Sub-theme 30: Challenging Change: Leading and Intervening Successfully [merged with sub-theme 39]

Ralf Wetzel
Vlerick Business School, Belgium
Ben Kuipers
Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Rune Todnem By
Staffordshire University Business School, UK

Call for Papers

It could be argued that we are moving in a world of rapid change, transforming economies and financial markets, reforming governments and societies and increasing environmental strains, towards the need for a higher change capacity in all organizations (public and private) to meet more complex demands and expectations. When reviewing the broader change management literature it seems evident that change, more and more, is a multi-level, multi-actor and multi-faceted phenomenon, requiring both scholars and practitioners to rethink and reshape both the theory and practise of organizational change, its management and leadership.

Nevertheless, there is clear criticism on the way organizational change is researched up till now as the issue of change is complex (Higgs & Rowland, 2005), ambiguous (Hughes, 2011) and highly context dependent (Pettigrew et al., 2001). In line with these critiques several authors, also in the field of public management, addressed the changing content and context of organizations as a factor of importance to the consideration of change (e.g. By & Macleod, 2009).

At the same time, there is nothing new about organizational change. For as long as there have been human beings there has been some form of organization, which has evolved and changed. Change is indeed required, but it should be well justified and grounded on vision and direction. Hence, perhaps it is time to focus on the leadership of change rather than the mere management.

Within the proposed sub-theme we would invite papers that help to provide insight into the complexity of organizational change in all organizations. The focus to challenge this issue is on the reimagining, rethinking and reshaping of change management towards change leadership around the following themes:

  • In-depth empirical studies of the change process within differing public, private and third sector contexts. In particular such studies may provide details of change interventions and the roles and behaviours of those involved in the change process, such as change agents. These may include longitudinal studies and comparative studies of cases in different sectors and countries.
  • Studies rethinking organizational change by integrating the strengths of different theoretical perspectives. For example combining the institutional theory, as being highly context aware, with the generic change management literature, with its detailed attention for process and behaviour may jointly help to gain a better understanding of the complexity of change. Naturally, other combinations of different streams of literature would be welcome, too.
  • Researchers may reshape practical guidelines that are rigorously grounded when paying more attention in their studies to the outcomes and successes of change in organizations.
  • Work that explicitly focuses on reframing leading change in both public and private sector contexts. Leadership in different sectors may involve different practices and behaviours to make change happen, especially when involving different levels. Further, it requires different sets of purpose and responsibility for both leaders and followers.
  • Reshaping change management into leadership by focusing on the individual level: how do different actors cope with change (e.g. linking change management with psychology literature). We would particularly welcome studies that pay attention to the position and role of middle management as translators of change initiatives both from the top as well as from bottom-up.
  • Studies shedding new light on both discrepancies and interactions between mirco-level and sector level of change in general. In particular, the public reform literature has a profound tradition of sector comparisons and even cross-national comparisons of sector changes. Unfortunately, such comparisons pay little or no attention to the management of change processes within the organizations subject to these sector changes.



By, Rune Todnem & Calum Macleod (eds.) (2009): Managing Organizational Change in Public Services. International Issues, Challenges and Cases. London: Routledge.
Higgs, Malcolm & Deborah Rowland (2005): 'All Changes Great and Small: Exploring Approaches to Change and its Leadership.' Journal of Change Management, 5 (2), pp. 121–151.
Hughes, M. (2011): ' Do 70 per cent of all organizational change initiatives really fail?' Journal of Change Management, 11 (4), pp. 451–464.
Pettigrew, Andrew M., Richard W. Woodman & Kim S. Cameron (2001): 'Studying Organizational Change and Development: Challenges for Future Research.' Academy of Management Journal, 44 (4), pp. 697–713.


Ralf Wetzel is Associate Professor for Organization & Management at Vlerick Business School, Belgium. His work focusses on organizational dynamics and sensemaking. His shakespearian story book "To change or not to change?" has been published recently.
Ben Kuipers is Assistant Professor at the department of Public Administration at the Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands. His interests as a scholar and practitioner are within the field of organizational change and HRM in public organizations.
Rune Todnem By is Academic Group Leader, Organisational Behaviour, Leadership & Change at Staffordshire University Business School, UK, and Editor-in-Chief of Routledge's 'Journal of Change Management'. His interests are in change leadership, followership, management, readiness and ethics.