Management of Change and Trust

Even with a well-crafted strategy, leading an organization to gain and sustain competitive advantage is an arduous process. Change can occur in many areas of an organization and can be deliberate or accidental, incremental or sudden, local or global, and focused or broadly applied across an organization. Regardless of the type or magnitude of change, change management involves people.

Central to human nature is the need to be in a state of control and predictability (Thiétart & Forgues, 1995). Discomfort with change is, in part, a result of a perceived or real loss of control and the related fear that an unknown or unpredictable outcome might be harmful or run counter to one’s norms and values. The level of trust within an organization is an important descriptor of the unease experienced during change.

Trust, or the state of reduced uncertainty and undesirable conduct, favors the comfort of a predictable, steady state. Resistance to change is implicit in the desire for certainty and predictability, regardless of whether that steady state is, in fact, the state that will help the organization stay competitive in the face of changing circumstances.

According to Lewicki, McAllister, and Bies (1998) trust is the “positive expectation regarding another’s conduct” (p. 444). If a person trusts another, social complexity and uncertainty have been reduced by having removed specific undesirable conduct. Trust is developed and modified both on an individual basis and through group affiliation (Lewin, 1975).

The change-trust relationship is not necessarily linear. For example, increasing communication increases trust and decreases resistance. These influencing factors make trust seem elastic: trust is enhanced by influencing factors that mitigate uncertainty.

Many organizational practitioners claim to have identified factors that reduce uncertainty and package these as a remedy. However, leaders should however be aware that each situation is unique, and applying the plan developed for a previously successful change initiative will not guarantee success, even within the same company and involving the same group of individuals. This is because nothing really remains unchanged (Orlikowski & Holman, 1997).

Thiétart and Forgues (1995) account for this phenomenon through the application of chaos theory to organizations. A change-trust model might be able to describe a current change initiative at a particular point in time. But unless it takes into account the effect of the continuously changing variables, it can never be accurately used to predict future success and its application to other groups and situations will be limited.


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Lewin, K. (1975). Field theory in social science. Westport, CT: Westwood Press, Publishers.

Orlikowski, W. J. & Hofman, D. J. (1997). An improvisational model for change management: The case of Groupware technologies. Sloan Management Review, 38(2), 11–21. Retrieved from

Pietersen, W. (2002). The Mark Twain dilemma: The theory and practice of change leadership. Journal of Business Strategy, 23(5), 32–37. Retrieved from

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