The Examination of Change Management Using Qualitative Methods: A Case Industry Approach

Article excerpt

Despite the number of theories explaining the nature and antecedents of change, there is no consensus on a universally applicable model. Competing theories have been tested using deductive methods focusing on hypothesis testing. This study has utilized qualitative methods for collecting data within the sport industry to provide an initial understanding of change within that case industry Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 29 sport managers across Australian National and State Sporting Organizations and clubs participating in national league competitions. Interviews were transcribed and coded in a grounded interpretation culminating in a typology of change types. Results highlighted that Australian sport managers were inclined to be flexible in both their view of the origins of change, and its effective management. Key Words: Change Management, Sport Organizations, and Qualitative Methods


There is no paucity of theories describing or explaining change, its antecedents, content, and impact. Many of these theories have been cultivated after prolonged and rigorous qualitative field study, and paint seemingly accurate representations of the organizations that have been investigated. Subsequently, organizational change management studies seeking to test the veracity of such theories or metaphors for change within specific settings (Cooke & Szumal, 1993; Cousens, 1997; Fox-Wolfgramm, Boal, & Hunt, 1998) have tended to employ hypothesis testing, relying on the deductive verification of predetermined features or characteristics. If they are present to a degree of statistical significance, then the hypotheses may be confidently identified. This could demonstrate that a particular approach to change was employed within, or imposed upon, an organizational setting. The weakness of this approach to theory testing is that it can ignore the presence or avoid the collection of evidence reflecting other characteristics that expose the utility of other theoretical perspectives. This research seeks to use qualitative methods to investigate the importance of competing change management theories in the administration of sport in Australia. Importantly, the use of qualitative data means that conclusions about theoretical approaches are established inductively, and results can be compared to known characteristics associated with established theories, rather than beginning with these characteristics and searching for evidence of their presence.

The degree to which any of the well-established change management theories are applicable to the Australian sport industry is unclear. There are differences in both the study and the management of change across culture and industry. Indeed, what is meant by "change" can vary from study to study. Due to the inclusive, exploratory nature of this paper, George and Jones' (1995) generic definition of organizational change as the movement away from a present state toward a future state is employed here. This broad definition allows the greatest scope for recognizing change within an organizational setting, and therefore is ideal for this paper's purpose. In a turbulent global market the Australian sport industry has flourished in the past twenty years, navigating, among other things, significant shifts in global broadcasting stakeholders and methods, and local funding and participation issues (Westerbeek & Smith, 2003).

Notwithstanding a handful of pioneering studies in Australian sport (Skinner, Stewart, & Edwards, 1999), and the evidence accumulated overseas and in generic business studies, Australian sport change management researchers are largely beginning from "scratch." Thus, Australian sport management is faced with significant knowledge gaps: Generic change studies do not agree on the most fruitful theories for conceptualizing change, some providing detailed descriptions of change, while others emphasize specific prescriptive interventions (Ginsberg, 1988; Laughlin, 1991). …