Dynamics of Power, Obedience, and Resistance in a Classroom Restructure

[We’re pleased to welcome author Todd Bridgman of Victoria University of Wellington. Dr. Bridgman recently published an article in the Management Teaching Review entitled “Overcoming Compliance to Change: Dynamics of Power, Obedience, and Resistance in a Classroom Restructure,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Bridgman discusses the genesis of this research.]

The idea for this paper came from my experiences teaching change management to undergraduates as well as graduates. In my change management classes we examine topics like ‘resistance to change’ from both mainstream and critical perspectives. Within the mainstream, resistance by employees is often portrayed as an inevitable and undesirable response to planned change that managers must attempt to overcome. Critical perspectives, in contrast, are more likely to see resistance as positive, by prompting deeper analysis of a change, or by preventing an ill-advised or unethical one. It is recognised, however, that it might be difficult for employees to voice their concerns about change, especially if implemented from the top down, because of the power relationships involved. Therefore, we should encourage students to think about how to overcome compliance to change and not just how to overcome resistance to change.

Over time I found my MBA students could relate easily to both perspectives. Most are mid-career and have experienced multiple organizational restructures. Often they viewed these structural reorganizations as change for change’s sake by new managers seeking to make their mark on the organization and demonstrate their capabilities as leaders of change. In contrast, the undergraduates, with their limited work experience, were much more likely to accept without question the mainstream assumption that change is good and resistance is bad. After all, they have spent most of their lives in educational institutions where obedience to authority figures is encouraged, rewarded and valued.

To address this, I created a classroom activity that simulates an organizational restructure, requiring students to reorganize themselves around the room multiple times on the order of the instructor. I ask them to change their seating position in the room and once they have complied I ask them to change again. And I keeping moving them until they refuse.

The paper gives instructions for running the activity and a list of questions that can be used to debrief the exercise with students, together with their likely responses. The debrief gets them to reflect on their compliance and resistance, group dynamics that influenced their behavior and the ethical issues raised. It concludes with a discussion on how organisations can foster cultures that encourage employees to speak up.

I’ve used this activity successfully for more than 10 years and have received positive feedback on it from students. So I decided to write the paper to share my experience with other management educators.

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Bringing Foundational Research in from the Cold

[This post features an interview originally featured on the Social Science Space blog. You can find the original blog post here.]

Like a favorite quote that turns out not to have passed the lips of Churchill or Twain, foundational research often is honored as its interpreters see it and not as the original author presented it. That’s one premise of a new paper from the journal Human Relations that examines how secondary research, in this case on Kurt Lewin’s change management theory, has frozen out Lewin’s original insights (which appeared in the first paper in the then-new journal Human Relations in 1947, the same year Lewin would die of a heart attack).

The authors –Stephen Cummings and Todd Bridgman of Victoria University of Wellington and Kenneth G. Brown of the University of Iowa – trawled through Lewin’s archives at the University of Iowa tracing the history of his famed three-step change management ideas, and found a corpus of subsequent work littered with misquotes, mis-citations, and possibly even fabrications, alongside a popularity in management textbooks and pop-management books on change management.

While they focus on the misapprehension of Lewin, in the following email interview the authors discuss how this sort of myopia is surprisingly common – and often pernicious – in academe, and offer a prescription for combating it: dig deeper into the past and look at what the founders actually wrote.

As Cummings told Social Science Space, “In the instance of Lewin, they would find far more thoughtful and nuanced ideas than what currently passes for best practice in change management today – ‘best practice’ that is based on overly simplistic reductions of what Lewin supposedly wrote, but didn’t — a fact not seen because nobody bothers to check.

I’d like to ask you about the idea behind your article, “Unfreezing change as three steps: Rethinking Kurt Lewin’s legacy for change management,” and what you are saying about the concept of ‘attention decay.’ But I think before we discuss the general case we should address the specific case, specifically your argument that Kurt Lewin’s now-classic ‘changing as three steps’ approach to managing change has been codified, into something other than what Lewin himself wrote. 

We argue that a small summary statement by Lewin, buried in one of his last articles, a Kurt Lewinstatement about how change could be thought of in three steps unfreezing, moving and freezing, was developed into something far more simplistic and linear (a three phase, a-b-c, one-size-fits-all framework for intervening to direct change) and grander (one of the main pillars of Lewin’s research). Over time, this became a convenient foundation for the fledgling field of change management. The notion that as great a scientist as Lewin, the ‘great experimenter’ as he was known, would have laid down this framework as a solid foundation stone is a useful one for those who sought to build change management into something important.

In the 1970s and 80s management textbooks reinforced this view, formatting the ‘Three Steps of Change’ into the diagram that many people who were management students during and after this time will recall, and naming it ‘Lewin’s classical model.’ More recently, the emphasis on encouraging research outputs and the digitization of research has led to two further things that have discouraged people looking back to see what Lewin might have actually written. One, the sheer proliferation of writing on this (and any) subject makes it hard to take everything in. Second the digitization of recent research outputs makes it easier to search the ‘archives’ from one’s own terminal rather than go look at the ‘hard copies’ of older works.

This leads to the notion of ‘attention decay’ that you mention in your question. It’s been shown that citation patterns in research outputs are broader (more references) but shallower (the average time between the publication of the article and the works it references is shrinking): greater immediacy but less depth, in other words. We argue that it has consequently become less likely that people would actually go back and look at primary sources, making the proliferation of misinterpretations, of the forgetting of what was originally written, more likely.


If that is the case, for Lewin and for others, I might ask what’s the harm? But you suggest, apart from doing violence to the original ideas, that this could actually work against substantive innovation and might even hem in the frontiers of knowledge. 

Yes. We argue that this isn’t just a historical curio. We are fighting against a lazy understanding of history in our field in general, as well as fighting against how we have ignored the potential of the specific ideas that Lewin would be more likely advocating today were he alive.

First, we would suggest the specific misinterpretation of Lewin may be harmful because it blinkers us from seeing the other, more substantive, insights that Lewin provided. In our article we look at the one empirical study of organization change that Lewin was heavily involved with, which has come to be known as the Harwood study. Perhaps the major conclusion from this study is that change management is more effective if it is based on plural conversations that involve those who will be affected by the change right from the outset, as opposed to a unitarist approach were change is directed by consultants, or the like, employing their model. We would argue that if change practice, following Lewin’s Harwood experiments, was more inclusive, we’d see less change fatigue and cynicism about change programs in contemporary organizations.

In addition, our article goes back to the original Lewin paper from the first ever issue of Human Relations that the ‘three steps’ statement is taken out of. This article was titled “Frontiers of Group Dynamics.” It was partly a review, partly a challenge to researchers to move the field forwards. The two major challenges that Lewin laid down were to focus on ‘groups’ within organizations as the unit of analysis, rather than individual or the organization as a whole; and relatedly, to develop the application of statistical analysis to enable us to better analyze multiple variables relating to individual and group responses to change as a system. One of the reasons that we haven’t made as much progress on these challenges as we could have is that we looked beyond them and alighted and focused attention on the idea that Lewin said we should base change interventions on a three-phase model.

Second, and more generally, what is the harm in mis-attributing or at least exaggerating the genesis of ideas? The harm is that it propagates simplistic understanding of the history of ideas, which makes it less likely that we can robustly assess what has gone before, debate different views and make true progress rather than just enjoy the illusion of progress. If we don’t know what Lewin really said, then how can we be challenged by it, learn from it and build on it or against it?


Current Issue CoverAs a corrective, I notice that you want to buck the apparent trend of academics citing lots of references that only go back a shorter time – what’s been termed attention decay by those documenting its existence — by advocating academics instead look back and dive deeper.

We can adapt the popular analogy of the ‘glass ceiling’ to illustrate this point. Let’s say that attention decay in this regard creates an ‘ice floor.’ We can really only see down a little way, skate across this surface and develop variations on the ‘foundation’ we are skating across (there’s a diagram in our article that shows how recent change frameworks can be seen as just elaborations of the three stage unfreeze-change-refreeze model).

The reflection makes us look pretty clever, and it justifies present ideas as advances on what feels like a solid foundation. But in justifying present ideas, this shallow view of the past makes it less likely that would we really challenge present ideas and seek new ways of operating, or substantive innovation.

The prospect that the ice that change management is skating on may be thin and a bit illusory is a scary one, and we’ve already got some flak about our article by people who are challenged by it. But we’re hoping that we might promote innovation in change management by starting a conversation that thaws out that ice enough to make some people think twice. Diving deeper and reading all of Lewin’s 1947 article, for example, could provide researchers with a lot of inspiration for developing new ideas. Probably more inspiration, we would argue, than reading everything that has been written on the topic in the last three years.


I’m intrigued by your concerns that digitization can in effect close pathways that it presumably might have opened. Do you expect this might self-correct as musty volumes or yellowing journals grudgingly make their way to digital formats, or is the temptation to draw from the shallowest and freshest pools too great?


It’s not that digitization closes pathways. Rather, digitization makes it easier to scan large amounts of current literature and this is what researchers have tended to do with the new technology. You can understand why. Often authors are criticized for not including enough up-to-date references to other works in the field when they submit work to academic journals or PhD committees. Very seldom are they criticized for not including well-referenced quotations from many decades ago.

Given that two of us are based in New Zealand and one in Iowa, it’s not that easy to visit the archives we want to see in person, so we use digital archives to scan large amounts of data and focus our searches a lot. We’d be crazy to suggest that digitization is not a great tool. It can preserve and improve access to older, hard copies of papers and correspondence. But it takes interest from users and effort and money from providers to facilitate the continued development of this. Last year we visited archives at the Stevens Institute in New Jersey and Brandeis and Harvard universities in Boston: all three hold fascinating ‘musty volumes’ and the librarians could not be more helpful. But it was a contrast. Institutions like Harvard have a great interest in to preserving and promoting their legacy and they have more money than others to do so.

So digitization is to be encouraged, but there is nothing quite the same as being able to see original hard copies and we are losing these every day as libraries with limited resources look at what people are using and make resourcing decisions accordingly. Invest in the archives, or better Wi-Fi? It’s hard to make a case for the archives if people aren’t using them. We would urge people to support local libraries to both maintain and digitize their collections by using them, engaging librarians, and providing support in other ways where they can.


I assume your thesis applies beyond Lewin’s case and beyond management theory, even if his academic afterlife makes a good case study. Do you have other examples where classic theories get lost? Other disciplines?

We’ve written on how Max Weber is subject to convenient re-assignment in management textbooks as an old German who madly promoted bureaucracy, which he didn’t. Rather, he saw that their development fitted with mechanized times and worried about their spread in this regard. (However, an understanding of Weber’s principles of how good bureaucratic controls had many strengths, might have worked against some of the worst vestiges of the recent GFC – if people were aware of what Weber wrote about this). And John Hassard and others have done great work debunking many of the foundational myths surrounding Elton Mayo and the Hawthorne experiments.

But looking more broadly, perhaps the historical misinterpretation that has had the biggest impact on our times has been the development of the myth that Adam Smith founded economics by advocating a laissez faire approach, whereby progress would come when governments get out of the way and leave the ‘invisible hand’ of the market to sort things out.

Smith did examine how the division of labor led to progress in Book I of The Wealth of Nations. But much in the latter books of TWON was devoted to how governments should best intervene to protect people against the unfortunate consequences of the division of labor and free markets. But most have conveniently forgotten about those later books. And they’ve forgotten that Smith never once used the term ‘laissez faire.’ And that the term ‘the invisible hand’ was only used once by Smith in the context that it is attributed now, and it was not original. For example, it was a phrase that Daniel Defoe had his character Moll Flanders use decades earlier.

And yet, the world’s most influential economics textbook, by Paul Samuelson, has told generations of students that Smith’s message is, verbatim, this: “You think you are helping the economic system by your well-meaning laws and interferences. You are not. Let be. The oil of self-interest will keep the gears working in almost miraculous fashion. No one need plan. No sovereign need rule. The market will answer all things.” Samuelson’s faux-archaic style here leads the student to believe that this is what Smith must have written. But none of these sentences are Smith’s. It’s all made up.

In fact, many economists and politicians who may have been forced to read Samuelson or its equivalent often pay homage to Smith as ‘the father’ of their thinking, without ever having seen a copy of TWON, let alone reading it. This, we would argue, is the sort of shallow thinking worth continuing the fight against.


Do you have hope then that your field, and others, will see researchers and theorists reaching back to the original work? Or is the ice too thick?

It’s not that the ice is too thick. It’s more that if we’re only interested in looking at the past to justify current views, or seeing our present reflection looking good in the ice as it were, we’re not motivated to look down into or through that ice to really see what’s behind it. So the ice itself is not the main barrier, it’s the way we look. All it requires is a shift in emphasis from seeing the past in terms of the present, toward seeing history as a source of challenging ideas and a way of inspiring us to think differently.

Young researchers, quite rightly, want to discover new knowledge. Because we tend to see history and innovation as opposites they often don’t see much value in historical research. But realizing that thinking critically about the history of ideas can in fact be a greater spur to innovation than just collating all that’s been written on a subject in the last five years, should be a great motivator. Recognizing that we forget so much about what has been previously thought about, or that great ideas get sidetracked as we focus on other things, means that there’s challenging ideas and spurs to innovation waiting to be rediscovered in the archives. Because the research itself, going back to original sources and correspondence, is not too difficult to do once your motivated to do it (it’s easier to get ethics approval, easier to ‘interview’ librarians and original sources than schedule interviews with busy business people), we are very hopeful that this stream of critical historical research, critical historical that inspires innovation in the social sciences, will grow over the next decade.

*Books image attributed to faungg’s photos (CC)

An Interview with Rick Haythornthwaite, Chairman of Centrica and MasterCard

22847037023_7625149c7e_z[We’re pleased to welcome Richard Bolden of the University of the West of England. Richard recently published an article in Journal of Management Inquiry entitled “Digital Disruption and the Future of Leadership: An Interview with Rick Haythornthwaite, Chairman of Centrica and MasterCard” with co-author Nicholas O’Regan of the University of the West of England.]

  • Can you provide a brief reflection on your paper?

This interview is informed by an address given by Rick Haythornthwaite, Chairman of Centrica and MasterCard, at the University of the West of England in October 2015 in which he reflected on the implications of digital technology and innovation on leadership and management practice. As a high profile senior leader it is interesting to see how his comments reflect a number of trends within leadership and Current Issue Covermanagement theory but also go further, addressing a number of issues that are rarely considered in traditional academic research. In particular, he highlights the importance of context, relationships, ethics, trust and strong but inclusive leadership. We feel that this article offers a useful resource for leadership and management education through the ability to provide the perspective of an experienced, reflective practitioner that could facilitate class discussion, and may also provide useful insights for leadership and management researchers into important areas for future study.

The abstract for the paper:

Unprecedented changes in the nature and prevalence of digital technology have significant implications for leadership theory, practice, and development that, as yet, remain largely unexplored in mainstream academic literature. This article features an interview with Rick Haythornthwaite, Chairman of global businesses including Centrica and MasterCard, where he reflects on the ways in which digital disruption is impacting upon the nature of leadership and strategic practice. It is accompanied by a commentary that highlights the importance of factors such as context, trust, ethics, and purpose in a fast moving corporate world.

You can read “Digital Disruption and the Future of Leadership: An Interview with Rick Haythornthwaite, Chairman of Centrica and MasterCard” from Journal of Management Inquiry free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to stay current on the latest research from Journal of Management InquiryClick here to sign up for e-alerts!

BoldenRichard Bolden is professor of leadership and management and director of Bristol Leadership Centre at the University of the West of England. His research interests include distributed leadership; systems leadership, complexity, and change; leadership in higher education; worldly leadership; and leadership development evaluation. He is associate editor of the journal Leadership, fellow of the Lancaster Leadership Centre, and research advisor to the Singapore Civil Service College. His publications include Exploring Leadership: Individual, Organizational and Societal Perspectives (OUP, 2011) and Leadership Paradoxes: Rethinking Leadership for an Uncertain World (Routledge, 2016).

Nicholas O’Regan is associate dean (research and innovation) and professor of strategy/enterprise and innovation at the University of the West of England, Bristol. His research interests lie in strategic issues, technology deployment, and operational effectiveness. He is co-editor of the Journal of Strategy and Management and has published in numerous international journals and is on the editorial board for journals such as Technovation. He was elected a fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in 2011.

Watch Business & Management Videos on SAGE Video with a Free 30 Day Trial!

Video ExpertsIn honor of the recent release of the new Business & Management video collection, SAGE Video is offering a free 30 day trial for SAGE Video. The collection of business and management videos includes 184 videos and 60.8 hours of content on a variety of topics, including Business Ethics & Corporate Social Responsibility, Human Resource Management, Leadership, Marketing, Organization Studies, and Entrepreneurship. For a better look at what SAGE Video has to offer, here are two videos from the Business & Management collection:

Scott Taylor Apple Video Snip

In the video, “A Change of Leader: The Case of Apple,” Dr. Scott Taylor discusses Apple as an example of how corporations and customers respond to change in leadership. Dr. Taylor discusses the unusual research he conducted in the days following Steve Jobs’ death, in which he collected data as it was generated by the media, Apple customers, and the Apple corporation. Dr. Taylor set out to analyze his data with three objectives in mind. The first was to explore the meaning of leadership, in particular as derived from large corporations like Apple. The second objective was to explore how individuals form an emotional investment in leaders. The third objective for Dr. Taylor’s research was identifying the part charisma plays in modern leadership, particularly in terms of how leader charisma can impact and transform organizations.

Sign up for the 30 day trial here and watch the video here to learn more about what Dr. Taylor discovered through his research.

Jennifer Chatman Organizational Culture Video Snip

In the video Leveraging Organizational Culture,” Dr. Jennifer A. Chatman discusses organizational culture research, highlighting two popular debates in the field: Can culture be assessed quantitatively and qualitatively? And what is the difference between organizational culture and climate? Dr. Chatman explains why the study of organizational culture is important, pointing out that culture impacts the financial performance of organizations. Dr. Chatman goes on to discuss the case study of a senior leader with the company Genetech, who was able to bring separate franchises of the company together by implementing culture initiatives to develop a shared culture.

Sign up for the 30 day trial here and watch the video here to learn more about Dr. Chatman’s research on organizational culture.

How Important is Self-Managing Leadership for Crisis Management?

Crises are common in the modern world and the value system of leaders plays a crucial role in effectively managing a crisis. The article “Role of Self-managing Leadership in Crisis Management: An Empirical Study on the Effectiveness of Rajayoga” explores the role of self-managing leadership in crisis management. The topic is particularly pertinent because many crisis management blunders can be attributed to leadership failures, and in the context of business, lack of effective crisis management has led to downfall of many businesses.

IIM Journal CoverCrises can be generalized along a spectrum—on one end, you have individual crises, and on the other end, you have global crises. However, in all cases, it is individuals who have to provide leadership, whether it be for individual crises, organizational crises, or global crises.

In rapidly changing times, the challenge to an organization is to provide a framework for people to understand their journey through change so they can contribute their best work to the organization. In order to act as a leader or an agent of change within an organization, employees must be able to bring about significant change within their organization. The rate of external environmental change is inexplicably linked to self-management—as changes increase, self-management becomes more important. Because it is hardly possible to control the external environment, emphasis has shifted towards managing the inner environment and harnessing resources within an organization. The future of an organization rests on the autonomy, maturity and confidence of the people. Many employees are trained with particular technical and functional-oriented skills, and later promoted on the basis of those skills. However,sign-success-and-failure-1133804-m those skills primarily prepare employees to work in a relatively stable environment, not in a rapidly changing and at times chaotic environment. Thus, the skills necessary for employees now are those that help employees lead through a never-ending process of change.

The abstract:

Crises are common in the modern world and the value system of leaders plays a crucial role in effectively managing the crises. The role of self-managing leadership in crisis management is explored in this article. An empirical study is conducted to understand the effectiveness of the ancient self-management technique called Rajayoga. It is based on a sample survey among two groups—one group not practicing Rajayoga and the other group practicing Rajayoga. It is found that the inner powers and innate values have a positive correlation with crises management capabilities. Further, these capabilities and correlations are found to be stronger in a group of people practicing Rajayoga for self-empowerment. The relationship between inner powers and innate values, the interactivity and proactivity among the inner powers, the relationship between the ‘doing’ powers and the ‘being’ powers are also confirmed through the study.

You can read “Role of Self-managing Leadership in Crisis Management: An Empirical Study on the Effectiveness of Rajayoga” from IIM Kozhikode Society & Management Review free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to know about all the latest research from IIM Kozhikode Society & Management Review? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!

Strategies for Success in Service Innovation

Cathy A. Enz of the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration published “Strategies for the Implementation of Service Innovations” on June 6, 2012 in Cornell Hospitality Quarterly. To see more OnlineFirst articles, click here.

The abstract:

Implementation strategies are the ways in which information about a new service innovation are shared with those employees who must execute on the innovation. This article examines the relationship between innovation success and the frequency of use of various strategies for the implementation of two specific nationwide service innovations in the North American hotels of a global lodging chain. Cost and service quality–based innovations were found to rely on different implementation strategies, suggesting that the connection between an implementation strategy and success depends on the type of innovation. In the hotel chain studied, the most successful strategy for implementing quality innovations was individual counseling, while rewards and focus groups were most strongly associated with success when implementing cost-based innovations. A mix of execution strategies including implementation by persuasion, leader intervention, participation, and even edict were linked to service innovation success. Participative employee-centered implementation strategies emerged as the most critical in the diffusion of service innovations.

To learn more about Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, follow this link. To recieve email alerts about newly published articles and issues, click here.

Change Management

Haunted by the Past: Effects of Poor Change Management History on Employee Attitudes and Turnovers“, by Prashant Bordia, Simon Lloyd D. Restubog, both of the Australian National University, Canberra, Nerina L. Jimmieson of the University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Australia, and Bernd E. Irmer of Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia, was recently published in Group and Organizational Management OnlineFirst. Professor Bordia has provided additional information on the article:

Who is the target audience for this article?

This article will appeal to researchers as well as practitioners interested in organizational change and its consequences for employee attitudes and retention.

What inspired you to be interested in this topic?

I have often heard people complain about how bad their organization is at managing change. My co-authors and I wanted to understand the effects of these negative experiences of change on how employees feel about the organization in general, about change in particular and whether these negative experiences result in exit from the organization.

Were there findings that were surprising to you?

I was really surprised by the strong effects of poor change management history (PCMH). PCHM beliefs predicted employee turnover up to two years later and this effect was even stronger than the effect of turnover intentions!

How do you see this study influencing future research and/or

Research: My co-authors and I really enjoyed incorporating the context of change history into the theoretical model, collecting data on it and relating it with employee attitudes and behavior. I hope future research on change management links employee attitudes with actual events in the organization.

Practice: Change agents and leaders are often encouraged to have a vision for the future, but we hope they are also mindful of the past. If there is a history of poor change management, they cannot just assume that employees will forget about the past. The leaders will have to work at changing employee beliefs about change management in their organization, before they can expect the employees to accept future change.

How does this study fit into your body of work/line of research?

This study fits into my long-term interest in how employees cope with changing work environments (for example, I have previously looked at the management of uncertainty and rumors during organizational change).

How did your paper change during the review process?

The paper got considerably sharpened by the reviewers’ and the editor’s comments. They also made us think more about and clarify the papers contributions to theory and practice.

What, if anything, would you do differently if you could go back and do this study again?

In hindsight, we have a rather blunt measure of whether an employee was exposed to poor change management history (either the employee did, coded as 1 or did not, coded as 0). If we could do this study again, I would like to obtain a more fine-grained measure, perhaps on a 7-point scale.

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