n South African Journal of Labour Relations - The process by which executives unlearn their attachments in order to facilitate change

Volume 39, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0379-8410
  • E-ISSN: 2520-3223



Unlearning an attachment has become a critical change competence for executives. Although attachment behaviour in the workplace is ubiquitous, there is a scarcity of empirical research on the processes executives follow in order to release their dysfunctional attachments to systems, routines, ideas, divisions and certain members of staff. By unlearning attachments, executives can embrace new concepts, methods and processes and thereby enable their organisations to be more competitive. This qualitative research investigated executives' experiences of unlearning an attachment, through the pre-unlearning, unlearning and post-unlearning phases. A de jure model was formulated from concepts that emerged during the literature review and this model was the basis of in-depth interviews with 10 change experts and 10 executives who had unlearned attachments. The executives and change experts shared real-life experiences during each of the unlearning phases. The findings informed a de facto model of the experiences of executives unlearning their attachments. This process model makes a theoretical contribution by depicting the major types of attachments, influences on, processes of, actions required by and outcome of the executives' unlearning. The model should contribute to change practitioners' facilitation of executives' unlearning processes and executives' insights into their own attachments.

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