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Attitudinal VS Structural: A Battle for Change

Written by Tyler Wetzel on Friday, January 17, 2014

Night streets


Most organization really don’t want to change. They resist it, and only change when it’s a last resort. Usually they are protecting the status quo, and are incredibly resilient. Just getting an organization to accept that it has a problem, much like an addict, is hard enough. Getting them into rehab and actually addressing the problem is a whole ‘nother battle.

Attitudinal Change

Classically, organizations that wanted to change would focus on using attitudinal approaches such as motivational coaches or programs that only temporarily solve the problem. Basically you are trying to convince people to be more efficient through the use of posters, newsletters, emails, speeches and videos. I am sure you know what I am talking about. They are usually boorish, full of company rhetoric and rarely leave you with anything else but lost time.

Basically you are trying influence a behavior with a particular attitude to foster change. Attitudinal change requires high maintenance and sustainability planning. Many processes that would be altered due to attitudinal forces are subject to reversal. They are not permanent. Due to a lack of commitment usually there are plenty of meetings to keep the management informed. The management has to be convinced that the rhetoric is yielding results. Usually with this approach data is not helping you make a decision so much as your intuition.


Management can heavily lean of these approaches when there’s a lack of financial assets to actually address the real issue, or they are simply avoiding it all together. It’s easy to put a bandage on a gaping wound; it’s much harder to actually perform surgery.  All this comes back to the main problem that most organizations don’t want to change.

Organization Change: The Resistance

Most organization resist change because they are either: striving to protect the status quo, favor activity over change, or they are forced to change because it’s a last resort. Most companies that are facing change will publish articles stating that it was because of customer satisfaction, trying to differentiate themselves in the market, or it’s a strategic culture change. In reality it’s in response to much more candid reasons such as: crisis, bankruptcy, followed competitor or industry lead (bandwagon), imported from new leadership, or in the process of gaining internal efficiencies (financial or productivity based). These are game changers, and often take more then a motivational campaign to fix.

So what can you do?  The key is to avoid programmatic change, or temporary campaigns (attitudinal approaches).

Programmatic Change

Programmatic change is very popular among companies. Often they are trying emulate other success stories (bandwagon, case studies, value books). What works for one company won’t always work well for you, especially when you’re basing your entire company on one incident. You can’t derive hard data and make informed decisions with only one example.

Companies also favor this approach because it’s easy to implement programs. They seem to be team oriented and are visible from the cozy office. Moreover, the leadership of the company can have little to no involvement. This is counterproductive.

All programs follow a cycle. There is an initial hype, then the program plateaus and eventually falls into decline. It’s effectiveness is only temporary.


There must be a better way to approach change. That’s where management comes in. Despite it being their responsibility, change can only occur when the entire company is in a state of reformation which can only come from the top level managers. The vision or company values may have to change in order to support a dramatic change. Changing an existing system or process will have longer lasting change then a program. Yes, it will take more research, work and resources but hopefully you will actually address the problem with a viable solution that will foster change and growth.

The chart below demonstrates the varying levels of commitment that organizations go through in response to change. As the image suggests, programs only touch on the first couple steps and fail to address any processes or functions that would be dependent on the management. The higher the commitment, the greater the chance there is for structural and effective change.


Structural Change

Essentially structural change is physical. It focuses on process improvement that is irreversible. Oftentimes the organizational structure is changed to reflect a redesign or change in leadership. Management should also be looking at long time horizons and strategic initiatives to create a sense of overall purpose and well-being. Formulating long term plans for restructuring requires commitment and dedication. It’s a large undertaking, and there’s always a risk involved.

This can be better understood with an example, you could either make all your employees watch videos about health insurance (attitudinal), or you could implement a health care system within your company (structural) to address the health concerns of your employees. In essence, you are creating a new “structure” to influence a “behavior” to bring about an “attitude” that will promote change. On the other side, attitudinal change focuses on creating an “attitude” that will influence a “behavior” which in turn will foster change.


Overall, attitudinal solutions require constant intervention, time and energy to maintain. Whereas, structural solutions are often self-sustaining. The table below highlights the main factors that separate the two approaches:

Attitudinal vs Structural

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