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Critical Analysis of article “Change Leadership: Case Study of a Global Energy Company”


In “Change leadership: case study of a global energy company” Malcolm Higgs and Deborah Rowland discuss the problems of successful change implementation within the organizations operating on a global basis, approaches to change as a phenomenon, the role of change leaders in the process of change implementation, leaders challenges in the process of change and effective change strategies. Higgs and Rowland give a review of the relevant literature making an attempt to summarize the suggested approaches to the mentioned problems, to examine and generalize all the view points related to the discussed issues. The authors suggest three main propositions referencing successful change implementation, the approach to change and the most effective leadership style and strategy. Further discussion in the article provides evidences and arguments to the given propositions exploring the case-study of the major energy company that operates in the global context. The study is based on interviews with leaders from various units of the organization, documents, employee attitude surveys and panel assessment of the effectiveness of the implemented changes. More general and universal conclusions are given after the conducted research.

Critical Analysis of article “Change Leadership: Case Study
of a Global Energy Company”

Discussing the possible universal approach to change and its implementation, Higgs and Rowland suggest examining change approaches relying on two main principles. The first one is ‘linear versus complex’ which presupposes admitting that changes should be predictable and all the consequences of their implementation should be taking into consideration, on one hand, and seeing change as a complex phenomenon, thus, the approaches should be based on ‘complexity theory’ and include ‘systemic thinking’ (Higgs, Rowland, 2009). ‘Standardization versus differentiation’ basis suggests implementing change in a ‘global/one-look frame’, on one hand, and setting the goals globally but implementing the changes locally, on the other hand (Higgs, Rowland, 2009). Based on the mentioned principles, in their previous studies Higgs and Rowland suggested the typology of change approaches including: ‘directive, self-assembly, master and emergent’ ones (Higgs, Rowland, 2009). The authors’ further research revealed that approaches based on a linear principle were not successful in any of the contexts; while ‘the Master’ approach combining complex and standardized principles was effective in the context of long-term change and ‘the emergent’ approach was efficient in the context of global and short-term change. The authors conclude that leaders should adopt change approaches within the different contexts their company faces. Leaders’ major decisions and actions should be related to standardization versus differentiation principles.

Discussing leaders’ challenges in the process of change which lay in adoption the changes to the corporate culture, the authors emphasize keeping the balance between the local values and ways of implementing change. To investigate the relationship between the leadership and various change approaches, the article offers Higgs and Rowland ‘groupings of change leadership behaviours’: ‘shaping behaviour’ (leaders design change, plan of actions and act individually); ‘framing change’ (leaders discuss change, plan or actions and act in relation to ‘the main principles of the organization’); ‘creating capacity’ (leaders combine individual and organizational forces) (Higgs, Rowland, 2009). Further observations revealed that ‘shaping behaviour’ could not be seen as the key factor in a successful change implementation, while ‘framing change’ and ’creating capacity’ worked well in complex contexts (Higgs, Rowland, 2009).

The authors summarize that global organization which faces the problem of effective change implementation experiences the problem of keeping ‘global or local’ balance within the change process, the problem of approach to change and change leadership behaviour dilemma. The authors offer a way out of each problem as well. Organizations should ‘balance core principles with local needs’ in implementing change to solve the problem of local or global strategy in change implementation process as stated in Proposition 1 (Higgs, Rowland, 2009). The approach to change should ‘recognize its complexity’ instead of adopting ‘a linear and sequential approach’ as Proposition 2 clarifies (Higgs, Rowland, 2009). Effective leaders should follow ‘Framing’ and ‘Creating’ models of behaviour to achieve success in change implementation, while ‘leader-centric approach’ will be less successful as mentioned in Proposition 3 (Higgs, Rowland, 2009).


The case study examines the experience of an organization ‘movement from an international to a global way of operating’ (Higgs, Rowland, 2009). The goal of this example observation is to find arguments or to reject the propositions given above. The study case is focused on change approach, leadership style and global or local balance within the process of change.

The results of the conducted analysis provided a degree of support for Proposition 2 which suggests recognizing ‘the complexity of change’ (Higgs, Rowland, 2009). Besides, Higgs and Rowland emphasize the simplicity of their model of change approaches and they point to the necessity of finding a compromise between global and local balance within the change implementation process identifying the so called ‘glocal’ approach as the relevant one. It includes the possibility to focus around core principles of the organization and allows to decentralize to support ‘local innovation‘ and competitiveness capability of the company (Higgs, Rowland, 2009). As for leadership behaviour best strategy, suggested in Proposition 3, it has been supported by the data of the research and its results. However, ‘Creating capacity’ strategy taken as the dominant one appeared to be the most effective in the process of change implementation.

The results of the case study data investigation have provided the core principles related to problem-solving and strategic management within the process of change and leaders’ decision-making skills.

Successful change implementation strategy should:

  • involve globalization in case the leader is sure in his business solidity and is able to estimate risks for processes and people;
  • establish global strict rules on early stages of the process and following them;
  • include feedback, listening and engaging people at local level to stay aware of the complexity of the situation;
  • balance ‘lateral connections’ with ‘vertical connections’ (Higgs, Rowland, 2009);
  • make leaders’ ‘choices and dilemmas transparent’ and shared with others to establish the atmosphere of trust and collaboration (Higgs, Rowland, 2009).

According to Higgs and Rowland findings, effective leaders should have the following skills:

  • team management skills to be able to work with team or individuals engaged into the change implementation process;
  • skills of establishing ‘networks within the organization’ to provide communication and learning ‘between the local units and the corporate center of the organization’ (Higgs, Rowland, 2009);
  • skills of designing changes in accordance with the core principles and values of the organization distinguishing them from those less important and relevant in the given context;
  • skills ‘to recognize the reality of the dilemmas they face’ and to make decisions according to the options available for them in this particular situation (Higgs, Rowland, 2009).

To my mind, action plan for change should start with leadership team establishing, as you should “address the “human side” systematically” (Jones, Aguirre & Calderone, 2004). The leadership team should include the key stakeholders and leaders from various units of the organization. The next stage should be change design and assessment of the change consequences. Jones, Aguirre & Calderone (2004) insist on change to be started ‘at the top’. Thus, change agents should provide support and directions for all levels of organization starting with themselves. Every individual innovation should be discussed and you must receive feedback from the staff and people who are engaged into the change implementation process. And only after analyzing this, the leaders should go to the next stage. Establishing cooperation between different units of the organization is a very important factor in the whole process of change. So, this can be solved by arranging small-groups workshops or round-table discussions with staff and administration of the organization. Change agents should be sure that all people engaged into the process of change understand the innovations, their role in the process and the consequences for them. Change implementation should proceed step-by-step. Thus, analysis and corrections are able to be done timely. The last step should include the analysis of the outcome of change process implementation.

Alternative action plan for change implementation within the global organizations may be started with communicating with the people who are going to be engaged into the process, starting from the low levels of the organization and finishing with the top levels respectively. This approach can give good results as leaders will be able to design changes based on the feedback from the staff from the very beginning. They will have an opportunity to take into account expectations of people who are engaged into the change implementation process. In my opinion, global changes may be first tested on small units of the organization. Analyzing them and receiving feedback from the participants will contribute into further global change process success.

Change process success depends on many factors including the approach to change, leaders’ behaviour strategy, wise balance between global and local character of change, while leaders’ skills and suggested action plan may perform the key role in the whole process and its outcomes. No universal approaches, strategies, behaviours and action plans related to change implementation process can be found; thus, all these components should be adopted to a particular context which the organization faces.



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