Change Management

Nina Gregg is sharing with us this interesting journal issue. Some of the content is available free online until 30 November.

Human Relations is pleased to present a virtual special issue on change management

The content below will be free to access until 30 November and the entire virtual issue can be accessed here:


This virtual special issue brings together a range of papers in the journal on the management of change. The particular inspiration is the paper by Cummings et al. (2015), which revisits the famous paper by Lewin (1947), published in the first issue of the journal, and demonstrates that the many popularisations of Lewin around a three-step model miss much of what was in fact said. We accordingly include the original Lewin paper. Two other papers, by Cooke (2007) and by Burnes and Cooke (2012), offer complementary accounts of the history of management ideas. Such analyses in fact represent something of a tradition in the journal. Almost as famous as Lewin is the Coch and French<> paper (1948) on overcoming resistance to change. Two later reassessments (Gardner<>, 1977 and Bartlem and Locke<>, 1981) demonstrate the many errors in Coch and French and show just how the paper needs to be viewed.

The present virtual special issue includes three other papers. We include two by Elliott Jaques (1950, 1953), to illustrate a rather different take on change management from that offered by Lewin, and also to remind readers of the celebrated Glacier Project, from which many important papers were published during the 1950s. Finally, Hendry’s (1996) paper illustrates an arguably much more sophisticated analysis of change than that offered by Lewin, and thus development in a field of inquiry over a 50-year period.

Professor Paul Edwards, FBA
Editor-in-Chief, Human Relations

Frontiers in Group Dynamics: Concept, Method and Reality in Social Science; Social Equilibria and Social Change
Kurt Lewin
Human Relations 1947, Volume 1, Issue 1: 5‒41, doi: 10.1177/001872674700100103.

Studies in the Social Development of an Industrial Community (The Glacier Project):
I. Collaborative Group Methods in a Wage Negotiation Situation; Part One: Case Study
Elliott Jaques
Human Relations August 1950, Volume 3, Issue 3: 223-249, doi: DOI: 10.1177/001872675000300301.

On the Dynamics of Social Structure: A Contribution to the Psycho-Analytical Study of Social Phenomena
Elliott Jaques
Human Relations February 1953, Volume 6, Issue 1: 3-24, doi: 10.1177/001872675300600101.

Understanding and Creating Whole Organizational Change Through Learning Theory
Chris Hendry
Human Relations May 1996, Volume 49, Issue 5: 621-641, doi: 10.1177/001872679604900505.

The management of change has become characterized by an atheoretical pragmatism, overfocused on the political aspects of the change process. Emerging interest in the learning organization provides an occasion to remedy this, by developing a theory of change which is more congruent with the requirement to build learning capacity within organizations. The result should be to place learning theory more centrally within the theory of planned organizational change. This should also reinvigorate action research by defining a wider range of learning technologies and perspectives. The argument is developed by first reviewing theories of learning employed in organizational change. The notion of communities-of-practice is then developed as a core concept to highlight the paradoxical processes of inertia and change centered on groups. A series of examples is then drawn from a recent action research project in order to illustrate the possibilities for applying learning theory. Finally, a research agenda is set out for exploring the role of communities-of-practice, with some preliminary observations from a study of small-medium enterprises.

The Kurt Lewin–Goodwin Watson FBI/CIA files: A 60th anniversary there-and-then of the here-and-now
Bill Cooke
Human Relations March 2007, Volume 60, Issue 3: 435-462, doi: 10.1177/0018726707076686.
FBI files on Kurt Lewin, founder of this journal, and his close colleague Goodwin Watson, reveal inter alia the investigation of Lewin postmortem by the FBI/CIA, and FBI surveillance of Watson while he was a proponent of corporate T-groups, a precursor to present day team development. Sixty years on from Human Relations’ launch, and Lewin’s premature death, the files enrich understandings of Lewin’s, and Watson’s, lives and work. The socio-political structures-in-process they evidence also support the idea of the T-group as a knowing political tactic, apparently emancipatory, yet immunized from (proto-)Cold War inquisition by its very focus on the here-and-now.

Review Article: The past, present and future of organization development: Taking the long view
Bernard Burnes and Bill Cooke
Human Relations November 2012, Volume 65, Issue 11: 1395-1429, doi: 10.1177/0018726712450058.

Organization development has been, and arguably still is, the major approach to organizational change across the Western world, and increasingly globally. Despite this, there appears to be a great deal of confusion as to its origins, nature, purpose and durability. This article reviews the ‘long’ history of organization development from its origins in the work of Kurt Lewin in the late 1930s to its current state and future prospects. It chronicles and analyses the major stages, disjunctures and controversies in its history and allows these to be seen in a wider context. The article closes by arguing that, although organization development remains the dominant approach to organizational change, there are significant issues that it must address if it is to achieve the ambitious and progressive social and organizational aims of its founders.

Unfreezing change as three steps: Rethinking Kurt Lewin’s legacy for change management
Stephen Cummings, Todd Bridgman and Kenneth G Brown
Human Relations, published online before print September 30, 2015, doi: 10.1177/0018726715577707.

Kurt Lewin’s ‘changing as three steps’ (unfreezing → changing → refreezing) is regarded by many as the classic or fundamental approach to managing change. Lewin has been criticized by scholars for over-simplifying the change process and has been defended by others against such charges. However, what has remained unquestioned is the model’s foundational significance. It is sometimes traced (if it is traced at all) to the first article ever published in Human Relations. Based on a comparison of what Lewin wrote about changing as three steps with how this is presented in later works, we argue that he never developed such a model and it took form after his death. We investigate how and why ‘changing as three steps’ came to be understood as the foundation of the fledgling subfield of change management and to influence change theory and practice to this day, and how questioning this supposed foundation can encourage innovation.

We hope you enjoy reading these articles!

Best wishes,

Claire Castle
Managing Editor, Human Relations

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