African Journal of
Business Management

  • Abbreviation: Afr. J. Bus. Manage.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN: 1993-8233
  • DOI: 10.5897/AJBM
  • Start Year: 2007
  • Published Articles: 4135

Full Length Research Paper

Predictors of effective change management: A literature review

William Makumbe
  • William Makumbe
  • Department of Management Studies, Great Zimbabwe University Masvingo, Zimbabwe.
  • Google Scholar

  •  Received: 08 November 2016
  •  Accepted: 28 November 2016
  •  Published: 14 December 2016


The purpose of this study was to bring together and analyze significant writings on change management in order to establish key variables in effective change management. Whilst there are many change models that have prescribed stages involved in implementing successful change management, a synthesis of the actual key variables that act as a bedrock in effective organisation change is missing in literature. The literature review undertaken in this study therefore sought to summarise the models by explaining the key predictors of effective change management. This article argues that Change leadership, communication, employee engagement and employee commitment are key variables in successful organisation change implementation.

Key words: Change leadership, change communication, employee engagement,employee commitment.


Organizations today are facing more change than ever before (Conner, 1992). Change has become synonymous with standard business practice and an organization needs to change in order to remain competitive (Mutihac, 2010).

The fast changing technological environment, workforce diversity, changing customer tastes and preferences as well as cut throat competition are some of the business complexities confronting management today. To overcome these challenges organizations have to change.

However, it is computed that at least more than half of all the organisational change programs fail, reach a deadlock, or do not reach the results, which they initially were aiming at (Gravenhorst et al., 1999). This therefore calls for sound change management practices at the following key stages:

1. Prior to organization change implementation.

2.During organization change implementation.

3.After the implementation of organization change.

Many organization change models (Lewin, 1951; Kotter, 1996; Peddle et al., 1998; Paton and McCalman, 2000) have prescribed the key stages involved in effective change management to improve employee’s acceptance of change.

From the models it can be argued that organizational change will be a hapless endeavor without the appropriate leadership, employee engagement, communication to and commitment of individuals. The management of these four variables in the change management process play a pivotal role in the implementation of new ideas in organizations.

The   management    of   change   is   key   to   meeting organization objectives, however many a time, the problem is that some business managers implement change initiatives without adequately taking cognisance of the impact of the aforesaid predictors on employee attitudes to change.

This is even more astonishing given that it is well recognized that the success of organizational changes often rests on the motivation and commitment of employees themselves (Armstrong-Stassen, 1998; Kozlowski et al., 1993).

All too often, employees are told to accept change programs which did not take into account their contributions or views. The lack of employee participation results in views and concerns going unheard. This leads to no sense  of  ownership being generated amongst employees which then causes change programs to fail due to lack of commitment.

Negative attitudes to change created as results of non-participation become a real challenge for business managers as resistance to change increases.

This study therefore brings to the fore the critical role played by the key predictors indicated above in improving change acceptance amongst employees in organisations.


1. To analyse literature and establish the variables that are key in effective change management.

2. To provide an intergrated conceptual framework for effective change management.


Methodologically, this article is an intergrated literature review because it reviewed, criticised and synthesized representative literature on key variables in effective change management . At the end of the article, the research intergrated significant findings in literature and developed a new framework on the topic that can be tested empirically in future researches. The article is therefore underpinned by an extensive literature review inorder to establish key variables critical in effective change management. The sources that were consulted included:

1. Web-based articles.

2. Search engines such as EbscoHost, ScienceDirect, Jstor and Google Sholar.

3. Scientific journals included: Journal Of Change Management, Journal of Management Development and the African Journal of Business Management.

4. Change Management Textbooks.


What is organisational change?

Organisational change refers to planned or unplanned transformations in the structure, technology and / or people of an organisation (Greenberg and Baron, 2002). In  general,  the  aim  of  an  organisational  change  is an adaptation to the environment and / or an improvement in performance (Pardo del val and Fuentes, 2003).

Models in change management

The key stages in effective change management have been emphasised in many change models, however this study focuses on a few models. These models have been chosen for illustrative purposes since we have many change models. The foundation for change management literature can be traced back to the early work of Lewin (1947). He suggested that successful change has to go through three phases; unfreezing, moving to a new state and refreezing. After Kurt Lewin, a number of organisation change models that prescribed the key stages to be followed in effective change management came into being. Some of the models are shown in Table 1.



A look at the three models indicate that leadership, employee engagement, communication and employee commitment feature frequently therefore tare considered key in effective change management. These change-implementation models argue that, if change leaders follow their recommendations and execute the proposed strategies, they will be successful in implementing change in organisations. The next section discusses the key variables critical in effective change management.


Key variables in effective change management

Leadership and change management

Several researchers and popular authors acknowledge that leadership is critical to the success of any change initiative (Kotter, 1996; Bommer et al., 2005; Tyler and Cremer, 2005; Kavanagh and Ashkanasy, 2006; Furst and Cable, 2008).

Leaders are known as “Champions of Change”- as it is the top management of any organization who keep the process of change going on and maintaining the operational reliability of the organization (Nadler and Nadler, 1998).

Change management literature has also focused on activities that leaders have to perform in order for change initiatives to come to fruition.  Higgs and Rowland (2000, 2001) focused on leadership activities involved in implementing change. They identified five broad areas of leadership competency associated with successful change implementation. These were identified as:

1. Creating the case for change: effectively engaging others in recognizing the business need for change.

2. Creating structural change: ensuring that the change is based   on   depth   of  understanding  of  the  issues  and supported with a consistent set of tools and processes.

3. Engaging others in the whole change process and building commitment.

4. Implementing and sustaining changes: developing effective plans and ensuing good monitoring and review practices are developed.

5. Facilitating and developing capability: ensuring that people are challenged to find

their own answers and that they are supported in doing this.

Other researches also support the utility of change leadership behaviours as researchers have outlined a lack of visioning, lack of leadership support, lack of commitment to change for the right reasons, and lack of a guiding coalition as major barriers to successful change (Kotter, 1996; Winum et al., 1997; Ostroff, 2006; By et al., 2008).

Gill (2003) proposed a model of successful change leadership. He stated that successful change requires vision, strategy, the development of a culture of sustainable shared values that support the vision and strategy for change, and empowering, motivating and inspiring those who are involved or affected. Figure 1 shows elements that lead to effective change leadership in an organisation (Gill, 2003). These are further explained.




The ability to come up with a vision has been talked about frequently. “A vision is a mental image of a possible and desirable future of the organization” (Bennis and Nanus, 1985; Maxey, 2000). Kotter states that the vision is the ability of a leader to look in to future while aligning the team with that vision, and then make them inspire to get the desired goals concerning that future. Vision is  a  picture  of  the  future  with  some  implicit  or explicit commentary on why people should strive to create that future (Kotter, 1996).

Vision plays a key role in producing useful change by helping to direct, align and inspire actions on the part of large numbers of people. Without an appropriate vision, a transformation effort can easily dissolve into a list of confusing, incompatible and time consuming projects that go in the wrong direction or nowhere at all” (Kotter, 1996). A vision therefore acts as a beacon to the followers. It directs where the organization is intending to move towards. Without the vision, the employees in the organization will lose direction and hence the change objective will not be achieved. This study therefore argues that the leadership has to craft and communicate a compelling vision to the people.

Supportive shared values

O’Toole (1995) says that there is a widespread belief among corporate executives in the need to create strong, shared values to unite people in a fragmented world. Effective leadership entails identifying and promoting shared values. Shared values are a key feature of a strong organisational culture (that includes beliefs, attitudes and patterns of habitual behaviour) that supports a common purpose and engenders commitment to it.Shared values serve the purpose of binding people together creating strong cohesiveness amongst employees. An appropriate culture act as a source of competitive advantage in organisations. The leaders are there to develop and maintain a supportive culture.

Strategy for change

Without strategies for change, vision is a dream (Gill, 2003). This means that a vision has to be well supported by   strategies.   It  is  the  leadership  of  an  organisation whose responsibility is to craft strategies to achieve organisation change vision. Effective leadership entails developing, getting commitment to and implementing rational business strategies based on possible future scenarios for the organisation (Gill, 2003). An effective strategy for change entails creating a guiding coalition — putting together a group of people with enough power to lead the change — and getting it to work together as an effective team (Kotter, 1995).


In practice, empowerment is giving people the knowledge, skills, opportunity, freedom, self-confidence and resources to manage themselves and be accountable (Gill, 2003). According to Kotter (2005), empowering people for action in part entails getting rid of obstacles to change, removing or changing systems or structures that undermine the vision, and encouraging risk taking, new ideas and innovative. Empowerment therefore allows people in the taking part in the change process to develop a sense of ownership for decisions they make. This leads to the development of high commitment towards change objectives. As commitment increases resistance to change is reduced. The leadership can also create self-managed teams during change implementation. These teams are empowered to come up with decisions and be able to implement them.


Effective leaders motivate and inspire people to want to do what needs to be  done.  Kotter’s  8  step  model  sixth step involves creating short term wins. This involves setting targets that are easy to achieve. When employees achieve the targets they have to be rewarded. Rewarding employees for good performance is motivational. Employees will apply much more effort towards the achievement of organisational objectives.

Communication and change management

Communication is a key in effective change management and effective communication is important for both managerial and organizational success (Dawson, 1996; Kreitner and Kinicki, 1995). The empirical picture that is slowly emerging indicates that communication process and organisational change implementation are inextricably linked processes” (Lewis, 1999). Communication strategy can be perceived as a mechanism to clarify the facts to various stakeholders of what is going to change, why, and what benefits they can expect to derive from the change (Kulvisaechana, 2001).

Several scholars have emphasised the importance of communication in organisation change. The first goal of organisational communication should be to inform the employees about their tasks and about the policy and other issues of the organisation. One of the main purposes of change communication should be to inform the organisational members about the change, and how their work is altered because of the change. This informative function of communication will have an effect on readiness for change (Elving, 2005) Communication also serves to create a community, resulting in commitment with the organisation and trust in the organisation. This study supports the conceptual model of communication proposed by Elving (2005) as shown in Figure 2.



Communication to inform

Malek and Yazdanifard (2012) stated that communication is used to announce organizational changes and to provide stakeholders with information about the nature, timing, and significance of the change. Meaningful communication informs and educates employees at all levels and motivates them to support the strategy (Barrett, 2002). This is important as positive attitudes to change are vital in successful change programs (Kotter, 1996), as resistance to change is one of the biggest barriers to overcome. Communication of changes are therefore very critical during the process of change management. Prior to the implementation of change the leadership has to explain why the change is necessary and also tackle on the benefits and costs of the change process. During the implementation of the change people are concerned about the progress being made towards the accomplishment of organizational objectives. After the implementation of new initiatives the change leadership has to communicate the new behaviors that support the change programmes to prevent change decay.

Communication aimed at creating community

Communication should be used to create a community which will increase commitment, trust, and identification with the organization and management (Hussain, 2013). Weber and Weber (2001) also share the sentiments as Elving (2005) when they stated that higher levels of feedback,   autonomy,  employee  participation  and  goal clarity would lead to greater levels of perceptions of supervisory support. An organization which involves its employees in the change and takes their feedback seriously can create a platform for open employee participation (Weber and Weber, 2001). This leads to commitment towards change initiatives. Trust results in distinctive effects such as more positive attitudes, higher levels of cooperation, and superior levels of performance (Jones and George, 1998; Mayer et al., 1995).

Uncertainty and Job Security

Uncertainty during change processes is typically about the aim, process and expected outcomes of the change and implications for the individual employees (Buono and Bowditch, 1993). Knowledge is not only a pre-requisite to the ability of influencing the outcomes (Terry and Jimmieson, 1999), but knowledge about the motives for change will also help reducing uncertainty and creating readiness for change. It has often been stated that employees do not fear change but the consequences of change. Communication helps to manage the fear amongst employees in the organisation. Before the introduction of the change, the benefits and the costs of the change have to be communicated to the employees. This helps employees to become better prepared for the change consequences. If the there is no communication a cloud of uncertainty develops and there will be resistance to change.

Employee commitment and change management

Commitment to change usually reflects an employee’s level  of  attachment  to  the  implementation  of new work rules, policies, programs, budgets, technology (Neubert and Wu, 2009). Change management literature makes a distinction amongst three types of commitment:

1. Affective commitment is defined as the strength of an individual’s identification and involvement with the organisation. It is characterised by a strong belief in and acceptance of the goals and values of the organisation, a willingness to put in extra effort on behalf of the organisation and a desire to remain a member of the organisation (Maxwell and Steele, 2003; Falkenburg and Schyns, 2007).

2. Continuance commitment can be defined as the commitment an employee has towards the organisation because of the investments they have made in the organisation and the costs associated with leaving the organisation (Falkenburg and Schyns, 2007). These investments could include close working relationships with co-workers, retirement and career investments. Continuance commitment is also strengthened by a perceived lack of employment alternatives, which increases the cost associated with leaving the organisation (Stallworth, 2004). Employees who possess a high degree of affective commitment will remain with the organisation because they want to, while employees  with a high degree of continuance commitment will remain with the organisation because they have to.

3. Normative commitment is a form of commitment that is based on an individual’s feeling of obligation to remain with the organisation because it is seen as the moral and right thing to do (Meyer and Allen 1991). These feelings of obligation can occur in instances where, for example, the organisation has supported the employees’ educational efforts (Williams, 2004).

Managers who can get their subordinates to commit to new goals, programs, policies, and procedures may stand a better chance of having these critical business activities successfully implemented (Kotter, 1996). Jason (2010) in reviewing literature on commitment to change, looked at how various authors (Herscovitch and Meyer, 2002; Conner, 1992; Coatsee, 1999; Armenakis, 1993) have discussed the factors that lead to employee commitment in organisation change. What all these conceptualizations share is the notion that Commitment to change reflects some kind of attachment to and involvement in the change initiative, which results from awareness of the change, some combination of motivating factors, be they goal congruence, affective affinity, or self-interest, and the mental/physical ability to work on behalf of the change initiative.

This study proposes a model developed by Armenakis et al. (1993) to show factors that lead to effective change commitment. The conceptualisation is as shown in Figure 3.



Awareness of the discrepancy between the status quo and desired state

Employees get committed to change if they are aware of the reasons why they have to move from the status quo to a desired future state. This understanding is influenced explaining why change is necessary clearly spelling out the benefits of the change initiatives. A lot of effort has to be made to incorporate the employees’ views in the whole change programme resulting in the development of affective commitment.

Change leaders support

Change  initiatives  have  to  be  supported  by resources.

The change leadership has to provide adequate support to see changes through. The resources can be in the form of capital, human resources, equipment and information. The inadequacy of these in the right quantity or quality negatively affects the achievement of change goals. Change leaders have to make sure the provision of the required resources to elicit the right levels of commitment is provided.

Valence of the change to the employee

Employees are also less likely to resist change when they feel that some value will accrue to them as a result of the change. While many authors refer to this as ‘personal valence’ (Armenakis et al., 1993, 1999; Dirks et al., 1996), a distinction should be made between perceptions that the change is personally beneficial and perceptions that the change will benefit the organisation (organisational valence). Employees who believe that the change will benefit both themselves and the organisation are more likely to support the change, whereas employees who do not believe any benefits will result from the change will resist the change effort (Jansen and Michael 2010). It follows therefore that change leadership reward appropriately the employees who achieve change objectives.

Ability of the organization and the employee to achieve change objectives

Commitment to change increases when employees believe that they are able to cope with the change (Armenakis et al., 1993, 1999) and have the skills and abilities to execute the tasks and activities that are associated with the implementation of the intended change (change confidence) (Holt et al., 2007). When employees’ confidence levels are low, or when coping efforts cease, there is a likelihood of resistance to organisational change.

Employee engagement and change management

McEwen (2011) present employee engagement as the affective and cognitive connection employees have for their organization that leads them to exert discretionary effort at work.The policies and practices of employee engagement strive to create an emotional bond between that of the employee and the organization through communication, empowerment, rewards, recognition, and compensation linked to implementation objectives.

In much of the research concerning change management strategies, employee engagement is listed as a primary function to the success of properly implementing a change management initiative. Schmidt and Jackson (2005) state the fourth step to a balanced culture, communication, as “where engagement, ownership, and empowerment are built”.

Kotter (2005) in his eight step model indicated employee engagement as critical in attaining change objectives. He talked of communicating the vision (in step 4) and empowering employees (in step 5) as critical stages of implementing change successfully. In Pugh (2005) six change rules he stressed employee engagement in step II (initiate change through formal discussion and. get feedback and participation) and step III (Positively encourage those concerned to give their objections). Price and Chahal (2005) list “communications and workforce engagement” as step number four in their six-step process.

Finally, Guy and Beauman (2005) highlight “engagement and alignment” as one of the three main categories for successful change management. Guy and Beauman (2005) also list commitment as the leading component of engagement and alignment. The aforesaid support the view that when employees are engaged, organization change can be implemented successfully. Saks (2006) used job characteristics, perceived supervisor support, rewards and recognition and procedural justices as considered factors that could affect engagement levels. His model is presented in Figure 4.



Perceived organisational and supervisor support

Organizational members feel safe in work environments that are characterized by openness and supportiveness (Saks, 2005). Supportive environments allow members to experiment and to try new things and even  fail without fear of the consequences (Kahn, 1990). Employees therefore become engaged in their work.

Distributive and procedural justice

A system of fairness in terms of the distribution and allocation of resources enables employees to provide more energy towards work (Saks, 2005). Employees with high perceptions of justice are likely to be positive towards work. Fair and just application of company procedures is motivational.

Job characteristics

Jobs that offer variety and which also allow opportunities for decision making improve the worker engagement levels. Jobs that are high on the core job characteristics provide individuals with the room and incentive to bring more of themselves into their work or to be more engaged (Kahn, 1992).

Rewards and recognition

Kahn (1990)  reported that people vary in their engagement as a function of their perceptions of the benefits they receive from a role. This means that those employees who receive high rewards are likely to experience high engagement levels.


Proposed intergrated conceptual framework of effective change predictors

From  the aforementioned  literature,  this study proposes an integrated conceptual framework of effective change predictors. The integrated conceptual framework is presented in Figure 5.



From the literature analysed earlier, it is apparent that communication, leadership, employee engagement and employee commitment play a central role in change acceptance. Change managers have to manage the four variables to realise the benefits of change.


The study proposes further research to empirically test the framework that has been developed in this study. The study should focus on how the variables identified in the framework influence employee attitudes to change in organisations.


The author has not declared any conflict of interests.


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