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Top‐down organizational change in an Australian Government agency

Neal Ryan (Southern Cross University, Tweed Heads, Australia)
Trevor Williams (Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia)
Michael Charles (Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia)
Jennifer Waterhouse (Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia)

International Journal of Public Sector Management

ISSN: 0951-3558

Article publication date: 25 January 2008




The purpose of this paper is to assist public sector organizations to carry out better change management strategies and thus achieve better change processes and also to provide a critique of top‐down change strategies, especially when employed by public sector agencies. Furthermore, the paper uses the case of one such public sector organization to highlight the need to complement top‐down change strategies with other approaches.


The paper used a three‐year longitudinal case study approach to ascertain the efficacy of top‐down change in a large public sector organization. Data were collected by means of a series of employee focus groups and interviews with key management personnel. This was supplemented by organizational communication outputs.


The paper finds that a top‐down change strategy needs to be coupled with other change strategies for change to become successfully embedded in the organization. Organizational factors and processes can limit the effectiveness of communicating top‐down change and prevent information from filtering through the organization in the expected way.

Practical implications

The paper shows that genuine consultation and meaningful two‐way communication must be established for top‐down change strategies to function effectively together with other techniques.


The paper complements previous literature on top‐down change and corroborates earlier findings. In addition, it highlights the vital importance of middle managers in communicating organizational change and the need to establish a genuine two‐way communication flow.



Ryan, N., Williams, T., Charles, M. and Waterhouse, J. (2008), "Top‐down organizational change in an Australian Government agency", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 21 No. 1, pp. 26-44.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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