Stephen Jaros Stephen Jaros Southern University sjaros3@cox net Abstract

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Stephen Jaros

Stephen Jaros

Southern University


This paper provides a critical, narrative review of existing findings from the organizational behavior literature on the assessment of employee commitment to change initiatives. First, I analyze papers that have assessed commitment to change and attempted to link it to antecedents and/or outcomes, describing the hypotheses tested and the research findings. Second, I discuss implications of these results and provide recommendations for future research, focusing on the dimensionality of change commitment, its measurement, its relationship to organizational commitment, and its relationship to culture.


As markets become ever more global, de-regulated, and competitive, strategic adaptability, which often translates into the implementation of new goals and change initiatives, is becoming the norm for many organizations. Over the past 20 to 25 years, this fact of business life has made commitment to change initiatives more salient for managers and employees (Conner & Patterson, 1982; Armenakis & Bedeian, 1999). Managers who can get their subordinates to commit to new goals, policies, and procedures may stand a better chance of having these critical business activities successfully implemented (Kotter, 1996). Thus, as change initiatives have become more important to business, organizational researchers have begun to analyze commitment to participate in change initiatives, the idea being that employees who are committed to a change will put forth more, and better, effort towards implementing it. Indeed, as last year’s presidential election largely revolved around a debate about which candidate best represented a commitment to change the direction of the USA, shows, getting people to commit to change initiatives is a societal, not just organizational, concern.

Because this interest reflects relatively new developments in the business environment, the literature on this topic is of a more recent vintage than that of other foci of commitment, such as organizational commitment, or commitment to the union or work group, all of which have been studied for several decades (Cooper-Hakim & Viswesveran, 2005). Nevertheless, the literature has arguably reached a critical mass, if not for formal meta-analysis, but such that a narrative review of important studies and findings might be helpful to researchers seeking a way forward in advancing our understanding of how employees develop commitment to change and its impact on organizational outcomes. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to provide a critical review of existing findings from the organizational behavior literature on the assessment of commitment to change initiatives, the attitudinal and behavioral antecedents and outcomes associated with it, and recommendations for future research in these areas. To accomplish this, 7 papers are analyzed that provide a representative account of the development of the commitment to change literature, including the hypotheses tested and the research findings. The purpose of this part of the paper is to assist researchers who are not currently experts in the area, but are interested in the commitment-to-change concept and thinking about studying it, in getting up to speed with the key issues and findings generated and addressed by past research. Second, I discuss implications of these results and provide recommendations for future research in this area. Thus, the second part of the paper is intended to benefit anyone, expert or new to the literature, in crafting new research projects.


In this section, the development of the commitment-to-change literature is traced, with key developments highlighted.

Lau and Woodman (1995). This paper broke ground in the study of commitment to organizational change, defining it as a “specific attitude towards change”. Lau and Woodman studied university students and how they reacted to planned cancellation of a large bonfire ceremony conducted before a football game with the school’s traditional rival. The researcher’s goal was to identify the causes, not consequences, of change commitment, and they hypothesized that a student’s change schema, defined as a cognitive structure reflecting the individual’s sense of the change initiative’s valence, meaning, salience, significance, and their personal influence on it, would be the most significant predictor of how committed to the change initiative the student would be. They also posited that a student’s locus of control and organizational commitment would predict commitment to change, either directly or via change schema, as well. Commitment to change was measured with an 8-item scale designed for the study to tap feelings and cognitions about change, such as “I do not want to be involved with this change”, and “everyone should support this change”. The study reported an internal reliability estimate for this scale of .85.

Structural equation modeling (SEM) path analysis revealed that a student’s change schema did significantly and positively predict commitment to change (b=.16), fully mediated the effects of locus of control on commitment to change, and partially mediated the impact of organizational commitment (measured by the short-form OCQ) on commitment to change. However, contrary to expectations, organizational commitment also had a direct, negative impact on commitment to change that was even stronger (b= - .35) than the effect of change schema. This negative effect implies that students tended to view the planned cancellation of the bonfire as contrary to the organization’s traditions and interests, thus those with high commitment to the organization (as reflected in its values) tended to develop low commitment to the planned change.

Hartline & Ferrell (1996). This paper examined manager’s commitment to a new service quality initiative (MCSQ) as a mechanism influencing the behavior of hotel service workers. Their goal was to measure the impact that the hotel manager’s commitment to change had on the amount and type of effort they were willing to put forth to make sure that customer-contact workers under their supervision were implementing the planned changes in hotel service activities. Thus, unlike Lau and Woodman (1995), this paper examined outcomes, not antecedents, of change commitment. Another contribution was that the paper looked at the commitment-to-change of managers, not front-line workers. Also, whereas Lau and Woodman developed their own change commitment scale, MCSQ was measured with a modified version of the 9-item organizational commitment questionnaire (OCQ), an established measure of commitment to the organization, reworded to reflect commitment to service quality. The measure had acceptable reliability (.86), though CFA item analysis resulted in the deletion of 3 items that had non-significant loadings on the change commitment factor.

Substantive SEM analysis showed that, as predicted, MCSQ significantly and positively predicted two supervisory behaviors, use of empowerment (path coefficient = .43) and use of behavioral evaluation techniques (pc = .65), to influence subordinate activities. Thus, managers who were highly committed to the change were likely to employ these specific leadership tactics to get subordinates to implement the change.

Herscovitch & Meyer (2002). While Lau and Woodman and Hartline and Ferrell

conceptualized commitment to change as a ‘unidimensional’ construct, Herscovitch and Meyer

extended the three-dimensional logic of the Meyer and Allen model of organizational commitment (i.e., affective – commitment based on positive feelings; normative – commitment based on a perceived obligation to comply; and continuance – commitment based on the perceived costs of failing to comply) to the change initiative foci. They defined commitment to change as "a force (mind-set) that binds an individual to a course of action deemed necessary for the successful implementation of a change initiative" (p. 475) and used 6-item scales quite differently worded compared to the three Meyer/Allen organizational commitment scales. Three samples were analyzed from a preliminary validation study and two substantive studies of nurses drawn from a single hospital nursing association. The major hypotheses tested were that employees do experience three commitment- to- change mindsets, that commitment to change is distinguishable from organizational commitment, and that commitment to change would predict change-oriented behaviors better than would organizational commitment. This prediction reflects a “compatibility thesis”, in which commitment to a given focus is expected to predict behavior related to that focus better than commitments to other foci will. They also experimented with the notion that employees experience profiles of commitment, high and low combinations of the three commitments- to- change mindsets, and how these profiles would influence change-related behavior.

Across the three studies, Herscovitch and Meyer (2002) were able to show that commitment to change is (a) possibly a multi-dimensional construct (the commitment-to-change scales reported acceptable reliability scores, and CFA showed that when analyzed together, the 3 organizational and 3 change-commitment scales loaded on separate factors, but the model failed to reach adequate-fit on some fit indices), (b) that commitment to change, particularly normative-based commitment (NCC), was a stronger predictor of change-related behavioral motivation than was different dimensions of organizational commitment, and (c) there are some differences in how commitment to change profiles influence behavioral performance. However, the behavioral predictive utility of ACC was only partially supported, and that of CCC was not supported, and CCC was found to overlap considerably with continuance commitment to the organization, suggesting that perhaps employees do not distinguish between feeling “compelled” to support change and to support the organization. Thus, the overall results suggested that perhaps a two-dimensional model of commitment to change, or maybe even a one-dimensional model consisting solely of NCC, was more reflective of how employees actually experience it.

Ford, Wessbein, & Herrendon (2003). Unlike any of the previous studies, this paper studied both antecedents and outcomes of commitment to change, specifically police officer's commitment to a newly implemented community policing strategy. The authors hypothesized that managerial support (i.e., does the officer perceive that his or her manager is supporting the community policing effort, rewards them for doing so, etc.), job experience (does the officer have prior experience with community policing), and organizational commitment would each have a positive impact on “community policing strategy commitment” (CPSC), which would in turn positively influence community-policing related behaviors. Thus, unlike Herscovitch and Meyer (2002), who view organizational commitment and commitment to change as simultaneous mindsets and thus competing explanation for change-related behavior, this study, like Lau and Woodman (1995) posits a causal ordering in which organizational commitment is a cause of change commitment.

Ford et al. used the 9-item OCQ to measure organizational commitment, while CPSC was

measured with a 6-item scale (alpha=.89) written for the study. A CFA indicated that the CPSC items loaded together, as well as separately from the OCQ. The OCQ and the CPSC scale were correlated at .35, indicating substantial distinctiveness between them. SEM path results showed that as expected, CPSC did predict self-reported change -related behaviors, and that management support, job experience, and organizational commitment positively predicted CPSC. The study’s results suggest that work experience factors, such as supervisory support and prior experience with similar change efforts, are important determinants of commitment to a change strategy.

Fedor, Caldwell, & Herrold (2006). This paper addressed the effects of organizational change processes on employee's commitment to change and their commitment to the organization using a sample of employees from 34 companies. A key theoretical innovation was that this study conceptualized "change", at least in large organizations, as a multi-level phenomenon. The authors proposed that change initiated by top management cascades down the various divisions, departments, work units, and ultimately, jobs within an organization, having differing effects within and across levels, depending on the nature and scope of the change. Thus, they proposed that prior change commitment studies, which measured change at the organizational level and the impact of the change at the individual level, may miss important dynamics at the work unit or group level. Furthermore, Fedor et al. proposed that these effects are not necessarily equal in impact: change at multiple levels could simultaneously affect employee-level commitment to change, but changes in the employee's immediate work environment would be most salient to the employee.

To measure work-unit (group) level variables such as work unit change, perceived change favorableness to the group, and perceived fairness of the change process, the authors split their sample such that half of the respondents sharing the same group-level effects would provide group-level data. This controlled for same-source response bias. To calculate group-level effects, they computed Rwg scores to examine agreement among group members, ICC(1) and ICC(2) coefficients to examine the extent to which unit membership accounted for individual member ratings (% of variance explained by group membership) and the reliability level at which the variables differentiate amongst the groups. Commitment to change was measured with 4 items written for the study (alpha=.74): “I am doing whatever I can to help this change be successful”, “I am fully supportive of this change”, “I have tried (or intend to try) to convince others to support this change”, and “I intend to fully support my supervisor during this change”. These items were intended to capture commitment conceptualized as "intent to change", which they argued is more representative than Herscovitch and Meyer’s (2002) multi-bases measures, because of its “established association with actual behavior”. Fedor et al. argued that the Meyer and Herscovitch measures tap underlying psychological dimensions of change commitment – affective, normative, and cost-based factors that motivate one’s commitment to change, but not the commitment itself.

Also, instead of directly measuring organizational commitment, they measured "perceived changes in organizational commitment" (PCOC) with 5 OCQ items, modified to begin with "as a result of this change…” (alpha=.70). Commitment to change and PCOC correlated at fairly high .53, but Fedor et al. did not conduct a CFA to distinguish them or establish their factor structure. Hierarchical linear modeling showed that a group-level variable, change favorableness, had a positive impact on commitment to change, explaining 19% of the between group variance in commitment to change. Change favorableness also interacted with change level, both work-unit and job-level, to predict commitment to change (commitment to change was highest when change favorableness is perceived by the employee’s work unit to be positive, work-unit change level is high, and job-level change is low). This interaction term explained an additional 3.7% of the variance in commitment to change. Perceived change in organizational commitment was also predicted by the group-level change favorableness construct, and change favorableness and work unit change interacted to predict perceived change in organizational commitment. Thus, Fedor et al. found evidence that employee’s commitment to change is a product not only of how they personally perceive the change and how it affects their specific job, but by how the groups they identify with perceive it and are affected by it as well.
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