No going back: A review of the literature on sustaining organizational change

Authors

  • David Buchanan,

    1. David A. Buchanan and Louise Fitzgerald are from Leicester Business School, Department of Human Resource Management, De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester, LE1 9BH, UK.
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    • Louise Fitzgerald,

      1. David A. Buchanan and Louise Fitzgerald are from Leicester Business School, Department of Human Resource Management, De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester, LE1 9BH, UK.
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    • Diane Ketley,

      1. Diane Ketley, Rose Gollop, Jane Louise Jones, Sharon Saint Lamont, Annette Neath and Elaine Whitby are from the National Health Service Modernisation Agency.
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    • Rose Gollop,

      1. Diane Ketley, Rose Gollop, Jane Louise Jones, Sharon Saint Lamont, Annette Neath and Elaine Whitby are from the National Health Service Modernisation Agency.
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    • Jane Louise Jones,

      1. Diane Ketley, Rose Gollop, Jane Louise Jones, Sharon Saint Lamont, Annette Neath and Elaine Whitby are from the National Health Service Modernisation Agency.
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    • Sharon Saint Lamont,

      1. Diane Ketley, Rose Gollop, Jane Louise Jones, Sharon Saint Lamont, Annette Neath and Elaine Whitby are from the National Health Service Modernisation Agency.
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    • Annette Neath,

      1. Diane Ketley, Rose Gollop, Jane Louise Jones, Sharon Saint Lamont, Annette Neath and Elaine Whitby are from the National Health Service Modernisation Agency.
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    • Elaine Whitby

      1. Diane Ketley, Rose Gollop, Jane Louise Jones, Sharon Saint Lamont, Annette Neath and Elaine Whitby are from the National Health Service Modernisation Agency.
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    Abstract

    Why do some organizational changes persist, while others decay? The sustainability of change can be defined broadly as the process through which new working methods, performance goals and improvement trajectories are maintained for a period appropriate to a given context. However, sustainability has received limited attention, although the concept reflects Lewin's concern with ‘refreezing’ (Lewin. K. 1951. Field Theory in Social Science: Selected Theoretical Papers by Kurt Lewin, UK edition published 1952, ed. D. Cartwright, London: Tavistock). In an uncertain environment, working practices that fail to adapt are targets for change, and stability has been regarded not as a condition to be achieved, but as a symptom of inertia, a problem to be solved. This paper reviews the emerging literature, seeking to develop a provisional model of the processes influencing change sustainability and decay, as a platform for further research. This review suggests that sustainability is dependent on multiple factors, at different levels of analysis: substantial, individual, managerial, financial, leadership, organizational, cultural, political, processual, contextual and temporal. The relative significance of those factors cannot be determined a priori, raising questions concerning the properties of the sustainability process with regard to different types of change in different contexts.

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