Types of organizational change

Change management is often seen as one of those magical and mysterious skills because it is difficult to quantify. Unlike certain business processes with clearly defined statistics, like marketing or finance, change management relies upon the nature of individuals and their respective feelings, duties, and beliefs. Considering change types will help you manage these individuals with more careful consideration.

This is one of the sole reasons why change is often difficult to successfully implement. Many decisions that a change manager makes is based on theory and strategy, and difficult to find raw data for. In the case of change, when the possibility exists for many right answers, but only one optimized one, this is necessary.

Often, finding the most optimal process for organizational change is difficult. However, with some careful consideration before the change process begins, you can form a much better roadmap that is custom fit for your organization. I would argue that the main question to ask is, what type of organizational change are you implementing?

Therefore, today we will be discussing multiple types of organizational change. Everybody thinks of something different and unique when they think of “organizational change” but that is a testament to the varieties and scope of change and its many forms.

Considering the type of change you are implementing is absolutely necessary when developing an efficient and effective change process. Without doing so, you leave the door open for unexpected, and unnecessary, adversity to invite itself inside your organization.

Change initiatives will look different in any situation, however, they are commonly affected by the same underlying principles surrounding the change process as a whole. Defining these principles will give you a much better idea as to the scope of change and its impact on your organization.

Different types of change efforts can be affected by any or all of the following things:
– The coverage of the change process (how widely across the organization change goes).
– How difficult the change is to adopt from a single individual perspective.
– The focus of the change initiative (structure, system, etc.)
– The nature of the change process (strictly program-driven, or more “discoverable”)
– Organizational culture
– Available time frame.

These key considerations cover a good majority of the factors that will alter a change initiative. Let’s dive now into the various types of change we can prepare for, and how we can begin to define a change in a more concrete sense.

Let’s discover some differing perspectives on various change types!

Types of Change: People, Systems, Structure

The method that I personally use to define change and create the basis for my scope of change is the “people, systems, structure” method.

I lay the groundwork for this method in my book, The Essential Change Management Guidebook: Master the Art of Organizational Change.

Essentially, in my experience, change will always follow some combination of the organization’s people (individuals), systems (tiers), or structure (hierarchy). Let’s dive more into this explanation with the help of a picture from the book.

Types of change. People, Systems, and structure changes in organization change management.

What we can see here are the defining characteristics of each of these three categories.

“People” changes are, self-describingly, about a single individual or duties of that individual. Often, helping an organization through the change of executive leadership is a “people” change.

“Systems” changes are inherent changes to the operating procedures of a single hierarchical tier within the organization. These changes are focused around gathering commitment from key players, and often, altering certain procedures, operations, or other tasks that are added to the duties of that tier. They are not merely “people” changes because they incorporate multiple people connected by a common set of operating procedures.

“Structure” changes are the biggest of them all. That is because they incorporate the most people, the most complex systems, but are often a combination of multiple “systems” changes. This is why planning a structure change is difficult and requires the management and consideration of multiple moving parts that act separately.

Structure changes became inevitable during the rise of the internet, in which businesses found they could significantly reduce costs by flattening their organizations and relying upon modern technology for communications.

Consider the nature of change within your business. This method is great for determining the scope of change and the level of involvement that executive sponsors and managers will have to perform during the process.

Now, let’s move into changes that are defined, not by their scope, but by their purpose.

Transforming Culture

One of the most difficult types of changes to bring to fruition in any organization is a change in the organization’s culture itself. These changes are made apparent by their naturally long-scale and strategic perspective.

Changes to an organization’s culture are, in essence, a change to the nature of the business process as a whole. Changing the way an organization does business at such a scale will require quite a few key characteristics to make the change efforts successful.

The following characteristics must be sustained over the long term in order to break an organization of its old habits and form new ones.

Culture changes require:
– Absolute commitment to the changes and transformation from the key stakeholders or governing body of the organization.
– Time for credible and respected change-sponsors to effectively raise awareness and build teams surrounding the need for change.
– Appropriate resources to provide necessary training, coaching, materials, or other change management essentials.
– Widespread, sustained, and engaging learning events to act as break out sessions or information sessions on the nature of change, why it is necessary, and how change is inevitable. Give these to all relevant employees.
– Empowerment for individuals and groups to take action regarding the change without the fear of punishment or repercussion. Change inherently invites risk, but mitigating the fear of this risk helps people become more willing to change.
– Sustained communication and enforcement for change efforts.

Transforming an organization’s culture is a big deal. And due to the inherent ambiguity that is presented by change, culture changes are often one of the most difficult and daunting tasks of new leadership within an organization. However, considering the key points above, you can begin to form the proper management procedures for handling culture changes in a far more effective way!

Changing the Hierarchy (Structure)

Structure changes are unique in that they are not only descriptive of the scope of change but also the purpose for change. Hierarchical restructuring within an organization is often run as an entirely separate project because the risk of collateral damage is so high and there are many important considerations when assigning new and overlapping duties to others.

The importance of having a clear vision for the new structure (developed by executives) can’t be understated here. Yogi Berra said “If you don’t know where you are going, you might end up someplace else.” I believe that without first considering how you want the structure to be formed and operational in everyday business life, there is a high chance that severe issues will arise.

Unless the organization was smaller and more tightly managed, putting together a change management team should be an absolute necessity for the security of a structure-change process. These teams fulfill certain roles such as raising awareness, desire, and ability to change.

These teams should also work very closely with the change sponsor to align vision with function, and to keep the team on track with the change’s intended purpose.

Here are some considerations when performing or planning a structure change:
– Establishing a partnership between the dedicated executive change sponsor and the change teams.
– Careful selection of those who will be running the structure-shift initiatives.
– Ongoing support for newly developed leaders.
– Strong support for others whose working environment is shifting.
– Coordinated support by Human Resources (HR) Organizational Development (OD) and Learning and Development (L&D).

Forming Teams

forming a team in organizational change management.

When forming a new team, usually not much change management support is needed unless this team has a significant impact on the nature of many other business processes. That is because forming teams is a tactical change as opposed to a strategic (or widely operational) change.

However, should the case arise when forming a new team is necessary to fulfill an important and impactful business process, change management techniques can certainly help.

Consider the following characteristics when forming a new team:
– Implement and organize processes and job descriptions to ensure that the new team functions well within their space and can properly manage a working relationship with other departments or groups.
– Help leadership identify transition issues or issues regarding team functionality.
– Proper facilitation of team members to discuss roles and clarify expectations.

Considering the nature of smaller changes, and especially “systems” changes like forming a new team, consider running focus groups or trial runs to ensure that the job processes are clearly defined and actionable and that the team itself can work in collaboration with other groups.


So, there you have it! We’ve discussed some of the key characteristics of managing changes based on change types. There are many more to consider, however, these main types cover most of the bases and principles of change management in general, and are the most common types of change that I see within an organization.

Learning to manage or organize change isn’t hard, but it takes careful intuition and consideration of available resources. Hopefully, with these tips, you can manage change much more effectively!

Hopefully, I was able to help you manage change more effectively, to get in touch with me, please call (951) 833-2987 or send me a message on my website.

Thanks for reading!
Work With Austin

-Austin Denison is a change management consultant from Southern California and founder/CEO of Denison Success Systems LLC. He is the author of The Essential Change Management Guidebook: Master The Art of Organizational Change as well as The Potential Dichotomy: The Philosophy of a Fulfilling Life.


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