The 12 Dilemmas of Change

The 12 Dilemmas of Change

Since the academic year 2010-2011, I have been participating in the different formats of the EMBA programme at ESADE. We are a pool of professors running the Experiential Learning Programme (ELP). It is a week of many activities, from culture and organisational dynamics to change dynamics and personal development.
During this period, many activities have changed or fine-tuned, and one of them is The 12 Dilemmas of Change, a consultancy tool that is very easy to apply in organisations to define and sometimes even discover the cultural profile.
Our director Prof. Dr Jaap J. Boonstra, shared it initially, which has been applied many times since then.
It consists of a survey able to define the “profile of change” of an organisation. Conveniently clustered, the results can identify differences in how each group perceives the company. The board of directors, the middle managers, a specific department or section, a country company or an affiliate have different perspectives. Hence different approaches must be taken to pursue the processes of change.
Once the aimed profile has been defined, it is possible to identify a potential focus of resistance and discriminate solutions depending on how far they are on each of the twelve concepts. All company politics are affected, including recruitment, compensation, performance appraisal, selection, training and development, and succession planning. This systemic approach ensures success by applying local actions within a general strategy.

The 12 Dilemmas of Change are:

  • Dilemma 1: How much openness towards approach?
    Solution-oriented versus Problem-oriented
  • Dilemma 2: How much participation?
    Presentation of final proposals versus Consultation and participation of personnel
  • Dilemma 3: How strongly to structure and formalise?
    Formal and controlled approach versus Informal and flexible approach
  • Dilemma 4: How much room for adjustment?
    Once-only linear process versus Permanent iterative process
  • Dilemma 5: How much time pressure and monitoring?
    Strict control of time schedule versus Time schedule dependent on process
  • Dilemma 6: Which change organization?
    Projected organization versus Emergent organization
  • Dilemma 7: Which process rationality to use?
    Economic and technical rationality versus Socio-political rationality
  • Dilemma 8: How standardised should change be?
    Uniform implementation versus Differentiated implementation
  • Dilemma 9: How to read resistance?
    An obstacle someone must take versus an expression of involvement
  • Dilemma 10: Involvement of managers and line leaders?
    Informed about goals, plans and duties versus Full involved from the beginning
  • Dilemma 11: How much openness towards units in own organization?
    Arrange internally versus External coalitions
  • Dilemma 12: How much participation of customers, business partners and public?
    Closeness towards environment versus Openness toward the environment


  • Boonstra, J. (2004). Dynamics of Organizational Change and Learning. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.
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