11 (1), 24-9.

Maher, C. A. & Illback, R. J. (1982). Organizational school psychology: Issues and considerations. Journal of School Psychology, 20 (3), 244-253.

Riehl, C. J. (2000). The Principal’s role in creating inclusive schools for diverse students: A review of normative, empirical, and critical literature on the practice of educational administration. Review of Educational Research, 70 (1), 55-81.

Topping, K. J. (1979). The psychology of organisations. Journal of the Association of Educational Psychologists, 5 (1), 2-4.

Topping, K. J., Bamford, J., Arora, C. M. J., & Hedderly, R. G. (1986). Data-based reorganisation of a psychological service. Educational Psychology in Practice, 2 (3), 45-9.

Watts, P. & Leyden, G. (1989). Team managed organisational change within a district school psychological service. Educational Psychology in Practice, 5 (2), 69-77.

also see issues of The Journal for Educational Change (

Key General Texts

Buchanan, D. & Huczynski, A. (1997). Organisational behaviour (third edition). London & New York; Prentice Hall. (Part 4: Organisational change and development, pp. 454-587). PB 0 13 207259 9.

Collins, D. (1998). Organisational change. London: RoutledgeFalmer. ISBN: 0415171563.

Hargreaves, A., Lieberman, A., Fullan, M., & Hopkins, D. (1998). International handbook of educational change. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Illback, R. J. & Zins, J. E. (1984). Organizational interventions in school settings. In Maher, C. A., Illback, R. J., & Zins, J. E. (Eds.), Organizational psychology in the schools. Springfield, IL: C. C. Thomas.

Katz, D. & Kahn, R. L. (1978). The social psychology of organizations (2nd. edition). New York: Wiley. 838 pages. ISBN: 0471023558.

Schmuck, R. A. & Runkel, P. J. (1988). The handbook of organization development in schools (3rd edition). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.

Senior, B. (2001). Organisational Change (2nd. Edition). London: Prentice Hall. ISBN: 0273651536.

Books & Chapters

Bennett, P. L. (Ed.) (2000). Organisational change. Educational and Child Psychology, 17 (1) – whole of this special issue.

Bosker, R. Creemers, B. P. M., & Stringfield, S. (2000). Enhancing educational excellence, equity and efficiency: Evidence from evaluations of systems and schools in change. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Buchanan, D. & Boddy, D. (1992). The expertise of the change agent. New York & London: Prentice Hall. UoD Library 658.406 B918.

Burden, B. (1983) The E.P. as instigator and agent of change in schools: Some guidelines for successful practice. in: McPherson, I. & Sutton, A. Reconstructing Psychological Practice. Beckenham: Croom Helm.

Carnall, C. A. (1990). Managing change in organizations. New York & London: Prentice Hall. UoD Library 658.406 C 288.

Covey, S. (1989). The seven habits of highly effective people. London: Simon & Schuster.

Davies, D. & Rudd, P. (2001). Evaluating school self-evaluation. Slough: NFER.

Fullan, M. (1993). Change forces: Probing the depths of educational reform. London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Fullan, M. (1999). Change forces: The sequel. London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Harris, A. & Bennett, N. (2001). School effectiveness and school improvement. London & New York: Continuum International.

Harrison, M. I. & Shirom, A. (1998). Organizational diagnosis and assessment: Bridging theory and practice. Thousand Oaks CA & London: Sage. ISBN: 0803955111.

Huber, G. P. & Andrew, H. V. de V. (Eds.) (1995). Longitudinal field research methods: Studying processes of organizational change. Thousand Oaks CA & London: Sage. UoD Library 658.406 L855.

King, N. & Anderson, N. (1995). Innovation and change in organizations. London: Business Press.

Knoff, H. M. (1997). Best practices in facilitating school based organizational change and strategic planning. In Best Practices in School Psychology III, National Association of School Psychologists, USA.

Lomax, P. (1989). The management of change: Action research. Coventry: Multilingual Matters.

Mabey, C. & Mayon-White, B. (Eds.) (1993). Managing change (second edition). London: Paul Chapman. UoD Library 658.406 M266.

Miller, A. (1996). Pupil behaviour and teacher culture. London: Cassell.

Morgan, G. (1998). Images of organization: The executive edition (abridged). :Berrett-Koehler Pub. ISBN 1576750388.

Rhodes, J. & Ajmal, Y. (1995). Solution focused thinking in schools. London: BT Press.

Rossman, G. B., Corbett, H. D., & Firestone, W. A. (1988). Change and effectiveness in schools: A cultural perspective. New York: SUNY Press.

Schein, E. H. (1969). Process consultation: Its role in organisation development. : Addison-Wesley.

de Shazer, S. (1991). Putting difference to work. London: W. W. Norton & Co.

Stoll, L. & Fink, D. (1995). Changing our schools. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Taylor, B. (Ed.) (1994). Successful change strategies. Hemel Hempstead: Director Books. UoD Library 658.406 S942.

Wilson, V. & McPake, J. (1998). Managing change in small primary schools. Edinburgh: Scottish Office Education and Industry Department.

From Information Age Publishing (Greenwich, CT), watch for books in the new “Research in Organizational Change and Learning” and “Research in Professional School Development” series.