Memory-based change management: Using the past to guide the future

Boram Do, Matthew C.B. Lyle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Scholars have suggested that individual change recipients affectively respond to change events but have yet to examine how change recipients’ memories influence those affective responses. Drawing from prior scholarship on memory, we propose that two theoretically distinct forms of memory – explicit and schematic – produce different forms of affective and behavioral responses when recipients process change events consciously or non-consciously. Given this proposed importance of memory to affective and behavioral responses, we then develop a stage model of memory-based change management, which we define as the managing of change recipients’ responses to change events through memory work. We theorize four discrete strategies – guided consolidating, schematic re-framing, contextual delimiting, and selective re-instating – that, based on recipients’ memory-based actions during particular stages of a change, would be likely to enhance positive affective responses and support for change. Plain Language Summary This paper explains how memories of organizational change influence affective and behavioral responses to ongoing change initiatives. We identify two types of memories related to change contexts: 1) abstracted, comprehensive schematic memory (i.e., “change is chaotic”) and 2) anecdotal, specific explicit memory (i.e., “I was demoted in a restructuring process last year”). We suggest that, when change events are highly ambiguous, schematic memories non-consciously influence employees’ general moods and a broad range of work behaviors which may or may not relate to the change (i.e., feeling unpleasant for an unknown reason and becoming less cooperative with coworkers than usual). When change events are less ambiguous, explicit memories play a larger role by eliciting discrete emotions triggering change-targeted behaviors (i.e., feeling angry at a change agent and confronting them about it). Since these responses are rooted in memory, we further suggest how change agents can manage affective and behavioral responses through four types of memory-based change management. We explain how during four stages of change – gestation, preparation, implementation, and aftermath – change agents can engage in guided consolidating (i.e., having recipients behaviorally engage in sharing positive experiences of change), schematic re-framing (i.e., framing a change as a continuation of past precedent), contextual delimiting (i.e., generalizing positive memories of change while isolating negative ones) and selective reinstating (i.e., having recipients selectively recall positive experiences in the recent change initiative), respectively. Our model complements existing studies focusing on the conscious, future-oriented processing of change events to provide an alternative view of change management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)306-331
Number of pages26
JournalOrganizational Psychology Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Aug

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported by the Yonsei University Research Grant of 2020 (22-0393).

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2022.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Applied Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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