Understanding and Coping with Change For many years, the world of business has experienced an increasing rate of change. Alvin Toffler (1970) predicted the trend several decades ago. Toffler also noted that people exhibit a natural tendency to resist change. This resistance to change is a major organizational challenge that organizations must learn to manage.
As individuals respond to change in different ways, and as variations in responses produce different outcomes the recognition of this resistance to change is an essential step in the development and implementation of effective change management strategies. Change, positive or negative, is unsettling because people seek stability. Certain individuals are more resistant to change than others, at times there can be situational characteristics such as a lack of trust in management contributing to this resistance to change.
Often this resistance to change is out of self interest, at stake can be factors such as income, job security, prestige, power, and personal convenience. Low tolerance for change, lack of trust in management, and self interest are all factors which result in resistance to change. However my experience suggests that lack of understanding of the need for change can be the single greatest contributing factor and is the factor which the organization has the greatest control over.
My current employer is in the process of implementing a major change in the organizational structure. Without going into too much detail the restructure involves changes to the pay structure and changes in organizational reporting . As is the case with most organizational changes there has been a great deal of resistance involved. Previously I had suggested that lack of understanding of the need for change can be the single greatest contributing factor and the factor which the organization has the greatest control over.
I believe that to be the case here, the organization has done an absolutely abysmal job in communicating what the changes will entail and why the changes are needed. As a result of this poor communication there is a great deal of apprehension and resistance to these changes. This poor communication has resulted in a lack of trust in senior management and an ever increasing sentiment that the changes are going to result in a reduction in pay and benefits. This protection of self interest is a natural eaction being that many of the individuals affected have been with the organization for several years. Over time a person’s investment in a company escalates as pension funds accumulate and the allowed vacation time rises, along with their chances of being promoted or enjoying the benefits of seniority, this is known as the sunk cost doctrine. This investment in the organization can in turn lead to greater resistance to change as the employee seeks to maintain the status quo (Patti, 1974).
Again it is imperative that the organization manage change through proper communications, detailing the nature of the pending changes and the need for and expectations of these changes. While this will not always ensure that all members of the organization agree with the changes or the need for them it will eliminated the apprehension that comes with the unknown. John Kotter of the Harvard Business School has built on existing models of change to create a more detailed approach for implementing change. Kotter began by listing common mistakes that organizations make when trying to initiate changes.
These mistakes include the inability of the organization to create a sense of urgency about the need for change, failure to create a coalition for managing the change process, the absence of a vision for change and the ability to effectively communicate that vision, not removing obstacles that could impede the achievement of the vision, failure to provide short term and achievable goals, the tendency to declare victory too soon, and not anchoring the changes into the organization’s culture (Kotter, 1996).
Kotter established eight sequential steps for organizations to use in overcoming and managing these problems. They are as follows; 1. Establish a sense of urgency by creating a compelling reason of why change is needed. 2. Form a coalition with enough power to lead the change. 3. Create a new vision to direct the change and strategies for achieving the vision. 4. Communicate the vision throughout the organization. 5. Empower others to act on the vision by removing barriers to change and encouraging risk taking and creative problem solving 6.
Plan for and create reward short term wins that move the organization toward the new vision. 7. Consolidate improvements, reassess changes, and make necessary adjustments in the new program. 8. Reinforce the changes by demonstrating the relationship between new behaviors and organizational success. The first four steps essentially extrapolate on the unfreezing stage. Steps 5 through 7 represent ‘movement’. And the final step works on ‘refreezing’. When I look at the organizational structure change my current employer is going through it is clear that they have made many of the mistakes Kotter discussed.
When reviewing the unfreezing stage the organization has not created any sense of urgency or new vision to direct change. As I have discussed previously the entire communication process related to these changes has been vague at best. The restructuring project is being lead by well respected senior management within the organization, however without the other components discussed respected senior management leadership of project is not enough to ensure its success. We are currently in the movement phase of the project, this phase has been filled with a great deal of uncertainty and apprehension.
Individuals within the organization are concerned as to what the end result is going to look like and ultimately how their self interests are going to be affected. The final step of refreezing has not yet occurred, so it is unclear if this project will ever achieve acceptance among the member of the organization. I believe that while the organization has made many mistakes in implementing this change it is not too late for this project to be successful. While to project is currently underway, or in the movement phase, I believe the senior management can take a step back, recognize mistakes made, and implement an expedited unfreezing stage.
A component of this expedited unfreezing stage needs to be recognition of initial failures followed by creating the sense of urgency and the creation of new vision that Kotter outlined. Without that I do not foresee the organization being successful in demonstrating the relationship between new behaviors and organizational success. Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. Patti, R. J. (1974). Organizational resistance and change: The view from below. Social Service Review, 48, 371–372. Toffler, A. (1970). Future shock. New York: Random House.
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