Why Organizational Change Fails: Robustness, Tenacity and Change in Organizations

Why Organizational Change Fails: Robustness, Tenacity and Change in Organizations

Why Organizational Change Fails: Robustness, Tenacity and Change in Organizations

Why Organizational Change Fails: Robustness, Tenacity and Change in Organizations


Change in organizations can arise spontaneously, or it can begin in response to a planned process of change. Even planned change is not as predictable as one might like it to be; it is often partial or incomplete, or the results of change may not be what one hoped. The aspects of an organization that resist change can be vital to an organization's success, helping to keep it firm, stable, and robust.

Why Organizational Change Fails aims to make change managers and OD consultants sensitive to signals of the robust part of an organization, helping them to see something different than they usually see: signs of change. The authors distinguish two aspects of stability in organisations: robustness and tenacity. Robustness is the ability of organisations to remain stable under changing conditions. Tenacity is the reaction of a robust system to planned change. Each of these aspects has its own unique qualities and value within organizations. In the book, the authors describe three aspects of robustness: social, cognitive and political. They also describe healthy and unhealthy forms. Tenacity is described in three patterns: bouncing back, smothering and calculating.

Each chapter of the book is preceded by an essay written by a leading scientist designed to help provide real-world context for the process of change and offering insights for the reader on either side of the change equation.


This book was originally published in the Netherlands in 2008. Since then, we have noticed that our insights regarding the difficulty of change also struck a chord with colleagues from other parts of the world. This gave us the idea of translating the book and making it accessible for an international audience, and you have the result of this process in front of you now.

Since the publication in Dutch, three years have passed and a lot has happened surrounding our book. Our thinking on the subject has also developed and gained more depth. But it still revolves around the core that we described three years ago: the idea that organizations have a robust center, which serves as a kind of immune system protecting them against planned changes that are too rash and too far beyond the organization’s own system.

Paul Valens made the following comments on the book at www.managementsite.nl:

The breadth of the questions Van ‘t Hek and Van Oss touch upon is considerable,
both in terms of themes and practical illustrations. But owing to their consistent
system of observation and description, this is not a problem at all. As in Geert
Mak’s Jorwerd
you quickly get used to making considerable leaps of a geograp
hical, historical, business-related and theoretical nature. Within the space of 155
pages we spend time with an action group, the Netherlands’ Directorate-General
for Public Works and Water Management, our own families, the paper manufactu
rer Van Gelder Papier, typewriters in 1873, the French revolution, Vladimir Putin,
a candy factory, a housing corporation, a ministry, a Chamber of Commerce, a
major supermarket chain, and a council of Mayor and Aldermen. We also join ope
rational managers on an away day. And we make some notable forays into the
literature: Books you may have read in a cursory way are concisely and clearly

1 With thanks to UvA Talen, and especially Sarah Welling for translating the manuscript.

2 Geert Mak is a historian who connects great historical events to the reality of ordinary lives that form part of that larger history. Jorwerd: The Death of the Village in Late C20th Europe (Harvill Press, 2000) is a good example of this method.

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