Change Management: Sequential vs. Complex

Sequential change

What is a long vs short time depends of economic factors, industry forces and competitive conditions. Under sequential change, what we see is a chain of activities with movements to the next activity determined by analysis or outputs at a prior activity in the process.

Large problems must be reduced to smaller, more manageable proportions. Also one element in the change could include a small number of times or issues being considered simultaneously.


  1. It’s methodical and paced
  2. The step by step process allows managers to celebrate success and reduce resistance to change
  3. The success of the first stages in the process can be used to win over doubters who were originally against the change initiative
  4. Positive results affect buy in and ownership in positive way
  5. Sequential changes allow for clear cause-effect analysis
  6. Coordination and learning are thus easier to achieve
  7. Sequential interventions allows for incremental investments of time and money
  8. Small portions of an investment can be done with a minimal risk, lowering the overall risk profile


  1. Sequential changes take time
  2. Transitions must be managed
  3. Sequential changes might be boring
  4. Exogenous forces and organizational capabilities change

Complex change

If leaders of large-scale feel that time available is short, than complex change is the result. With complex change, the strategic problem facing the organisation is large.

However, complex change should be avoided. Unless it is absolutely inevitable, complex change is difficult and dangerous, often resulting in poor management and failed execution. The only way to make complex change work is to reduce its complexity.


  1. High speed, large problems are controlled quickly
  2. Complex change is exciting


  1. Coordination and control are difficult
  2. Cause-effect clarity is low
  3. Learning suffers
  4. Certain performance criteria must be relaxed, and managers can not beheld accountable for them

Read more about 6 steps for effective change management

Further reading: Lawrence G. Hrebiniak. Making Strategy Work: Leading Effective Execution and Change. Wharton School Publishing, 2005.

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