Ambiguity and ambivalence: Senior managers' accounts of organizational change in a restructured government department

Julian Randall, Stephen Procter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Imposed change at work can present individuals with ambiguous events about which they experience ambivalence in their interpretation of meaning. This paper seeks to examine the dimensions of ambivalence as defined by Piderit among a group of managers in the public sector.

The research is based on a group of 20 Band 11 senior managers responsible for collecting tax and between them covering the UK in a business restructured into a large business group. The authors adopted a qualitative approach involving semi‐structured interviews seeking to uncover individual accounts of imposed change, allowing subjects to reflect on their experience of change and its meaning to them.

The findings suggested that long‐service civil servants and private sector managers draw on their previous experience to interpret the changes they experience, giving rise to different perceived ambiguity between rhetoric and reality. Each group either comes to terms with ambiguity by interpreting the meaning of change to fit in with their expectancies of change, or, in one case, do not reconcile the change which then becomes a point of resistance.

Practical implications
The case highlights the need for change agents to understand the full complexity of employee attitudes. Not only can a variety of attitudes be identified, but each set of responses can be understood in variety of ways.

The devil in the detail of imposed change offers both researchers and managers of change a significant source of information about likely individual and group responses to imposed change at work. Piderit's framework offers three dimensions of ambivalence which clarify different individual responses to imposed change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)686-700
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Organizational Change Management
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2008


  • change management
  • organizational change
  • employee Attitudes
  • senior managers
  • United Kingdom


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