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Reframing the Organization and the Role of a Change Agent

Change management is a comprehensive effort to lead an organization through transformation. It is a structured approach to transitioning individuals, teams, and organizations from a current state to a desired future state. Most importantly, the transformation effort must be actively led and managed with a clear set of objectives and an agreed plan for achieving these objectives. This process can be unnerving to employees if communication it not used wisely. Effective change management is important for the growth and development of the organization and for ensuring employees are properly engaged and informed throughout the process. Change management is a critical part of any project that leads, manages and enables people to accept new processes, technologies, systems, structures and values. My paper will educate the reader on the process of change management and the role of the change agent. Finally I will discuss the steps for reframing the organization.

Change management considers the individuals and teams behavior and attitude during the change transition as well as the culture. Changes not only affect people it could affect the business processes, technology implementation or any other policies Change management is a systematic approach to dealing with change, both from the perspective of an organization and on the individual level. A somewhat ambiguous term, change management has at least three different aspects, including: adapting to change, controlling change, and effecting change. A proactive approach to dealing with change is at the core of all three aspects. For an organization, change management means defining and implementing procedures and/or technologies to deal with changes in the business environment and to profit from changing opportunities.

Many people are interested in answering the question: How much change is too much change? Webster defines change as to make different in some particular, to make radically different or to give a different position, course, or direction. Isn’t this the perfect environment for most cutting-edge companies? I am a supporter of change however; companies who change often may sometimes be operating in a state of chaos. It is best to take a strategic approach when initiating the change process in an organization structure. The key is a well defined strategic plan and great leadership at the executive level; this is fundamental during change management. It is the positive catalyst for keeping an organization on task during the chaotic moments.

Almost every company will face the need to change due to the need for a culture change, competitive pressures, economic challenges, or skills shortages. Two-third of all organizations have experienced some type of change in the past year, whether it is a merger, acquisition, or downsizing initiative. Less than half of employees say that change is implemented well.

A company periodically needs to mix it up a bit. Restructuring gets people to start forming new networks, making the organization as a whole more creative. The most successful organizations not only master the art of change; they demonstrate an understanding and acceptance of change as a constant. Fortune’s “World’s Most Admired Companies” research specifically examined how 18 world-class corporations handled change. Notable similarities were revealed. In approaching major transformations, successful firms:

Vision was defined. They got consensus at the highest level about when they wanted the company to be in the very near future

They sought to understand the behavior in as many ways as possible through systems, staff, structure and processes in order to drive and reinforce the change

They devised a plan to systemically measure what they were trying to change

They ensured that their basic human resources practices, reward systems, career development systems, selections procedures, performance management strategies and leadership styles supported the new direction

What differentiates successful firms from the rest? They make sure everybody leaves a meeting with the same priorities in mind. Until agreement is reached, it is practically impossible to allocate the sense of urgency to specific issues. Research has shown how difficult it is for an organization to gauge its distance from its target. One study by the Hay Group, in which executive teams ranked 56 internal cultural elements to form snapshots of both desired and current cultures, found that 9 out of 10 executive teams were more divided on defining their culture than in describing future cultural priorities.

Cultural change is enormous. It can feel very uncertain. That is why it is so important for a company to identify precisely what it is that it seeks to change. Change is good for an organization it disrupts all the routine in an organization that collectively stifle innovation and adaptability. Restructuring breaks up the outdated power structures that may be quietly misdirecting a company’s resource allocation like silos. However without proper planning the process can be catastrophic. Over time, informal networks mirror formal structure, which is how silos develop. Silos can be considered as specific department being incapable of reciprocal operation with other, related departments within one organization. The expression is typically applied to teams where the focus is inward and information communication is vertical. In some silos managers serve as information gatekeepers, making timely coordination and communication among departments difficult to achieve, and seamless interoperability with external parties impractical. Employees are also guilty of hoarding information. Both managers and employees consider this a form of job security. The problem with silos is that communication and collaboration tend to become trapped in specific business units or departments. Change will break down these silos creating a better company. Breaking down the silos is so important because the longer things are done a particular way, the harder it is to adapt to when change is required.

Successful adaptation to change is as crucial within an organization as it is in the natural world. Just like plants and animals, organizations and the individuals in them inevitably encounter changing conditions that they are powerless to control. The more effectively you deal with change, the more likely you are to thrive. Change must be managed using an ethical and professional approach with common sense.

Due to the changing economic state over 30 million Americans have been dislocated by restructuring. Companies expect to cut an average of 15 percent of their workforce over the next decade. Today, change is continuous and enormous. It is important that companies create a strategic plan to manage the change process and control resistance. However, they often forget about how to handle or who will handle the transition from the old way to the new way of doing things. The transition period is where people get immovable. People become anxious, confused, angry and often unproductive. On many occasion the task of helping people through the transition is the responsibility of frontline management but can become difficult for them. The most logical approach is for the company too employee a change agent.

Change agents carry many titles but have some distinctive characteristics. A Change agent is an individual whose presence or thought processes cause a change from the traditional way of handling or thinking about a process. They must possess qualities such as experience in providing direct services to management in the public sector and private sector, particularly to those with multiple problems. Strong communication skills, including writing and public speaking abilities are critical. They must have the ability to communicate changes effectively across the entire organization. This helps them build consensus among groups of diverse stakeholders. In addition, they need the ability to sense and manage controversy. A person who is known for this type of work may promote credibility among other stakeholders. In a final analysis, the personality and interpersonal skills that change agents bring may be far more important qualifications than any advanced degree or specialized training. Implementing change requires a specialized group of people. Hiring the right person to lead the team is a delicate and subjective task.

A change agent leader may come in the form of a Change Management Project Manager. A change management Project Manager focuses on executing standard Change Management methodology which will facilitate the business partners planning and execution of new standards. The Project Manager will be directly allied to the company transformation champion or Change Manager. The role of a change manager is to be a leader who can alter forces that can impact the change project. Depending on the magnitude of the change, this leader might be the Chief Executive Officer/Executive Director, Vice President or department manager. If the organization culture must change to accommodate a new way of working, the leader must be the top dog of the company. Company culture is created from the top of the organization.

The project manager may hire a change management analyst. They are responsible for auditing and evaluating the change management process of a business. Change management is aimed at helping system users to adopt the new system and use it productively. The role of the change management analyst includes ensuring that adequate documentation and support are available to the users. These are a few people who could make up the team that ultimately facilitate the transformation of an organization. It is imperative that the company take great care in selecting the right people to help support change within the organization. They must be skilled and have the ability to devise and execute a plan from start to finish.

Companies excel at creating plans on change but selecting the correct change management team is often overlooked. Some executive think using an internal resource to champion alone and a few memos to the staff announcing the person’s new role while noting the upcoming changes will suffice. This notion is far from the truth and will result in rebellion. It is necessary for the positive success of the change that serious thought is put into the change management agent selection. For some reason, there is often more power in what an outsider says than in the same suggestions coming from the inside. This power should be used to reinforce the direction in which you want to go. Outsiders bring important information and a fresh perspective; which is why great team selection is critical It is no secret that much is documented about the course or stages of change however; while process is clearly important, what is the defined role of the change agent and what characteristics are critical to be an effective change agent?

After careful research there were a few characteristics that seem to echo. Motivation is what keeps the momentum going, even when things are tough. Change is tough and if they are not highly motivated, the change may not come. Commitment is another essential characteristic of successful change agents. The level of personal commitment influences behavior which in turn influences results. They must be a planner with ability to plan effectively; no real change can happen unless it is planned and thought through. Being a risk taker is a good trait. You cannot steal second if you are afraid to leave first. Change requires an element of risk. When you take risks they sometimes result in success but can result in failure. When you fail you learn. In fact, the most successful people always state that they learned more from when they failed than when they succeeded. Change without some risk taking is not an option.

Changes agents must start with a goal in mind and be outcome focused. If they don't know where the organization wants to go, they are incapable of helping the company get to the anticipated finish. While this might seem like stating the obvious, it is surprising how many organizations start to embark on change without absolute clarity. It is important that they believe change is possible. Failure to do so will result in resistance and creativity blocked. In any change difficult choices will need to be made and communicated. Many of these changes will be unpopular and impact on a lot of people. Those that excel as change agents have the courage to follow through on the changes and stay focused on their goal and outcome while being empathetic and flexible.

While there is a need to be courageous and move things forward, high degrees of empathy are important. Change agents need to be ready to see different perspectives and be able to step into the shoes of others. Even the best laid plans don't materialize as expected. As a change agent they need to be able to adapt to changing circumstances internally and externally to the organization. Change agents always need the ability to get all people affected by the project involved, to ensure their support and commitment. Change projects involve a great variety of factors and forces. Many change projects challenge the existing cultural framework of an organization. Efforts to change such lasting values, however, lead to resistance and denial. It takes the acceptance and the support of all people affected by such projects to make them succeed. It is the change agent’s task to generate this acceptance in order to implement change with the people, not against them.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter a tenured professor in business at Harvard Business School where she holds the Ernest L. Arbuckle Professorship and author numerous books on business management techniques, particularly change management, mentions that many emotional components among the most important characteristics of change agents. Change agents should realize that there is more than one right solution. The change agent has to be able to evaluate facts from different points of view. Additionally, Moss Kanter writes about the significance of alliance building, which she describes as an often-ignored step in change processes. Change agents should identify and involve leaders, decision makers on resources, functional experts and other important persons as early as possible in the project.

Selecting the proper change project to put into action first is vital. Proven techniques such as cost benefit analysis, return on investments calculations and risk analysis are well defined protocols for selecting what need to be tackled first. These tasks are often performed by a change agent analysis. This data is transferred to the change management Project Manager.

The change team and employees affected by the change initiative must not feel like as if they are just the tools for change or the subject of change. Genuine commitment can only be gained by giving people the chance to become actively involved. People will develop a sense of ownership for the project, which, in turn may serve as a major source of motivation when it comes to the inevitable problems and barriers which manifest into full blown mutiny also known as resistance.

Resistance to some employees is used as a survival mechanism. Most people are reluctant to leave the familiar behind making change incredibly difficult. We are naturally concerned about how we will get from the old to the new; especially it involves something new and risking failure. The change agent’s role is designed to help facilitate and make the transition uncomplicated. Based on research resistance to change is the most prevalent reason change never happens or takes years to implement in an organization. Resistance is simply a very powerful, very effective, very useful survival mechanism.

The biggest obstacle to change for a new on the job change agent is dealing with a company’s past success. It is difficult to ask people to change when things have gone so well in the past. The idea that anyone would challenge this reasonable and rational way of doing business is ludicrous. The change professional must have the ability to notice these changes and react immediately. People may begin to feel a loss of security. Employees no longer feel in control of their destiny. They may question where they stand in the organization. People will no longer know what to do or how to manager. Their understanding of where they are going is lost. The company’s mission and vision often becomes unclear.

Resistance can affect many other aspects of change. A change agent must monitor productivity during times of resistance because typically it declines. People are often upset and downbeat. Resistance is not a pleasurable experience for the employees or the change agent. The change agent is often blamed for everything that is going on at moment. Workshops arranged by the change agent typically help neutralize this problem. During workshops employees are encouraged to openly express their feelings. Expressing feeling about the entire process is what helps employees change. People need a way to say good bye to the old and welcome in the new. A well trained change agent views resistance as a gateway or filter. This opposition helps them select from all the probable changes the one that is most suitable to the current situation. The utilization of compassion makes it possible for them to respond empathetically.

Communication becomes essential to worker buy-in; the reason for why change is necessary must be clearly defined and communicated. The project manage need to keep the employees informed of any new development and give then as much data as possible. The workshops should be followed up with one on one meeting if necessary. Statics show that when 5 percent of the people, in a group, adopt a change, the change is imbedded. When 20 percent adopt it, the change is unstoppable. An experience change agent focus on the innovators, people who try things first followed by the early adopters. Some individuals are harder to get involved and more often than not become somewhat the focus of the project manager. Change agents who repair damaged relationships and restore trust both before and during change are less likely to encounter resistance than agents who do not; research shows that falling to repair damaged relationships can lead to lowered commitment (Dean, Brandes, & Dharwadkar, 1998). Agents can reduce the chances of such damage by being truthful and realistic as possible including revealing what they do not know. As a matter-of-fact, change agents are encouraged to communicate frequently and enthusiastically about change (Lewis, Schmisseur, Stephens, & Weir, 2006). Even communication cannot eradicate all forms of resistance.

Rational resistance forms when employees feel uninvolved. They think change is being forced upon them. These are the people who refuse to budge. This is what a change agent faces when someone ignores or does not embrace the idea of change. This can be cancerous. One way to help is to create an environment where learning is the norm. Motivating employees to change by celebrating small successes can help people inspire to embrace change.

However in some cases irrational resistance gets the best of the most experienced change professional. There are people for whom no amount of verification, persuasion or motivation will suffice to get them to willingly adopt change. Since it is the goal of the change agent to persuade individuals to change a change professional may make use of McGuire’s theory of inoculation.

Inoculation Theory was developed by social psychologist William J. McGuire in 1961 to explain more about how attitudes and beliefs change, and more important, how to keep original attitudes and beliefs consistent in the face of persuasion attempts. According to McGuire’s theory of inoculation, change recipients success in resisting influence is determined by their ability to refute arguments that challenge their prevailing beliefs (McGuire). Inoculation is a theory developed to strengthen existing attitudes and beliefs and build resistance to future counterarguments. For inoculation to be successful it is critical that the motivation for resistance is imposed upon these existing ideas takes place after the inoculation. The argument that is presented through inoculation must be strong enough to initiate motivation to maintain current attitudes and beliefs, but weak enough that the receiver will refute the counterargument. Inoculation theory has been successful in increasing college students’ resistance to credit card advertisements (Compton & Pfau, 2004).

Change recipients’ reactions to change are not necessarily dysfunctional obstacles or liabilities to successful change. Quite the opposite, recipient reactions can have value serving as an asset and a resource in its implementation and successful accomplishments (Knowles & Linn, 2004). Resistance is one possible form of engagement with change and may, in some cases reflect a higher level of commitment that acceptance, because some resistance is thoughtful. Change agents can use resistance as feedback on a stakeholder’s engagement. It can become an indicator and a valuable source of feedback for improving the process and conduct of change. In fact, change agents may want to consider the absence of resistance as a sign of disengagement and harbinger of future problems from unthinking acceptance (Wegener et al., 2004).

The change professional must surely include responsibility for the relationship with recipients, as well as the tactics of change implementation. Change is nothing more than a simple shift in technology or some reporting relationship. They are the cornerstone of forward progress. The effect of the change professional is important to the execution of a successful positive transformation and culture shift.

The culture change of a company can be achieved by giving employees the means by which they could successfully do their jobs. It is communicating clearly to employees what their jobs are and providing the training and tools to enable them to perform those jobs successfully. Organizations need to bear in mind that throughout the process of making improvements, individuals will be thinking about ‘WIIFM’ (what’s in it for me). This doesn’t mean solely the financial impact of the change.

The typical Western approach to organizational change management is to start by trying to get everyone to think the right way. This causes their values and attitudes to change, which, in turn, leads them naturally to start doing the right things. It is imperative that the company starts by influencing a culture change. The first change should focus on how people think. The focus should be on behavior modifications which align with the mission and vision of the company.

Putting together the change management strategy is the first significant step in implementing change management methodology. This can also be considered reframing the organization. The strategy provides direction and results in informed decision making throughout the change process. A well-formulated strategy really brings the change to life, describing who and how it will impact the organization. People will follow a person who inspires them. The change must start with a solid vision and passionate leadership. A change plan is necessary to ensure that the initiative becomes a living breathing document. The change management plan is documented by the change professional and includes but is not limited to:

Communication plan

Resistance management plan

Training plan

Reinforcement planning

This plan must address getting “buy-in” from key stakeholders and the naysayers. Top management must fully support the change. Leadership has to understand the employees and business units being impacted by the change. These stakeholders should be addressed personally by senior leadership. Showing how they will be positively impacted enables the employees to better appreciate the vision. The leader new vision has to be communicated throughout the organization. Understanding the employees perceived level of commitment will have more to do with the success or failure of the change than anything else. This must be evident to the employees. It is critical, if leadership is commitment is poorly communicated the change will more than likely be resisted. We previously addressed resistance and ways to deal with or embrace the process.

In addition to a solid strategic plan, the leaders must be willing to look at the company through a different set of lenses. Different lenses can bring organizational life into a different or clearer focus. Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal authors of Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice and Leadership argue that it is impossible to really understand an entire organization without using a multi-framing perspective. Although there are no right or wrong ways to view organizations, one of the most practical theories, suggested by Bolman and Deal (1984), advocates looking at organizations from four different perspectives or frames. These frames are often described as windows, maps, tools, lenses, orientations and perspectives because these images suggest multiple functions (Bolman & Deal, 2003). The four frames are: (a) structural (emphasizes specialized roles and formal relationships), (b) human resource (considers the needs of the individual), (c) political (focuses on bargaining, negotiating, coercion, and compromise), and (d) symbolic (views organizations as cultures with rituals and ceremonies). Each of the frames is powerful and coherent, and collectively, they make it possible to reframe Re`frame´   

v. t. 1. To frame again or anew.  or view the same situation from multiple perspectives (Bolman & Deal, 2003). . They allow the leader to view the workplace from different images to make judgments, gather information and get things done.

Not every framework works well in every situation. The change agent will find that all or most of the frames will be employed by the people they will be dealing with. The idea to creating change in an organization is to figure out which frame offers them the best opportunity for focusing all the individuals on a feasible solution. Basically they are going to have to convince some people to change their frame of reference, at least when they are thinking and talking about the changes that are coming. Once the situation or problem has been successfully reframed, the change professional will need to help people reinterpret the new framework in terms of their preferred approach. No one uses only one frame all the time, although people often show a preference for one or two frames.

The structural and political are the most prevalent frames shown by people during change. Both can be used to demonstrate different analytical approaches to describe an organization. Bolman and Deal (2003) are careful to explain the steps that ought to be taken to prohibit greed and encourage morality in the politically fueled workplace. For example, negotiation can be seen as a “win-win” as opposed to a positional ordeal. If there is potential for both sides to benefit through bargaining, it is optimal to go about this process in such a way that does not insist on a clear win-lose outcome. Similarly, they describe ethical issues in bargaining and general organizational politics. The symbolic frame looks at the core beliefs and values that employees of organizations possess in common. These beliefs represent what people stand for and shape their identity. This frame suggests that what happens in organizations is not as important as what these phenomena mean to people. The symbolic frame is concerned with organizational culture and the culture is significant and well-established in most companies. This frame is important because it is directly tied to the emotions of the people. Most people don’t like change because it represents uncertainty. Quoting Burns, “If leaders are to be effective in helping mobilize and elevate their constituencies, leaders must be whole persons, persons with full-functioning capabilities for thinking and feeling” (217). In this way, the authors encourage leaders to be both aware of the importance of the power they wield, and to lead by example as an ethical individual.

The end result is to learn the importance of stepping back and looking at a situation from more than a single pane of glass. This is vitally important because most of us have the tendency to look at situations or problems from a limited narrow perspective, and this hinders our ability to be effective and visionary leaders. Below is a chart that outline the reframing process.

Reframing Organizational Process

Frame

Structural

Human Resources

Political

Symbolic

Strategic Planning

Strategies to set objectives and coordinate resources

Gatherings to promote participation

Arenas to air conflicts and realign power

Ritual to signal responsibility, produce symbols, negotiate meanings

Decision Making

Rational sequence to produce right decision

Open process to produce commitment

Opportunity to gain or exercise power

Ritual to confirm values and provide opportunities for bonding

Reorganizing

Realign roles and responsibilities to fit tasks and environment

Maintain balance between human needs and formal roles

Redistribute power and form new coalitions

Maintain image of accountability and responsiveness; negotiate new social order

Evaluating

Way to distribute rewards or penalties and control performance

Process for helping individuals grow and improve

Opportunity to exercise power

Occasion to play roles in shared ritual

Approaching Conflict

Maintain organizational goals by having authorities resolve conflict

Develop relationships by having individuals confront conflict

Develop power by bargaining, forcing, or manipulating others to win

Develop shared values and use conflict to negotiate meaning

Goal Setting

Keep organization headed in right direction

Keep people involved and communication open

Provide opportunity for individuals and groups to make interests known

Develop symbols and shared values

Communication

Transmit facts and information

Exchange information, needs, and feelings

Influence or manipulate others

Tell stores

Meetings

Formal occasions for making decisions

Informal occasions for involvement, sharing feelings

Competitive occasions to win points

Sacred occasions to celebrate and transform the culture

Motivation

Economic incentives

Growth and self-actualization

Coercion, manipulation, and seduction

Symbols and celebrations

Source: Bolman & Deal (1997), pp. 267-268

The uses of the multiple frames assist the leader to distinguish and recognize more broadly the problems and potential solutions available. It encourages the leader to think flexibly about their organization and opens a range of opportunities to the leader to view events from multiple angles.

Lastly, employees should feel comfort in knowing that their participation in change is moving the organization toward a more healthy state. Collaboration gets all employees to work together. Their thoughts and opinions are sought and valued by leadership. Communication is important to create awareness about why the change is needed. The word about the change should be talked about daily. In most cases several times a day if needed to get stakeholder “buy-in”. It is imperative that this message comes from top leadership by the use of a change agent in order to circulate the right information about the new vision and potential changes. Leadership need to be flexible. Employees can adapt to change when they are free to voice their concerns and observations. Conflicts should be seen as part of the development of the organizations growth process. Goals within the agency should be widely shared by all and there must be consistent focus on them at all times.

Change is imminent in any organization whether it is voluntary or involuntary. The important ingredient on how change is approached, accepted, and communicated is based on implementation and employee buy-in. Implementing a solid change strategies incorporating outside subject matter experts and new frames which are centered on an overall change plan will lead to a healthy organization.


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