Change management can be defined as the process, tools and techniques to manage the people side of change to achieve required business outcomes. Organisational change is the one constant which organisations must face and the consequences of not adapting or managing the change process can be fatal to a firm’s success. Consequently, there is a need for firms to place importance on the management of change if they are to remain competitive.
Whilst change is varied and dynamic, it can be managed to promote sustainable and positive change. Change management is a broad term, which encompasses any approach to aiding an organisations ability to manage the change process in either a steady or transformational manner. A range of prescriptive or diagnostic tools can be used to support the process, recognising the need to plan, manage and reinforce change.
Organisational change can be significant, such as corporate restructuring, new market exploitation or new product/service development. Change can also take place in various subsystems, which evolve and may influence organisational practice. Successful organisational change must be associated with some form of cultural change if it is to endure and a change programme may be initiated that is purely focussed on cultural aspects.
Eisenbach, Watson and Pillai (1999) considered change to be a situational phenomenon that may sometimes be temporary. Change in itself encompasses something new and in the case of transformational change this change is rapid and often dramatic in nature. As a result, organisations may not have the time to implement a sustainable transition. Transformational change can be considered unique as it has the power to both deliver major business benefits but can also trigger corporate decline if poorly implemented. Transformational change generate urgency and requires significant commitment.
Incremental change promotes small, gradual revisions, which may therefore be easier to sustain and embed. If incremental change is employed then the time can be taken to involve employees and adopt a more bottom up approach to change. Gersick (1991) argues that organisations may evolve and experience periods of incremental change broken up by more transformational, rapid changes (so called ‘punctuated equilibrium). Generally, incremental change is considered to be more beneficial to an organisation than rapid, transformational change, as effective employee involvement can encourage and support innovation.
Effective and sustainable approaches to change management have been linked to a number of outcomes including organisational excellence (Goetsch & Davis, 2014), sustainability (Zuber-skerritt & Louw, 2014) and competitive advantage (Ram, Wu & Tagg, 2014). If change is poorly managed then this can have a detrimental impact on the organisation and there is therefore a need to focus upon how the benefits of change management can be realised.
Any discussion of change management must also consider the importance and impact of leadership. It has been argued that whilst change must be well managed, it must also be supported by an effective and often visionary leader within the firm. Change management is underpinned by leadership and therefore any new systems must be reflect the leadership style and approaches adopted (Eisenbach et al, 1999).
Transformational leadership is considered to be the most effective approach when managing change. At the heart of this paradigm is the need for leaders to act in a manner, which encourages and inspires collective involvement in order to achieve the vision of the organisation (Bass & Riggio, 2006).
Kotter (1996) developed an eight-stage change model to deal with transformational change. The steps overlap to support the creation of a climate for change whilst also taking a sustainable approach that is more likely to lead to successful implementation. The core elements are:
- Establish a sense of urgency. Many change initiatives may fail as a result of a firm lacking the interest to follow through with the change or failing to create an effective and urgent approach to change. Change should be exciting and encourage involvement.
- Forming a powerful coalition. An empowered group who can both lead the change and develop strategies which reflect the overall corporate vision.
- Create a change vision. A vision however has to inspire change and to ensure people are engaged and supportive. Ideally, it should be innovative and passionate in nature.
- Communicate the vision. Once established, this vision has to be widely communicated and emphasis should be placed on ensuring all employees are involved in the wider change process. To communicate effectively, the message must be consistent and the leadership must set an appropriate example.
- Empowering Others. Empowerment has long been noted as a fundamental determinant of organisational change and its subsequent success. In particular, a bottom up approach to change can be used to encourage and empower in a manner which allows individuals to act on the vision created. To do this, structural obstacles should be removed and an element of risk taking encouraged.
- Culture of visible, short-term wins. Highlighting and celebrating short-term/interim success maintains change momentum and encourages continued support from those involved.
- Build upon and maintain change. Many change initiatives fail because once implemented the organisation stops focusing upon that change. Change should be viewed in an incremental, continuous manner within a culture supporting continued learning and organisational improvement.
- Make the change stick. The changes undertaken need to be institutionalised and embedded within the organisation and the values of change have to be reflected in day-to-day work. Talking about progress and success stories is important and any personnel subsequently recruited into the organisation need to reflect the new business culture and ways of working.
Whilst this is an easy, step by step model which also considers the preparation needed to manage a change process (such as supporting and engaging staff), criticisms do exist. Despite the focus on empowerment it remains a top-down approach and it fails to recognise the challenges presented by complex, multi-faceted change programmes and the need to gain emotional commitment from those involved.
Lewin (1947) presented a model of change which is comprised of three steps: unfreezing, changing and re-freezing. This high level approach to change is intended to shape the overall process to encourage a more seamless transition and development.
The first step is unfreezing - essentially preparing the organisation to change. This can be particularly difficult if the organisation is set in its way and has deeply rooted routines in place, which protect the status quo. Unfreezing requires the organisation to encourage employees to take a more holistic perspective, questioning the importance of their job role and actions. This requires individuals to unlearn certain things, whilst also recognising and undoing bad habits.
Once unfrozen and considered ready for change, implementation can then take place. Change can only start once employees and the organisation as a whole are receptive. This change process may take a great deal of time and (like the unfreezing stage) cannot be rushed. Change should be considered an investment in future business success and the application of Kotter’s stepped approach can support implementation.
Refreezing is essential to ensure the sustainability of any change. Change objectives should effectively consider what needs to be done to make sure that the revisions made are permanent and this often requires significant cultural shifts within the organisation concerned.
One of the central advantages of the work employed by Lewin is that it provides a visual summary of the change process and it is regularly used alongside other models which can provide the greater depth and detail required. Whilst it can be considered to be highly rational and plan orientated, this does mean that the model does not necessarily reflect the complex, multi-faceted nature of organisational change, particularly within a modern, more dynamic business environment.
Change can fail for many reasons including:
- The change vision employed was not realistic in relation to how things worked or how things were really occurring within the organisation.
- The change required was not fully understood or not given the correct level of attention.
- People involved in the change project did not believe in the change or see its value.
- Resistance to change was not dealt with within the company.
- The leadership did not convey the urgency or requirement for change.
There are a wide range of barriers, which can influence the eventual success of any change employed, and many of these relate to people issues within the organisation. Resistance to change is often a natural response and one of the key roles of the managers and leaders involved is to understand the reasons behind it. Only then will they be able to address the resistance being faced and take forward the changes required. Resistance can be rooted in:
- The element of surprise and fear of the unknown. As previously discussed, organisations have a tendency to revert back to the status quo and as a result of this, change can be scary for some. This type of resistance can occur when transformational/radical change takes place due to the inability to give sufficient time to the change process, which often results in a lack of employee involvement. If employees perceive the new change to be negative or see it resulting in job losses, individuals may resist the change as a way of pushing back. Fear of change should be expected and it is up to managers to try and manage this process effectively. Creating a unifying vision and guiding coalition is essential.
- Not trusting in those in charge of the change or believing in them. For change to be successfully implemented there is a need for employees to respect those involved. Unless this is present, it may be difficult for a change manager to build trust which can also increase resistance to change.
- Loss of control. Any form of efficiencies including downsizing or restructuring may cause fear and resentment, especially if those concerned feel that they have no means to control or influence the changes taking place. Consequently, resisting the changes proposed can be seen as the only option open to those affected.
- Timing. If an organisation has to undertake radical, short-notice or immediate change then it is difficult to effectively involve employees which can, in turn, create a culture of resistance.
- An individual’s tolerance to change. Change is often a very personal thing and this ties into the complexity and at times messiness of change.
This chapter has introduced the meaning of change management, providing working definitions that help to reinforce the importance of effective implementation. Change is an inherently complex and challenging process and the two change management models outlined can help ensure that the end results articulated are achieved. Resistance to change is a natural response and is often reinforced by a tendency to revert back to the status quo within an organisation. This supports the need to take an approach that understands the basis for any actual or potential resistance and take forward change in a way that maximises the involvement of those concerned. To do so requires leadership and an appreciation that in order to embed organisational change it may also be necessary to change the working culture of the company concerned.
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