The Human Side of Organizational Change

diverse group of employees meeting
Topic(s): change management, leadership
Publication: Personnel Psychology (2012)
Authors: M.-G. Seo, M.S. Taylor, N.S. Hill, X. Zhang, P.E. Tesluk, N.M. Lorinkova
Reviewed by: Lauren A. Wood

Organizational change initiatives have become increasingly commonplace in the modern workplace. Despite their increased prevalence, change efforts typically fail to achieve desired results. Although multiple reasons for change failure have been identified, researchers are increasingly taking notice of the role that the “human element” plays in the change process.


A few human factors have been identified as particularly important in the early stages of the change process: employee affective reactions during the initiative (i.e., positive and negative moods), commitment to the change, and the manager’s transformational leadership behavior. Additionally, these factors have consequences in later stages of the change. For example, they can impact continued commitment change and behavioral actions (i.e., support for the change, resistance to change, creative change behavior).

To examine the effects that human factors play in the success of a change initiative, the authors developed and tested a longitudinal model of organizational change. The results revealed that employee positive affect in the early stages of the change lead to increased employee commitment, support, and creativity in the later organizational change stages. Conversely, the opposite relationship was shown for negative affect – employee negative affect experienced early negativity impacted both behavior support for the change and continued commitment to the initiative. Additionally, employee commitment early in the change impacted behavioral actions and continued commitment to the change in later change stages. Finally, the manager’s transformational leadership ability was positively related to employee positive affect and commitment and it was negatively related to employee negative affect.


What can organizations do to ensure that future change initiatives do not fail due to the role of human factors? First, encourage managers to vigorously promote positive change experiences and attempt to diminish the effects of negative change experiences. For example, mangers should provide clear communication about the change and each employee’s role in making the change a success. Second, train and encourage managers to engage in transformational leadership behaviors such as articulating a change vision and supporting employee through the initiative. Finally, work to build employees’ perceptions of commitment to the change in the early stages of a change, because early commitment spills over into both increased later commitment and positive behavioral actions.


Seo, M., Taylor, M. S., Hill, S. N., Zhang, X., Tesluk, P., & Lorinkova, N. M. (2012). The role of affect and leadership during organizational change. Personnel Psychology, 65, 121-165.