Applicability of Lewin’s Change Management Theory in Australian Local Government

  •  Chowdhury Hossan    


Public sector organisations are now expected to shift policy towards greater competition and to apply private-sector style management practice to the public domain. Around 70 per cent of all change programs initiated report a failure of the change effort. A lack of a valid framework to guide the implementation and management of organisational change is a major reason for the poor success rate of change initiatives. Public sector organisations are increasingly adopting private sector management principles and practices. Many private sector management techniques, applied without appropriate change management techniques have been criticised for creating problems, such as the language of consumerism, the contracting-out culture, and the monitoring and management of performance. Local government (City councils) are typically considered to be resistant to innovation and are relatively inert compared to other forms of organisation. This article examines the ‘process’ of organisational change. Among other theories, process-based change theories consider change as an on-going process. Thus, change typically occurs in multiple steps that take a considerable amount of time to unfold and efforts to bypass steps seldom yield a satisfactory result. Planned change advocates that organisations move from one fixed stage to another, through a series of pre-determined stages. This article concludes that Lewin’s (1951) planned approach to change can still be used to investigate change management in the city councils. Lewin’s (1951) models are highly generic. It argues that the focus of the change must be on the behaviour of the group, concentrating on factors such as group norms, roles, interactions, and socialisation processes. Lewin’s (1951) models are more relevant to incremental and isolated change projects which are often the case for the Australian local government. The model tends to be more appropriate for organisations, such as city councils, that are based on traditional top-down, command-and-control style of management, with segmented, small units and slow change timelines.

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