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Change Cynicism 1


Managing Cynicism in Organizational Change

Change Cynicism 2

Managing Cynicism in Organizational Change


Organizations are constantly changing to meet the needs of their external and internal

environments. The process of organizational change is complicated due to people’s

natural resistance to change. This causes cynicism toward change in the minds of

organizational members. Cynicism has a direct negative effect on the success of the

implementation and sustainability of organizational change. Thus, in order for change to

be successful, cynicism must be reduced. Through an extensive review of the extant

literature, this scholarship explores how organizations can increase or decrease the

sustainability of change, focusing on how to decrease cynicism toward the change.

Keywords: organizational communication, organizational change, cynicism

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Organizations are pervasive throughout society. Students are members of their

educational organization; each child and their parents belong to their familial

organization; employees belong to their employer’s organization; members of collegiate

Greek life belong to their Greek organization. Hence, most people are members of

multiple discrete organizations. The environment surrounding these organizations is often

changing due to an ever-evolving society. This requires organizations to change the way

that they function in order to match these environments.

Change can be beneficial, but it is risky due to its unpredictable nature. Factors

such as scope, organizational climate, financial resources available, and information

systems all play a role in determining whether a change will be successful or not. Thus,

change can be difficult to manage. However, change is often necessary in order for an

organization to achieve success. Organizations that are not able to change to match the

needs of their environment become inefficient and less profitable, running the risk of

organizational failure (Boga & Ensari, 2009).

Each different factor of a single change within an organization can be managed in

multiple different ways. Therefore, the potential ways to manage change are numerous.

However, some methods of change management are more conducive to the change being

successful. This review will examine the current literature discussing the most effective

ways to implement sustainable organizational change with a focus on how to manage

cynicism toward the change within organizational members.

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Literature Review

Organizational Communication

Organizational communication is the internal and external exchange of

information and opinions. There are three distinct parts of organizational communication.

The first is internal, which consists of communication between members of an

organization and the leaders of an organization. The next is external, which involves how

the organization interacts with its environment. The third part is the management of

information systems. Information systems allow the spread of information between the

members of an organization. The better the information systems of an organization are,

the more efficient and effective the communication is (Akan, Ülker & Ünsar, 2016;

Greenbaum, 1972). The actual communication within the organization is a mix of

interpersonal and applied speech communication, such as interviewing, presenting, and

small group communication (Lesikar, 1981).

Organizational communication is necessary for an organization’s sustainability

and performance. It allows the members of an organization to talk to each other and form

bonds that strengthen the entitativity within the organization. Without entitativity,

productivity plummets, leading to lower profits and reduced efficiency (Sueldo, 2016).

Communication also gives executives a medium through which they can inform members

about what the purpose and goals of an organization are and how they can help achieve


In order for communication within an organization to be monitored and regulated,

there must be a hierarchy present. This hierarchy can only be maintained if the members

of the organization willingly submit themselves to lower levels of power. There must be
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communication throughout the hierarchical levels and it must be effective in order for an

organization to be successful (Sharma, Lampley & Good, 2015). With effective

communication, every member of an organization will know their role and how they help

further the organization toward its goals.

Members of an organization function most efficiently when the tasks they need to

complete are explicitly stated. In completing these tasks, members feel as if they are

contributing to their organization and that their role serves a purpose. With purpose

comes job satisfaction within the members of the organization. Increased job satisfaction

leads to members of an organization being more willing to communicate both with their

peers and their superiors. Therefore, better organizational communication from the upper

ranks of the hierarchy result in better communication from and within the lower ranks.

Overall, this leads to a more successful organization (Sharma, et al., 2015).

When used in an effective manner, organizational communication is the binding

force of an organization. It brings together members of every hierarchical level with their

peers, subordinates, and superiors. It allows for the free flow of opinions and information,

which keeps each member updated on the goals of the organization and the tasks that

need to be completed in order to allow the organization to achieve said goal. Without

communication, an organization would suffer great losses to productivity and

profitability. Therefore, efficient communication leads to an efficient organization.

Organizational Change

Organizational change is the process of an organization moving from one state to

another. Many variables can impact change such as the external environment, the scale of
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the change, the commitment of members of the organization to the change, the leadership

style utilized by the leader of the change, the amount of planning before the change, and

more. Due to all of these variables, change must be managed meticulously since it is

unpredictable (Tkaczyk, 2015). Change management is the process of repeated analyzing

and adjusting an organization’s structure, direction, and abilities in order to adapt to the

constantly changing external and internal environments (By, 2005). If managers are not

able to adapt to their surrounding environment quickly enough, then the change has a

much higher change of failing (Onimole, 2017).

Since there are a plethora of factors to consider when enacting change in an

organization, there is a possibility that the change will fail. By definition, change subverts

sustainability and causes entropy and disorder, which can lead to the failure of the change

if not managed properly (Lowell, 2016). Failed change can lead to loss of financial

resources and motivation toward future change. Thus, it is important to ensure that

change will be successful. In order to have successful change, leaders must be aware of

multiple factors. First, change inconsistent with values of an organization will not last.

This is because values constitute the foundation of an organization. If the foundation of

an organization is not held steady, either the entire organization will crumble or the

change will be unsuccessful. Leaders must also know that resistance to change will

prevent its implementation. Lastly, change will be sustained only when it is implemented

into the daily routines of the members of the organization. If these factors are considered,

the change has a much higher chance of being beneficial toward the organization (Fox-

Wolfgramm, Boal & Hunt, 1998; Orlikowski, 1996).

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Change can come about in two ways. One way is through rational planning. This

happens when the upper ranks of the hierarchy notice a problem and plan out a way to

remedy it. The other way change happens is through grassroots movements. This happens

when the lower ranks of the hierarchy notice a problem and force the upper levels to

remedy it (Finstad, 1998). Additionally, there are two ways to view how change occurs.

The first way to view change is episodic. This interprets change as multiple distinct

events. A problem is noticed and remedied, a period of stability occurs, followed by

another problem being noticed and remedied. This view interprets change as discrete

events. The other view interprets change as continuous. Here, it is believed that change

never stops occurring. While there are times where change is more prevalent, there is

never a period of stability (Weick & Quinn, 1999). Furthermore, the change itself can be

broken down into its process and its content. The process of a change refers to how the

change is being implemented within the organization while the content is what is actually

being changed (Barnett & Carroll, 1995).

While change may be difficult to control, it is necessary in order for an

organization to advance itself toward its goals. Leaders of organizations must help their

followers understand the long-term benefits of change. People tend to only see how

change will impact them in the short-term. This causes a lack of motivation in employees

that will diminish chances of the change being sustained in the organization (Bess, 2015).

History of Organizational Change

The first occurrence of organization change happened centuries ago. As

documented in the Old Testament (664), after Moses freed the Israelites, he needed to
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develop an official social system to lead his thousands of followers. Moses implemented

a hierarchy that is similar to how many organizations today operate. The general

population of followers took up grievances with the person directly above them on the

hierarchy. Then, those grievances would get passed up the hierarchical rankings until

they reached Moses. This system allowed only a select few people to have access to

Moses. Thus, only the most important and urgent problems would be brought to his

attention (Burke, 2007).

Early research on controlling organizational change suggests that people cope

with change in a similar way to how they cope with grief. This is due to people grieving

the old way that their organization functioned in order to get accustomed to the new

routines. Therefore, people that needed help adopting the new methods of operations

were dealt with in a similar way to someone who lost a loved one (Welbourne, 2014).

Before any model of change was developed, six attributes of change were

hypothesized. First, change must be able to be implemented in the organization. Then,

survival and sacrifice must occur, where the parts of an organization that must be

sacrificed are selected. After the change, stability needs to be achieved by the

organization. The pride and reputation of the organization must be able to be held

constant throughout this change, or else people will lose motivation toward implementing

the change. The changes being made in organizations must also be able to keep the

organization unique from its competitors. Lastly, the organization must still be able to

contribute to society after the change is finished (Lippitt & Schmidt, 1967).

The first model of organizational change was developed in 1983. This model is

called the change-management model, which breaks down the process of change into
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four parts. First, there needs to be concern created in order to force members to mobilize

toward change. Then, the organizational members must develop commitment to the

change. After that, organizational members will begin to push for the change to occur,

leading to the last step, which is reinforcing and consolidating the new vision of the

organization (Phillips, 1983).

Models of Organizational Change

In preparing for change, an organization must first assess itself. The flaws of the

organization must be explicitly understood in order for anything to change. To figure out

what is wrong with an organization, leadership should look at the work setting, the

behaviors of organizational members, and whether the outcomes of the organization align

with its goals. Once the flaws are understood, a strategy for change must be implemented.

This strategy determines the process of the change. If a process is well planned, then the

change is more likely to be successful (Woodman, 1989). Before implementing this

strategy, the organization must ensure that it possesses the resources necessary in order to

complete the process of change. If there are not enough resources to implement the

change, then members of the organization will become stressed and are less likely to

meet the demands of their work (Noblet, Rodwell, & McWilliams, 2006).

Due to the potential hazards of change, multiple theories have been developed

with the goals of reducing the amount of uncertainty in change and making it more likely

to be successful. Most of these theories interpret change in one of two ways, as emergent

or planned. Planned change occurs when members of an organization notice a problem

and the management creates a plan to remedy the problem. Emergent change comes from
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when a problem arises that requires immediate attention, which prevents a plan from

being formed (Burnes, 1996). Early change models postulate that change occurs in three

stages: unfreeze, change, and refreeze. Here, an organization unfreezes from its current

state, implements the desired changes, then refreezes, only to unfreeze again once change

becomes necessary (Talmaciu, 2014). However, modern technology makes this method

of understanding become increasingly irrelevant. Due to its rapid development,

organizations must constantly be looking for newer, more efficient technology to aid

them in achieving their goals (Orlikowski & Debra Hoffman, 1997).

The four theoretical frameworks that the majority of these theories operate

through are adaption, evolution, metamorphosis, and revolution. The adaption framework

views change as happening continuously and incrementally. Organizations continually

make small adjustments in order to adapt to the changes in their environment. The next

framework is evolution, which suggests that organizations that fail to change will not

survive against their competitors. This framework is titled evolution due to its similarity

to the theory of natural selection. The metamorphosis framework focuses on changes that

are drastic within an organization. This type of change has the highest likelihood of

making the organization fail. The last framework is revolution, which emphasizes the life

cycle of an organization. Change causes the emergence, transformation, and subsequent

decline of organizations (Meyer, Brooks & Goes, 1990).

In crisis, change cannot be planned. This is due to the urgency of action created

by an organizational error. The stages of organization change during crisis are shock,

defensive retreat, acknowledgement, and adaption and change. Shock occurs when the

organization first is experiencing crisis. Due to the nature of crisis as being unexpected,
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members of the organization are left in shock when it first occurs. After that, the

organization retreats in order to develop a plan of action. In order to develop this plan, the

organization must acknowledge what initially went wrong. Only after these steps occur

can the organization actually change (Fink, Beak & Taddeo, 1971).

Van de Ven and Poole (1995) developed four theories attempting to explain the

process of change. The first is the life-cycle theory. This theory would fall under the

revolution framework because it postulates that organizations are propelled through their

life cycle by change. The next theory is teleology theory, which states that organizations

develop and change with their final goal in mind. Dialectical theory suggests that in order

for change to be successful, organizations must be able to find a balance between power

and stability. Lastly, evolution theory, similarly to the evolution framework, operates on

an understanding of natural selection, where favorable traits survive and organizations

that fail to implement these traits die off (Van de Ven & Poole, 1995).

Lippitt’s Phases of Change offer a seven-step understanding of the process of

change. An organization must first diagnose the problem that requires remedy. Then the

organization must assess the motivation toward change and the capacity for change

within its members. After that, change agents must ensure that they have the necessary

resources to complete the change. Next, objectives for the change must be explicitly

stated, and then the change agent must define their role in achieving the objectives. The

change must then be maintained in the organization, and once it is, the change agent

gradually lets go of their roles in implementing the change (Lippitt, Watson & Westley,

1958; Bold, 2011).

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The majority of planning for change takes place in developing a process for it.

The process sets up the actions of all organizational members and determines whether or

not the change will be successful.

Factors that Affect the Sustainability of Organizational Change

The element of change that is most telling of its sustainability is the attitude of the

organizational members toward the change. The lower ranks of the organizational

hierarchy often are the people actually implementing the change and ingraining it into the

organization’s culture. Thus, before attempting to implement change, it is integral to

assess the way that organizational members feel toward it.

Employees often come into an organization disliking change. This is due to the

fact that past experiences with change impact the way that change is view in the future

(Lau & Woodman, 1995). Therefore, an employee that has a bad experience with change

may automatically dislike any change proposed in the organization. However, it is still

important to help employees change their attitudes because a negative attitude has a

negative effect on motivation. If organizational employees are lacking in motivation, the

change has a reduced chance of being successful (Nelson, 2003).

The scale of change has a large impact on both the attitude toward it and the

sustainability of it. The larger the change is, the more likely the organization is to fail,

especially if it is an old organization. Smaller, more frequent attempts at change are both

more likely to be successful and more likely to be adopted by the members of an

organization. These attempts can be meticulously planned with a smaller chance of error

due to fewer variables impacting the change (Amburgey, Kelly & Barnett, 1993).
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Another way to reduce the scale of change is to have the people in charge of the change

be familiar with the organization. This holds especially true when promoting

organizational members. If a company hires internally, the new leader is already familiar

with the organization and the members are familiar with them. This makes it easier for

the new leader to implement sustainable change. A manager that is hired from the outside

is not familiar with the organizational culture or members, making it more likely for them

to fail if they try to increase employee motivation toward change (Zhao, Taylor, Seibert

& Lee, 2016). The one exception to this rule is if the person brought in has recent success

in implementing change in a top-level job. Then, they can use the strategies that they

utilized for the previous successful change in implementing the new change (Ndofor,

Priem, Rathburn & Dhir, 2009).

Another way leaders can increase the likelihood of sustainable change is if they

are open with their struggles in implementing the change. This allows the opportunity for

employees to give their input into the change, leading to them feeling more involved

(Gilmore, Shea & Useem, 1997). In addition, employees respond more to passionate

leaders. If a leader is strongly motivated to implement a change, then the other members

of the organization are also likely to become motivated. This leads to the change being

implemented both more rapidly and successfully (Damanpour, 1991). A leader must also

be present in order to answer any questions or concerns about the change that the

employees have. This makes the employees feel valued and allows them to do their job

properly. The former helps with motivation to implement the change while the latter

helps the change happen in the intended way (Bamford & Forrester, 2003).
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Job satisfaction also plays a large role in whether change will be sustainable. If an

employee is satisfied with their job, they are more likely to exert more effort toward

implementing change. Change requires work from every organizational member in order

for it to be sustainable. People that do not like their job will be increasingly unwilling to

exert this extra effort, making the change more susceptible to failure (Iverson, 1996).

Furthermore, increased job satisfaction leads to an increase in identification with an

organization. If an employee strongly identifies with their organization, then they are

more committed to ensuring the success of the organization (Herscovitch & Meyer,

2002). Thus, they pay attention to the process of change, attempting to guarantee that

every step of the change goes smoothly. An employee that is not as invested in an

organization would be focused on the results of the change rather than the process. This

could lead to that employee taking shortcuts in an attempt to achieve the results quickly,

which could cause the change to fail (van Knippenberg, Martin & Tyler, 2006). Another

way to increase employee identification with an organization is to align the values of the

organization with the values of its employees. Furthermore, a change must also align with

employee values. If it does not, then employees will not be as committed to helping

implement the change since they do not personally support it (Janićijević, 2017).

Managing Cynicism in Organizational Change

Cynicism toward change is natural. People operate in ways that conserve energy,

and one of those ways is through routines. If someone is used to acting in a certain way,

changing that pattern requires large amounts of mental effort. Thus, people avoid change,

and when forced into it, they are cynical toward it. This dispositional resistance to change
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must be managed in order for change to be successful (Michel, By & Burnes, 2013).

Furthermore, cynicism will not fade unless it is managed. If an employee starts out as

cynical toward change, then they will remain cynical through the entire process unless

their concerns are addressed (Seo, Taylor, Hill, Zhang, Tesluk & Lorinkova, 2012).

However, cynicism is not always bad. It forces the change agents to reevaluate the

process of their change. Also, ensuring that employees will be receptive to change will

increase the likelihood that they will adopt it.

Cynicism is exacerbated when employees believe that their organization is not

capable of implementing the change they intend to. Cynicism can also be increased if the

employees believe that they are not capable of change themselves. If employees do not

believe in themselves, then they will not try to change the organization as a whole (Holt,

Armenakis, Feild & Harris, 2007). Additionally, if employees believe their peers and

superiors to be incompetent, then they will not be committed to the change. Thus, an

employee needs to believe that change is possible in order for them to try to enact it.

Dispositional resistance to change exists because of the violation of energy conservation.

This violation grows even more if the employee expends energy to help change occur,

only to have the change fail (Goldner, Ritti & Ference, 1977).

Once employees believe that change is possible, one way to reduce cynicism is

through allowing the employees to take an active role in developing the change. If

employees feel like they helped in the development of the process for the change, then

they are more committed to its implementation. Also, employees would be more familiar

with the change if they help develop it, which reduces the risk for the change to be

implemented incorrectly Therefore, if employees are active within change efforts, they
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are more likely to be receptive to the change and implement it in their daily behaviors.

This helps embed the change into the organizational culture, which increases the

sustainability (Brown & Cregan, 2008).

The information systems present within an organization can help predict whether

change will be sustainable or not. If information is spread throughout the organization,

cynicism is reduced (Guimaraes & Armstrong, 1998). Information systems serve as a

way to familiarize all members of an organization with the process and content of the

change. If leaders do not explain the basics of the change and how to implement it,

employees will not be able to successfully help integrate the change into organizational

culture (Moran & Brightman, 2001). If information is spread well, unintended side

effects of change are reduced. Through the spread of information, leaders align employee

expectations about the change with the intended goals of the change. If people expect the

change to have different results than what the leader intends the results to be, two

problems could arise. First, people might implement the change with their own

expectations in mind. This could lead to everyone trying to change the organization in

different ways, thus leading to the failure of the change. The second problem could be

that people are unsatisfied with the results of the change and refuse to implement it into

their daily patterns, thus forcing the change to fail (Frahm & Brown, 2007).

Leaders must also be able to reduce uncertainty surrounding change. This

involves being present throughout the change effort and helping employees when they are

struggling with the process of implementing the change. Supporting employees is

essential to reducing their cynicism toward the change (DiFonzo & Bordia, 1998).

Leaders are responsible for instilling motivation in their employees and ensuring that the
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intended process for the change is being upheld as the change is being implemented. A

good leader will not only provide the organization’s members with motivation, but they

will foster intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation makes the employees self-motivated,

which helps eliminate the need for intervention from the leader. The leader should still be

present to help with the implementation of the change, but less work will be required of

them (Elias, 2009).

The style of leadership used by change agents is vital to the success of the change

and the reduction of cynicism. Transformational leadership is widely regarded as being

the most beneficial for implementing sustainable change. The more transformational

leadership behaviors exhibited by change agents, the less cynicism there is toward change

(Bommer, Rich & Rubin, 2005). Transformational leaders interact with every member of

their organization individually, which allows for the concerns of employees to be

addressed, thus reducing cynicism. Transformational leaders also are able to get their

followers to commit to change more easily due to the individual connection they foster

with each member of the organization. Openness is another common behavior of

transformational leaders. As discussed earlier, leaders need to be open about their

struggles implementing change. This allows for employees to give their input into the

change, which directly reduces cynicism (Herold, Fedor, Caldwell & Liu, 2008).

Due to change being against human nature, members of an organization are often

under large amounts of stress as the organization changes. This stress can cause physical

illness. People with higher levels of uncertainty in their jobs were found to have multiple

health ailments, such as raised blood pressure, higher cholesterol levels, and

psychological stress (Pollard, 2001). Furthermore, job instability has been directly linked
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to raised uric acid levels. If these high levels are sustained, cholesterol is raised (Kasl,

Cobb & Brooks, 1968). Instability in the work place has also been shown to cause

disrupted sleep patterns. If sleep patterns are continuously disrupted, an employee’s

capacity to work will be greatly reduced (Mattiasson, Lindgärde, Nilsson & Theorell,

1990). Conversely, people with more control over their job and less uncertainty were

found to have a reduced risk for heart disease (Karasek, 1990). Therefore, change can

have direct negative impacts on the health of employees, which is one reason why

cynicism toward change is so pervasive.


The existing research on organizational change has yet to create one theory that

addresses, explains, and predicts all parts of change. This is due to the vastness of

change. There are infinitely many variables affecting how change is implemented and

whether it is successful or not. Some of these variables are the external environment, the

internal environment, employee attitude toward change, the leadership style used, the

planning of the change, the scale of the change, and more. Since there are so many

variables affecting the successfulness of change, no amount of planning can guarantee

that change will be effective. However, there are some ways that organizations can

increase the likelihood that their change will be sustained.

First, an organization must figure out what the general opinion toward the change

is. If it is favorable, that will help greatly in implementing the change. The scale of the

change must also be considered. A large change has a greater chance of failing than

multiple smaller changes. Also, leaders should be open about their struggles with change.
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This allows employees to help improve the change, which reduces cynicism toward it.

Job satisfaction also plays a key role in determining whether change will be sustained.

People that are more satisfied with their job are more willing to work harder to

implement change. The organization must ensure that they are capable of the change they

intend to make. Failed attempts at change reduce the likelihood of future attempts being

successful. The information systems present within the organization must be effective at

spreading information to all members of the organization. Also, transformational leaders

are more likely to implement lasting change due to their openness and proclivity toward

forming bonds with organizational members. Lastly, the change agents must be cognizant

of the fact that change is against human nature. People will resist it, and the leaders must

be ready to deal with that.


One of the main caveats of this review is the fact that only English sources were

used. While some sources from other cultures were found, any source in a different

language could not be utilized. This is an issue because different cultures have different

norms regarding change. Thus, the way change is controlled would vary greatly.

Accessibility of sources was also a large issue. There were multiple interesting sources

that could not be used due to the fact that they cost money to view. Since there was no

budget for this review, no sources could be purchased. Lastly, time constraints prevented

research from being more in depth.

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Implications for Future Research

The field of organizational change has been fairly well researched. Multiple

theories have been developed throughout the years, and research is still continuing on this

topic. However, there are a few gaps in the literature. First, there are no studies directly

linking organizational change to health problems. There are studies showing that change

causes stress, and that stress causes health issues, but no study directly linking change to

health issues has been conducted. Furthermore, there are studies that explain the response

of organizational members to male leaders, but no study looks at whether change is more

or less successful under female leadership. Most studies do not specify the gender of the

leader, but the ones that do were constructed with data collected from male leaders.

Lastly, there are no studies that address how information disseminated through social

media affects the opinion of organizational members toward change. Due to social

media’s increasing prominence in many of today’s societies, this would become an

increasingly relevant topic of study.

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