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Reflections: Ethics and organizational change–Time for a return to Lewinian values

Burnes B (2009) Reflections: Ethics and organizational change–Time for a return to Lewinian values. Journal of Change Management, 9 (4), pp. 359-381.

Over the last 25 years, much of the debate on organizational change has been dominated by the issue of power and politics. This has led to a decline in interest in Kurt Lewin's Planned approach to change, with its ethical basis and stress on democratic participation. Its place has been taken by the Emergent approach, which focuses on use of power and politics to bring about change. The Emergent approach was consistent with the free-market, winner-takes-all spirit of the last 25 years. However, this article maintains that we are now entering a new era where ethical and socially-responsible behaviour is becoming more important than profit maximization and self-interest. To bring about this change in behavior, individuals, groups and organizations will need to change their values. It will be argued that this can only be achieved if those concerned are able to change of their own volition through the type of ethical and participative change process advocated by Kurt Lewin. In order to make the case for a return to a Lewinian approach to change, the article examines the precursors to and the essence of Lewin's Planned change. This is followed by an examination of Emergent change and its implications for ethical and participatory change. The article concludes by arguing that the rapidly changing, profit-maximising and highly-competitive environment of the last 25 years may have been less than amenable to an ethically-based approach to change. However, in the next 25 years, the challenges of social responsibility and environmental sustainability are unlikely to be met without returning to the type of ethically-based approach to change promoted by Kurt Lewin.

Kurt Lewin; Planned change; Emergent change; ethics; values; social responsibility

Journal of Change Management: Volume 9, Issue 4

Author(s)Burnes, Bernard
Publication date31/12/2009
Publication date online07/12/2009
PublisherTaylor and Francis
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