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History of Change Management

The development of Change Management can be explored in three parts:

Foundations, before the 1990s

Emergence,  in the 1990s

Establishment, the 2000s


Change Management originates from the early and mid 20th century. People began exploring how human beings functioned, including their communication with each other and their reaction to change. This interest in such areas prompted groundbreaking academic research into how humans experience changes.


From as early as 1909, cultural anthropologist Arnold Van Gennep investigated rites of passage. Consequently he viewed change in three stages: disconnecting from its original state, experiencing a shift, and assimilating into a new state. In 1948 social psychologist Kurt Lewin introduced a similar change methodology, also comprising of three phases: unfreezing, relocating, and refreezing. Likewise, in 1979 William Bridges created his transition model which was based on ending, a neutral zone, and a new start. These research cases gave Change Management a solid three stage structure.


It was in the 1990s when Change Management started to properly take shape within businesses. Many of the principles adopted during this time formed the fundamentals of Change Management which still exist today. Change Management developed its own terminology, and the role of people within change began to be discussed. New recognition of the people element caused an advancement in relationships between employees and managers. Also, the publication of books on change expanded in the 1990s, for example Daryl Conner’s ‘Managing at the Speed of Change’ which discussed a variety of change subjects and approaches, and Spencer Johnson’s ‘Who Moved my Cheese?’ which examined people’s responses to change.


The establishment of Change Management took place in the 2000s, whereby the foundations were built upon to create what exists today. In 2003 an integrated approach to Change Management was introduced as the first one of its kind, focusing on individual and organisational change tools. The ADKAR model was brought in to provide a structure for businesses to incorporate into their workplace. Also, Change Management specific job roles were created, and organisations began to devote resources for change purposes. All of this contributed to the mass evolution and growth of Change Management.