Organisations are highly specialized systems and people working within the organisations are generally cynical to change in the work environment as they don’t want to get into uncharted territory. It is the natural tendency of human beings to live in their comfort zone and no one likes to be comfortable being uncomfortable even for a short duration (during the change process).
But, for organisations to survive and succeed in the current environment change is no longer optional. Organisations have to learn to love change to stay ahead of competition.
- An overview of change management
Definition – Change management is about moving from one state to another, specifically, from the problem state to the solved state (Jung, 2001).
But, the organisational terminology for change management can be varied and ‘change’ may be used under different terms. E.g. when a company talks about re-engineering, restructuring, promoting cultural transformation, or keeping pace with the industry, then it is talking about change. Lewin (1951) conceptualized that change can occur at three levels.
- Change in the individuals who work in the organisation – that is their skills, values, attributes, and eventually behaviour. Leaders have to make sure that such individual behavioural change is always regarded as instrumental to organisational change.
- Change in the organisational structures and systems – reward systems, reporting relationships, work design and so on.
- A direct change in the organisation climate or interpersonal style – dealing with people relationships, conflict management and the process of decision making. (Leonard et al., 2003, cited in Mabey & Mayon-White (ed))
Change can be further classified as planned and emergent. When change is deliberate and is a product of conscious reasoning and actions is supposed to be planned. Emergent change is a direct contract to this and unfolds in an apparently spontaneous and unplanned way.
- Drivers of change
Change is mostly driven by circumstances and always takes place with a particular goal in mind. Some of the common drivers of change are, to keep pace with the changing environment, to beat competition, technological changes to improve process efficiency etc.
No matter what the driver for change is, the goal of the whole process is to lead the organisation into a future state which is different from the current state under which the organisation operates. (Nicols, 2006) The scope and scale of change can vary. E.g. Change can be limited a particular department (operations, marketing etc.) or it might affect the whole organisation, it might relate to only a group of people or might affect every employee in the organisation.
- Initiators of change
Irrespective of its nature, change has to be initiated, driven and implemented by someone. This is where leadership fits into the change management process. It has been found that organisations that have been successful in coping with change have strong leadership that guides the team through a series of initial steps that set the stage for success (Nadler, 2001). Leaders are responsible for bringing about change in a staged and planned manner.
Dirks (2000) points out that change has to be instigated and it is the leader who instigates the change by his vision and persuasion. Nadler, Thies and Nadler (2001) suggest that, for effective change to occur, and in particular cultural change, there is no substitute for the active engagement of the leadership and executive team.
Top leaders must assume the role of chief architect of the change process. Cartwright and Cooper (1993) take this one step further by suggesting that it is important that employees at all levels become involved in the change process. Jung (2001) also views managers as playing key roles in developing, transforming and institutionalizing organisational culture during the change process.
For managing an organisation wide change, the leadership has to possess an unusually broad and finely honed set of skills. It needs to have a clear sense of mission and delegate task effectively to build a whole team of ‘change agents’. The structure of the organisation needs to change to one with less internal bureaucracy.
Hatch (2000) suggests that the implementation of any change process often flounders because it is improperly framed by top management. The key to choosing the right approach to change is thus to keep in mind how organisations function. As social systems comprising work, people, formal and informal systems, organisations are inherently resistant to change and designed to neutralize the impact of attempts at change (Chemers, 2001). Leaders play a critical role in selecting and planning appropriate change
- Reluctance to organisational change
Gofee and Jones (2001) point out that the reluctance to organisational change from employees and other staff is primarily due to the way change is implemented and the abilities of the leader in bringing about the change rather than the nature of change itself. Bridges (1991) believes that it isn’t the actual change that individuals resist, but rather the transition that must be made to accommodate the change.
Organisational change entails change in the work process, culture and the nature of an employee’s working conditions. Psychologists believe that resistance to change is because of people being afraid of the unknown. During times of change, it is important that the leaders of the organisation create an atmosphere of psychological safety for all individuals to engage in the new behaviours and test the waters of the new culture after the change has been implemented.
- Approaches to change
Change can be classified in a number of ways. The categorization depends on the extent of the change and whether it is seen as organic (often characterized as bottom-up) or driven (top-down). Ackerman’s change classification segregates change into
Developmental change – may be either planned or emergent; it is first order, or incremental. It is change that enhances or corrects existing aspects of an organisation, often focusing on the improvement of a skill or process. (Ackermann, 1997)
Transitional change – seeks to achieve a known desired state that is different from the existing one. It is episodic, planned and second order, or radical. Transformational change is radical or second order in nature. It requires a shift in assumptions made by the organisation and its members. Transformation can result in an organisation that differs significantly in terms of structure, processes, culture and strategy. It may, therefore, result in the creation of an organisation that operates in developmental mode – one that continuously learns, adapts and improves. (Mabey & Mayon-White (ed), 2003)
- Implementing change
It is widely believed that the way an organisation adapts to change is fundamental to its success. In an ever increasing competitive environment, change is ubiquitous and the way employees respond to change (resistance/acceptance) has been identified to play a vital role in the change management process. Managing organisational change requires more than reengineering and restructuring systems and processes. It requires managing the human responses that accompany any organisational change (Darwin et al., 2002).
For its smooth implementation, the change management process has to be carefully planned and the onus is on the leader to ensure a hassle free implementation through effective and sensible planning, confident and effective decision-making, and regular, complete and timely communication with the employees (Simon & Newell, 2006). Factors such as organisation culture, structure of the organisation, bureaucracy, employee attitudes, business model etc. also play their part in implementing change.
- Skills needed for effective change implementation
Authors like Nadler and Thies (2001) have stressed on the importance of problem solving within the change management process and argue that change can only be effectively implemented by good problem solvers. Managing change is seen as a matter of moving from one state to another, specifically, from the problem state to the solved state therefore diagnosis of problems at each stage and coming out with a solution to those problems plays a big part in the change management process (Champy, 2005).
- Implementation difficulties
Bringing about major change in a large and complex organisation is a difficult task. Policies, procedures and structures need to be altered. Individuals and groups have to be motivated to continue perform in the face of major turbulence. It is not surprising, therefore, that the process of effectively implementing organisational change has long been a topic that both managers and researchers have pondered (Nadler, cited in Mabey and Mayon-White, 2003).
Beer et al. (2003) believe that most change programs don’t work because they are guided by a theory of change that is fundamentally flawed. The problem with most company-wide change programs is that they address only one or two the crucial factors (coordination, teamwork, commitment, structure of the organisation, organisation culture)
- Change Management Strategy
As a part of the strategy, a feasibility analysis needs to be done to assess whether the change the organisation is looking to bring about is feasible considering the present state of the organisation (Huy, 2002). Organisational configurations need to be assessed before deciding on the proper change management strategy.
Change management is a three pronged strategy: transform, reduce and apply. Before the change process is drafted, it is the responsibility of the change initiator / leader for assessing the difference between the current state of affairs and the state accomplished after the change process which Haslam & Platow (2001) terms as the transform state. This is an assessment stage which requires the leaders to assess the goals. After goal assessment, the strategy should be to try to determine ways to narrow the gap through the change process (reduce stage) and subsequently delegate responsibility to play operators (like divisional heads and other departmental leaders) to actually effect the elimination of these differences.
During the change implementation process, the leader should play a key role, firstly, in the identification of the changes necessary to produce the required outcomes and then to put an implementation process in place to bring about those changes.
Champy (2005) believes that the leader is the one responsible for the how, what and why of the change process. It is the leader who should be responsible for identifying how the changes can be effectively implemented with least resistance from employees by taking into consideration the organisation structure and culture. Communication should also form a part of the change management strategy. The change initiator and implementer have to play the role of an effective communicator to inform the employees of the reasons behind the changes.
It has to be remembered that organisations change is always brought about by team work and the change process requires frequent communication with all the members of the organisation. Leadership approach should be to address resistance through increased and sustained communications and education. As a part of the strategy, employees should be encouraged to express their ideas and concerns with regards to the change.
Change management should start with the change manager mobilizing commitment to change through joint diagnosis of business problems. A shared vision of how to organize and manage competitiveness needs to be developed. Consensus has to be fostered for the new vision. Once there is a consensus, leaders and change agents should have the competence to enact it and the cohesion to move it along. The change management process and the strategy have to revitalize all departments without pushing change from the top. As a part of the implementation strategy, the leader should monitor and adjust strategies in response to problems in the revitalization process.
Also, all too often change agents try to completely change the culture of the organisations within the change management process. The strategy should be to try to control the culture rather than influence it. Leaders don’t have to drive the change but supervise it. Change has to be implemented and driven by the people who get affected by the change. Mumford et al. (2002) point out that the reluctance to organisational change from employees and other staff is primarily due to the way change is implemented and the abilities of the leader in bringing about the change rather than the nature of change itself. Changing the culture of an organisation should be a gradual transformation process.
Change management strategy should ensure that much of the task is delegated to the departments and leadership is mainly concerned in coordinating between the departments. It has to be made sure that the departments understand the importance of change through their effective, timely and regular communication. Departmental heads should be made to realize the importance of establishing a sense of urgency and enthusiasm about the change. Change should never try to be rushed.
Communication between organisational members, at all levels, from management and among peers, should be a major priority in any change process. A feeling of ‘No Consultation’ occurs among employees is they are not properly communicated; therefore ‘consultative’ leadership should be followed during the change process. Transparency and trust also form a very important part of the change management process.
As a part of the change management strategy, leaders need to select carefully the method or approach to be used to manage the change process and develop a new culture following the change. They have to establish effective channels of communication which involve individuals at all levels of the organisation to inform individuals of the stages to be followed and to outline clearly outcomes for them.
Above all, they need to lead in a positive manner, recognizing that change is an emotive process and people need to be ‘changed’ with dignity by acknowledging contributions and justifying the reasons for them personally to move on.
Word of caution – Even though, bringing about a change is important for organisations to stay competitive in the global market environment, organisations have to bear in mind that they don’t thrust change on their employees. The infrastructure for implementation of change management has to be ready before the implementation. The change process has to be correctly configured and the need for change has to be clearly communicated to the employees who will be affected by it.
An organisation is a complex entity and bringing about a change is an equally complex ordeal. Orchestrating a companywide change process is a delicate balance which requires able leadership. Effective leader make the change process easy for themselves and the organisation. But, playing a leadership role within the change process is far from easy.
- Not only do leaders have a responsibility to lead, but as an employee they have to deal with change themselves. Therefore, it is very important for leaders themselves to understand the benefits of the change process and how change is going to be implemented. They shouldn’t get wrapped up in bringing about the change just for the sake of changing.
- Planned implementation of the change process is utmost important. Change should not be imposed on the employees without proper planning and consideration given to the organisation culture. Planning requires coordination and leaders need to coordinate between departments to successfully plan the change.
- Organisations should not try to change too much too soon and need to take a staged approach to change. Change should be a well thought process and implemented in a planned and systematic manner.
- Everyone in the organisation should be adequately informed and listened to before embarking on the cultural change process. Finkelstein & Hambrick (1996) point out that the task of change management is to bring order to a messy situation, not pretend that it’s already well organized and disciplined and leadership is hugely responsible for bringing that semblance of order.
- Companies also need to have the right approach and mind step to deal with the change process. Successful organisations drive change rather than being driven by the change. Although, the strategic decision to change comes from the top management but the implementation should always be a bottom up process. HP’s didn’t get either of those decisions right; its decision to change came too late (when Dell had already gained ground and had the first over advantage) due to which it tried to impose the change from top down.
It is worth mentioning that change management strategy adopted is also reliant on the type of organisation. Different organisations may need to approach change differently and the type of change management approach adopted should be consistent with the objectives of the organisation and its situation. For example, an organisation whose future depended on improving customer service should, logically, adopt a change model focused on improving processes that have a direct bearing on that objective and removing obstacles that prevent its achievement. This is because; a disjunction between the objective and the mechanism would result in untoward or unwanted results.
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