Change? Who? Me? Why?

“See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil.”

Question: Which two organizational development change theories to I like most?

Prevailing Organizational Change Theories

Good question. Asumen and Osae-Larbi (2015) conducted a critical review of the prevailing four organizational development (OD) theories: Three-step Model of Change(Lewin, 1947), Action Research Model (Lewin, 1946), Appreciative Inquiry Model (Bushe, 2011), and General Model of Planned Change (Cummings & Worley, 2009).  The researchers compared the strengths and weaknesses of each theory as outlined in the below table.

Table 1 Comparision of OD Models.PNG

Note. Reprinted from Asumeng, M. A., & Osae-Larbi, J. A. (2015). Organization development models: a critical review and implications for creating learning organizations. Eur J Train Dev Stud, 2, 29-43.

Specifically, Asumen & Osea-Larbi noted the below strengths, effectiveness, and weaknesses of each of the four models:

Three-step Model of Planned Change


  • A group-based approach to problem-solving
  • Focused on changes to group norms and routines instead of individual behaviors
  • Straightforward and focused on three steps: unfreezing, moving, refreezing
  • Underpinned by the idea that change is a process


  • Simple phased approached used for the development of other organizational change models


  • Overly simplistic, linear, and relatively slow
  • Limits its influence in complex and rapid change organizations
  • Ignores the impacts of feelings, experiences, and past input of employees
  • Focuses on employees’ behaviors rather than whole-system perspectives (p. 38)

Action Research Model of Planned Change


  • Uses a dual academic researcher/knowledge creation approach to problem-solving
  • Bridges gap between researcher-practitioner in the field


  • The most common approach used by OD practitioners because of documented successes
  • Offers both rigor and extensive organization member contributions


  • Underlying assumptions are utilitarian
  • Views organizations as problems to be solved
  • Demanding and extensive (p. 38)

Appreciative Inquiry Model of Planned Change (4-D Model)

Appreciative Inquiry Model of Planned Change


  • Focuses on appreciating the existing situations within the organizations and leverages these practices to create new ideas
  • Argues that positive reinforcements are the most important force for change


  • Well documented as successful
  • Has been instrumental in fostering positive change in both small and large organizations
  • Suitable for a variety of organizations including those in religion, medical, military, academic, and educational fields


  • Omits the important first step of critical change
  • Critical problem solving not well defined
  • Lacks clarification regarding problem-solving is of high interest to stakeholders and organizational leadership (p. 39)
  • Solely focused on organizational change while not emphasizing the need for group norm and individual change

General Model of Planned Change


  • Integrates the other three models
  • Attempts to fill in the gaps and create a bridge to what works best during OD
  • Fosters collaboration
  • Focuses on both problem identification and development of new and positive ideas and best practices
  • Provides clear guidance to OD practitioners on the activities necessary at each of its four stages to move the organization to the desired state (p. 39)


  • Proven effective at changing organizations at the systematic, group and individual levels


  • Limits discussions regarding organizational readiness for change
  • Limits the key factor of OD practitioner expertise, knowledge, skills, and abilities (p. 39)

Jennie’s Perspective

Back to the question: Which two organizational development change theories do I like most?

Of the four models, I like Action Research and Appreciative Inquiry most.

I like Action Research because it is planned to change through collaboration and focuses on joint problem-solving between practitioner and organizational members. The model assumes problems can be solved by gathering enough data to identify and address problems at their root causes. I also like that the model assumes there will be both planned and unplanned positive outcomes from change.  I also like how the model emphases the need for client feedback both before and after planned changes and how it promotes joint action planning.

I like Appreciative Inquiry because it takes the social constructivists’ approach to joint envisioning and reflection. Asumen & Osae-Larbi wrote appreciative inquiry invites organizations members to dream of what the ideal organization would look like the generate the ideas, theories, and activities it would require making their dreams come true. The researchers also mentioned that appreciative inquiry promotes the adoption of symbols and visuals to track change. Finally, I like appreciative inquiry because it tasks the organization’s members with making the changes with the OD practitioners plays the role of supporter and coach.

But, to be honest, which one I would chose would be based on the context and culture of the organization. For the “No nonsense. Get it done!” organization, it would be safe and reliable Action Research hands down. But, if I can see that the organization is really serious about making a change – Appreciative Inquiry – here we go!

i’m just sayin’ …


Anderson, D. L. (2016). Organization development: The process of leading organizational change. Sage Publications.

Asumeng, M. A., & Osae-Larbi, J. A. (2015). Organization development models: a critical review and implications for creating learning organizations. Eur J Train Dev Stud2, 29-43.

Johnson, J.L. (2019). Theories of Change. Unpublished manuscript, University of North Texas.

Martinetz, C. F. (2002). Appreciative inquiry as an organizational development tool. Performance improvement41(8), 34-39.

Scott, K. S. (2017). An integrative framework for problem-based learning and action learning: Promoting evidence-based design and evaluation in leadership development. Human Resource Development Review16(1), 3-34.

Waddill, D., Banks, S., & Marsh, C. (2010). The future of action learning. Advances in developing human resources12(2), 260-279.

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