Types of
change management

Change is a universal condition of every human. Though endless in its manifestation, an individual’s experience of change can be described as falling into one of just four types of change management.

Organisations, on the other hand, experience different types of change management – which you can view if you would like to discover what are the different types of organisational change. You can read more about the differences between Enterprise and Process change management here.

Types of change management - individuals

Man standing off to the right hand side in a suit, with the words 'Individual Change' on the left.
The tops of numerous coloured pencils. One yellow pencil sits higher than the rest. The word 'Exceptional' is written in the middle of the photo.
Exceptional change management – 

In ‘exceptional change’ an individual experiences an isolated event in their life. It causes a difference, it may be important, but it does not spill over into other parts of their life. Therefore, the impact is relatively limited.

Photo of floating stairs going up. The word 'Incremental' is written in the middle of the photo
Incremental change management – 

A fairly common change experience for many people is what is called ‘incremental change’. Often unnoticed at first, there is a persistent, gradual introduction of factors and ‘newness’. This may result in the complete replacement of a previous state with a new one. However, the insidious nature of the change means that defences to protect the old way are never triggered.

Photo of four hanging balls. Three silver ones sit together. A red one, on the left of the other three, has been lifted up and is about to hit into the three silver balls. The word 'Pendulum' is written in the middle of the photo
Pendulum change management – 

The third types of change management experienced by an individual is when there is a swing, often sudden, from one state to another. This ‘pendulum change’ can result in an individual adopting quite an extreme point of view that can be the diametrical opposite to what was held to before.

Photo consists of a field of wheat crops. A person's arms can be seen to the right, reaching out to make a rectangle shape with their hands.
Paradigm change management – 

The fourth and final type is the one most often discussed as being ‘proper’ change and is called ‘paradigm change’. This occurs when information, tasks and behaviours are, re-integrated and lead to the emergence of a new gestalt – a new belief and value system. It is regarded as the ‘gold standard’ for individual change. This is because when value systems of an individual are modified, the change is fully internalised and future performance and attitudes can be predicted with some accuracy.

Organisations, on the other hand, experience different types of change management. At one level organisational change is the sum of all the changes experienced by all the individuals in the organisation. At another, there is an emergent property to the change. It is as though through aggregation the change mechanism has taken on additional characteristics.

Organisational change is a slippery concept. Its meaning tends to metamorphose leading to confusion as the different types of change are confused together. People – senior managers and others in a company – may expect strange things from change agents, change managers and change leaders when the boundary between one type of change into another is crossed.

Types of change management - organisations

Picture of the top of a tall building. The words 'Organisational Change' are written on the left-hand side
Picture of a caveman in a wooded area. The word 'Evolution' is in the middle of the photo
Evolutionary change management – 

The most common types of change management experienced by organisations by far is evolutionary change. Evolutionary change has been around since organisations of people formed. It is called evolutionary change, because it arises through the process of natural selection. It is inevitable when small variations in performance, tiny adjustments or shifts in response by people and groups occur in a changing environment. Some results from this type of change will be random and insignificant. Some tend to accumulate as a continuous series of often minute impacts. These impacts alter what people do, how organisations respond, and with whom, in a gradual manner. As with biological evolution, most changes are too small to notice. However, when reflected on later, the distance travelled may be remarkable.

Photo of Cuba flag with silhouette in front. The word 'Revolution' is in the middle of the photo
Revolutionary change management – 

A second type of change is revolutionary change. Revolutionary change has also been around for a long time. It is usually experienced when organisations have change forced on them by external forces – sometimes welcome, mostly not. This type of change is typically accompanied by large power shifts, and on occasion the impact may be cataclysmic.

Photo of a clapperboard. The word 'Directed' is in the middle of the photo
Directed change management – 

The third types of change management is called ‘directed’ or ‘planned’ change. In the early part of the 20th century, Directed change was uncommon. Since then, it has become increasingly common in organisations over the past 80 years. Its incidence, despite its complexity and relative lack of success is rising steeply. It is called ‘directed’, ‘planned’, or ‘managed’ change because it is designed to achieve a specific purpose. Making this type of change happen involves moving the management and work force and the organisational culture into alignment with the strategies, structure, processes and systems to achieve the desired state (vision).

Types of Directed Change

Within directed change there are three different types of change management: developmental, transitional, and transformational. It is important to recognise that the different kinds of change require different strategies and plans. This is necessary in order to gain engagement, reduce resistance, and ease acceptance.

Photo of a baby wearing a bear hat to the right of the photo. The word 'Developmental' is in the middle of the photo
Developmental change management – 

In its simplest form, a directed change can take the form of developmental change. In this the business improves what it is currently doing: improving existing skills, processes, methods, performance standards or conditions are all developmental changes. Examples are; increasing sales or quality, interpersonal communication training, simple work process improvements, team development and problem-solving efforts. These are classic examples of continuous improvement, quality circle driven changes, and ‘enhancement’ projects.

Photo of an orange/yellow butterfly on a flower. The word 'Transformation' is written in the middle of the photo
Transformational change management – 

A third, and far more challenging type of change is called transformational change. In this, the future state though part of the vision of the future is not, and cannot be known in detail – much of the final state arises from evolutions – the outcome of trial-and-error as new information, new boundaries and new interactions are integrated. It is partly for this reason that programmes and programme management disciplines were developed.

Unlike projects that require predetermined outputs and outcomes and a linear trajectory of activity defined within a bounded plan programmes are designed to deal with ambiguity and to unfold a tranche at a time. As with delivery so with adoption of the change – though a vision and a strategy are fundamental, the actual change process, the sequence and content and timing of changes will be determined less by planning and more by the rates at which the underlying beliefs and value systems change.

This is a much more unpredictable and scary place than traditional projects and change planning is accustomed to working in. Emotion, as well as intellect, will determine success. This is because in transformational change there is no one-for-one mapping between the current and future state. A step change involving mindsets and behaviours, as well as influence and new relationships, has to be made by executives, managers and front-line workers alike. The future under this type of change is invented than inhabited, with leaders and workers changing their worldviews to make the required future, let alone operate in it. Examples are: complex mergers and acquisitions, the transformation of traditional channels of business to virtual and electronically-mediated one, and radical rebranding.

Photo of four different stages of a plant sprouting out of soil. The word 'Transitional' is in the middle of the photo
Transitional change management – 

Transitional change is a second form of directed change. It leads to the replacement of something already existing with something different that’s regarded as ‘new’ by the people involved. For the change to happen individuals have to emotionally let go of the old way of operating. This leads to the need for the organisation to dismantle the old while the new state is being implemented.

In transitional change the final destination can be completely visualised and in great detail before the transition. This means that this type of change is an ideal candidate for being delivered through a project and traditional types of change management tools. This is because the people are largely impacted at the level of skills and actions, with the deeper-lying cultural values barely affected. Examples are re-organisations, simple acquisitions, creation of new products or services that replace old ones, and IT implementations that do not require significant shifts in culture or behaviour.


Most change in organisations is either developmental or transitional change. Though important, without the shifts of mind and culture, the implementation of radically different structures, systems, processes or technology, it rarely produces the anticipated return on investment. Many large IT implementations are styled as transitional, but they fail because to get the true value requires a mindset and culture change, it requires people to share information across boundaries, or alters the power bases between group: and this just does not occur.

Do you agree with the types of change management we have identified, and do your change initiatives fall into these types – or do you have another type you would like to identify?