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OK, your organization – or should I say, the key players within your organization – are now ready and willing for the change. They understand the change and they buy into the change. Now what? The third stage in implementing organizational change is to formalize the change.

For the change to last for the long haul – it has to be embedded into every dimension of the organization. Otherwise, like a living organism sometimes does, the organization may mistake the change for a harmful invader and the antibodies might start pushing back toward the way things used to be.

We’ve all seen it happen: huge amounts of energy and money are spent on trying some new idea, only to have it fall by the way-side once the enthusiasm (and the consultant) has left the scene.

The worst thing about that is that now you have a group of people convinced that it was a bad idea to begin with. Have you ever heard the statement: “We tried that; it didn’t work”?

The Organizational Dimensions

In fact, it wasn’t that the ideas was bad but that the change was not thoroughly embedded into the various dimensions of the organization. Conquently, there was pressure to put things back the way they were and the pressure won out over the drivers for change.

What do I mean by the multiple dimensions of the organization? Specifically, we need to establish new policies that will adjust five areas to conform to the change.

  • Strategy,
  • Structure,
  • Processes,
  • Rewards, and
  • Leadership

I borrowed this list, by the way, from Jay Galbraith’s Star Model of Organizational Design. I just changed the last dimension to “Leadership” instead of “People” because I think that leadership is such an important area that it needs its own point on the star.

There is not enough room in this post to explore what each of these entails, but – for change to last – you have to think about how the proposed change will affect each of these areas and then you have to make sure the changes become company policy.

What I’m talking about here is aligning the formal (institutional) dimensions of the organization with the change. If you don’t do that, then the change will likely not last. This is true not only at the organizational level, but also at the individual level.

Individual Dynamics

Sometimes leaders overlook the most important factor in bringing about change: the people. If we don’t provide a way for the change to take root in people, then it cannot take root in the organization.
Not only do machines, processes, structures, and equipment need to change, but people need to change. Particularly, they need to change in four areas: resources, skills, attitudes, and social networks.


The question to answer here is this: “Are we providing the people we expect to carry out the change with the things they will need to implement the change successfully?” There is nothing worse than being caught in a situation where you are expected to produce outcomes but you don’t have the resources to affect these outcomes successfully.


Acquiring new skills is just as important as have adequate resources. Are we providing people opportunities to acquire the skills and knowledge they will need to adopt the change?


I’m talking here about the degree of motivation and commitment people have toward their work. Change strategies imposed from the top down with no effort to win the hearts of those on whom we are counting to carry out the change are destined to have a short life expectancy.

Social Networks

Social networks comprise the third human factor to consider when it comes time to embed change into the organization. How will this change affect the social interaction between employees? What will it do to friendships that have been fostered over time? How will it affect the informal system for mutual support?

Change almost always requires the formation of new social networks. What kinds of social structures are in place that, if left intact, will continue to sustain the old networks and thus threaten the durability of the change? What has to be done to provide new structures and to dismantel the old?

That last question brings me to another that is perhaps the most difficult question of all: “Can we lead this change ethically?” Sometimes we have to destroy in order to build. This is a fact of life. But, there is a point at which this becomes unethical, particularly when a leader pushes change that people do not want and change that only represents the leader’s selfish ambitions.

The better model is that of the caring physician who takes the time to explain to his patient that the cancerous tissues must be removed if he is to have a hopeful future. At the same time, the physician leaves the final decision to the patient.

True leaders are in the business of healing organizations, not destroying them.

What do you think? What have been your experiences in dealing with people and change? I would love to hear your comments.


Photo by cocoparisienne, Licensed under CC0 1.0.

Portrait of Dr. Waddell

Dr. Greg Waddell is passionate about helping church leaders equip their people for ministry. He believes there is wild potential in every believer that begs to be released. He can help you develop and implement practical strategies for increasing the ministry capacity of your congregation.