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A Sense Of Urgency In Your Workforce Business Essay


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The term Change Management refers to managing change successfully in any and all spheres of our lives, not just at work. Wherever the change happens, it is not easy to handle. Most often, the change that happens tends to complicate matters rather than simplifying them. Frequently, when we talk about change, it is in the organizational context, though there are personal and social changes that can be just as hard or even more difficult to handle. Like Gandhi said, "We should try to be the change we want to see."

If we approach any change, whether it is personal, professional or social, with an open mind, then the chances of successfully coping with it increases.

Why is Change so Hard?

It is hard because, when we go about our daily lives, we perform most of the mundane tasks on autopilot. We hardly use our conscious mind. Imagine switching on the coffee maker in the morning. You hardly open your eyes when you do it; now imagine that you have traded your regular coffee maker for an espresso machine. How hard do you find it to make your first cup of coffee in the morning? Likewise, in our professional lives too, we get used to our routine and become set in our ways; so we tend to use our subconscious minds more than we think, even at work. So, when there is change afoot, our subconscious mind, which is primitive, is wary of getting re-programmed, to learning new ideas and functions, and so feels threatened. This elemental resistance to re-learning new ideas and functions is the reason, we are resistant to change, which makes changing so difficult.


"To improve is to change; to be perfect is to constantly change." - Winston Churchill.

Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Barrack Obama were all well aware of the power of the individual and his ability to effect in himself and in his society. They managed to mobilize millions of people to change the way individuals, communities and governments function by just their beliefs and their tenacity. From their achievements, we know just what one person can do when he or she is steadfast in his or her beliefs and principles.

These great souls have managed to bring about mind-boggling changes in their societies and their governments, just by being strong. Each of these great men and women started off as ordinary citizens; each underwent some intense upheaval in their lives that changed them completely.

This change brought them greatness and untold benefits to the world around them. Every type of change, whether individual, organizational or societal, starts ultimately with the individual. However, most of us, in our eagerness to succeed, end up committing one of two common mistakes that people make when it comes to change: we either implement the changes much too slowly to be effective, like dipping our toes to test the waters. Or we go overboard and jump in headfirst in our enthusiasm and end up drowning.

If you try to change too much too soon, there is the likelihood of you getting frustrated and giving up. It is easy to advocate others to change than to try and change oneself. However, too slow a change might also not bring enough results and lead you to getting disheartened, and hence abandoning the changes. Moderation is the key to success. Everything in moderation should be the cardinal rule for success.

Change what you can, without causing too much disruption to your system and routine, and you will succeed. Whether the change you are trying to effect is trivial like your diet or exercise routine or is major like overcoming an addiction or changing your outlook, etc., try it in moderation to succeed.

For instance, if you are trying to lose weight or quit smoking, unsuccessfully, try to reduce your portions, while increasing your exercise by maybe 10 minutes, instead of going on a crash diet; likewise, cut down on the number of cigarettes or on the nicotine content, or go for a smaller cigarette with less nicotine. All it needs is a little will power to change, and change successfully.

Remember to come up with a realistic plan; also find a good outlet for your possible frustrations; try change counseling; and last but not least, try and remind yourself that the mind controls the body. Try to find inspiration from the world around you, and know that nothing lasts forever; everything is transient and change is the only constant in life!


The first thing to understand, and understand well, about Organizational Change is that it is an Ongoing Process and not a Single Event. Most organizations know the importance of being able to change with the economy and the market conditions. The economy and the market are not static; they are in a dynamic state, changing constantly. So to flourish, an organization should also be amenable to change. If you bend with the wind, you can survive; if you stand rigid, you will break. This is true for every being in nature and it is equally true for each organization.

So organizations bring in experts who help them and their workforce to deal with the changed circumstances. Such experts are usually trained in Change Management, which can help individuals, teams and entire organizations to transition from their current state to a better future state. The many stumbling blocks in the path of positive change might be cultural, social or economic. A trained change management expert can identify such causes and address them to effect positive change. To understand Change and to help organizations to handle it better, one should first understand the factors behind the necessity to change, and how and in what form the Change is to take.

There are many types of organizational changes, which are determined by some key factors like the goal of the proposed changes, the scope of the changes, the intensity and the time frame involved. Once these parameters are determined, the style of change, namely the implementation parameters have to be decided upon.

The change can be instructional or participatory: which means that the change is dictated by the top management, or everyone brings their ideas and it is collaborative in nature; and whether the proposed change to be effected is structural or process-oriented: which goes to say if the changes are going to be in the organizational structure or in its processes. These sorts of crucial decisions, when arrived at after careful consideration of all the factors, are the decisions that can help your organization to change successfully. There should be no room for any ambivalence when setting the agenda for change. Clarity in thought and communication will help in achieving the desired results from your workforce by motivating them in the right way.

According to Percy A. Dastur, author of The Art of Change Management, Organizational Change can be broadly classified into

Organization-wide - involving the entire organization

Subsystem Change - involving one small section or department

Developmental Change - involving improving the structure and processes and

Remedial Change - involving the fixing of any issues or problems that are an impediment to the healthy functioning of the business.

There are some sub-classifications called Transformational Change, Incremental Change, Planned Change and Unplanned Change. These are self-explanatory in the type of change they bring about in the organization.

The next key factor for Change to be considered is the change driver. A change driver can be External or Internal. In most cases, external change drivers can become catalysts for internal change.

For instance during the recent global meltdown, giants like Microsoft and Caterpillar were drastically affected and were forced to cut costs and lay off employees. However, many other companies, large and small, were able to carry on, largely unaffected. This reflects the 'on the companies' structure and policies'. Though Caterpillar is the world leader in mining and earth-moving equipment manufacturing, it had to lay off almost 20,000 employees as its operational costs had to be cut down by 25% for it to weather the downturn in the global economy. This is a classic case of unplanned change brought about by an external factor.

At times, technology ushers in change, whether you are willing or not; so it becomes a case of swim or sink. Case in point: Nokia was ruling the mobile market until 2004; then Apple came out with its iPod, that changed the way people listen to music; Sony, the world leader in individual portable music players with its Walkman, had to come up with a Network Walkman, after it realized it had to either join the mobile music brigade or lose out. After the unprecedented success of MP3 players, Sony realized that it had to come out with a similar product, or lose a chunk of the market, which might otherwise have stayed loyal to Sony. So in the case of technology-led consumer focused industries like music players and mobile phones, in which Sony and Nokia were the undisputed pioneers, external changes forced them into strategic change. This is an external driver leading to innovation and product enhancement.

To truly understand the impact of one revolutionary product on an entire industry, you have to remember that in the case of technologically advanced industries, Apple is an industry outsider in three of the above four categories. Yet it had the entire music and mobile phone industry turn on its head with one single product.

With the technological development in many areas growing by leaps and bounds, many organizations are kept on their toes, trying to keep with the latest developments. For instance, digital photography and the advent of the digital camera, gave stiff competition to the film photography industry, both the camera manufacturers and film suppliers, with new entrants like Casio, HP and IBM dominating the market. When the camera phone were introduced I market, the digital cameras are also struggling to find space in the consumer's conscience. This is a classic example of technology being an external driver for change.


Generally, an organizational change is a complex maneuver, involving 4 core actions: appreciating the change, mobilizing support for the same, executing it and building change capability. It is the responsibility of the leadership to ensure that these actions are carried out, for successful change.

Appreciating change involves appreciating the fact that change is difficult; it is so because it involves changing our mental models. When you talk about an organization as a single entity, you might forget the fact that it is made up of thousands of individuals scattered across the country or around the globe. So the idea of the organization is abstract and emotional than physical. This mental picture of the organization has to be changed, when you talk about changing the organization and that it is not an easy task. The proposed changes might be in any of the following areas of the organization, like marketing, manufacturing, processes, quality control, technology or productivity.

Mobilizing support involves motivating your workforce to adapt the changes willingly and wholeheartedly; first the mental models of your managers have to be changed towards accepting the newly introduced changes. Only then they, in turn, can convince their teams to adopt the changes. You can opt for either imposing the changes and expect the support of your workforce, or you can expose them to the benefits of the proposed changes by addressing them and communicating the perceived benefits of the changes to the welfare of the entire organization. This will also help the workforce to develop a positive attitude towards the coming changes, which might ultimately lead to a successful change or an unsuccessful one.

Depending on the size and structure of your organization, identify Change Strategists, who can strategize on what to change and its benefits; then appoint Change Implementers who are responsible for implementing the proposed changes; then identify and train the Change Recipients: they are the ones who are directly affected by the coming changes. So their co-operation will determine whether your change succeeds or fails.

Executing change is the most critical component of organizational change and is not easy; this phase involves creating the actual new processes or procedures and implementing them; then troubleshooting as and when necessary. It is the most difficult part of the change process; many key people might not like the changes and decide to leave the organization; with a well thought out plan, and clearly outlined ideas for the type of change and scope of change, you can go to some extent to lessen the confusion and maintain some semblance of normality. Quite often, the outcome of the organizational change is decided in this phase; because if this implementing of the change does not happen as proposed, then it is almost a sure thing that it is about to fail.

Building change capability is the long term plan for sustained changes so that the organization stays ahead of the competition in a fluid market. Just because you were able to change once successfully does not mean that from now onwards, it is going to be smooth sailing. Change has to be constant and you have to keep adapting and improving according to the fluctuating market conditions in order to stay ahead of the game. Again to help this happen, you have to identify innovative thinkers and strategists and equip them with the authority to effect similar changes and when they deem necessary, in order to sustain the advantages of the organizational change.

One of the fundamental ways to help your workforce develop change capability is to help them to learn, how-to-learn; for, over the years, they would have developed their own style of functioning and working in a certain way; for them to change to a new system, they have to re-learn their jobs in the new system. It is not easy to discard something and re-learn a different way to do the same job. It involves enormous stress and re-training and can be quite taxing on your employees. So show them how to learn, for them to cope with change easily.


When your organization is in the middle of a change, or is set to change, your role as the leader is the most essential and influential one. You have the responsibility to understand the need to change, identify the changes needed, identify the people who can strategize and implement, and finally motivate your workforce into embracing that change. You are the cognitive tuner, efficacy builder, systems architect and also the people catalyser, according to V. Nilakant and S. Ramnarayan, authors of Change Management . So the importance of your role to the success of the process of organizational change cannot be overstated.

As a leader, your contribution to the organization's future and towards a successful change should be a 'value proposition'. What is a Value Proposition?

It is a couple of phrases or statement that has 3 unique characteristics: it offers something of value to the customer; it is customer friendly and it has a differentiator that sets it apart from your competitors. Some fantastic examples of good value propositions are:

Domino's offer of '30 minutes or free'. It offers the hungry customer the chance to have his meal hot and in 30 minutes, failing which, he does not have to pay at all. This revolutionized the pizza delivery business. Domino's captured the customer's mind space by giving a tangible guarantee, failing which instant reward.

Walmart's price guarantee: 'Always Low Prices, Always'.

Google's faster and wider search results.

BMW's ultimate driving experience, etc.

Depending on the size of your organization, the change can be leader-driven, process-driven, team- driven, expert-driven or change management driven. The first approach is successful only in the case of small and medium sized concerns. Though you, as the leader will have the decision-making authority, the team driven change has a better chance of success. The process driven one, though, will take time as your workforce has to learn the new process and get comfortable before productivity can reach previously existing levels. Most organizations favor the last method: change management method, which is the team and expert driven method. This method of change brings to the table the expertise, the commitment, the technical know-how and the ownership qualities, thereby almost creating a fail-proof method of change. As a smart leader, you should be aware of the importance of ownership, involvement and commitment of your workforce to the change process for it to be successful in the long run.

As the leader, you have to persuade your workforce to commit to the changes and there are experts whose ideas are remarkable. Consider the world-renowned social psychologist Robert Cialdini, who in his books about Influence, written after some 30 years in the field, expounds the best ways to persuade your workforce. The specialty of Cialdini's work is that it is based on research of people in industries like car dealerships, real estate, insurance sales, army recruiting and advertising, whose jobs depend on people saying yes to them. He then wrote the 6 Principles of Persuasion.

They are Liking, Reciprocity, Social Proof, Consistency, Authority and Scarcity.

Liking: When we hear a suggestion from someone we like, we tend to be positive towards that; on the other hand, when a suggestion comes from someone we do not like, we are predisposed to dismissing the suggestion, however valid or helpful it might be. Liking also stems from and towards similarity; so if someone like you tells you something, you are more likely to listen than to someone whom you might perceive as superior or inferior. So, rather than having a mass gathering where you announce the plans for the changes afoot, you need to first inform your team of senior personnel. Let them talk to their teams and so on until the frontline staff are informed by their own supervisors or managers. This will help them to be open to the coming changes, and also help them to feel included rather than being huddled into a great auditorium and addressed by someone from a podium or a screen.

Reciprocity: This is nothing new; the Bible says it: Do unto others what you want others to do unto you. This is also Cialdini's expert opinion. When you treat people right and listen to them, they too will reciprocate. So, he recommends that in a large organization, identify those who are well liked and respected; tell them about the coming changes and enlist their help in communicating the same to their colleagues in a positive light. And generally if the workforce is treated well, and taken care of, in times of adversity, they will not mind helping by working extra hard or taking a pay cut or accepting the changes willingly and working harder to learn the new process or technology, as the case may be. However, if the organization is perceived as miserly, the workforce will be resistant to learning new processes that might be implemented as part of the changes.

Social Proof: It means validation from our peers and those around us; we are unduly influenced by the opinions of those around us, which can often lead to thoughtless behavior. A classic example of this is the multiple car collisions that we see during rush hour; even though all lanes are moving, slowly but steadily, one driver decides to jump lanes to see if he can go faster; then the next one follows, leading to many others too trying to jump lanes; this leads to numerous collisions during rush hour, frequently. Also called the 'bandwagon effect', this is one of the best ways to influence your workforce and mobilize support.

Consistency: Here it is not used in the usual sense of staying consistent, but rather means consistency in one's words and actions; this particularly carries weight when it comes to garnering support for the proposed changes, especially when they are publicly disclosed. As a general rule, something publicly declared is thought to be incontrovertible; when someone declares something in public, people do not expect them to go back on their word. In change management, this can be a powerful tool in the hands of a skilled manager. However, it will be effective only when it is used not to intimidate or threaten, but in consultation with the workforce.

Authority: This principle goes to show that when an 'expert' shares an opinion or fact, we tend to take it at face value; we don't question it or his authority. This expert driven change can be a powerful tool to convince your workforce to adopt the proposed changes in full measure, for the benefit of themselves and the organization. E. Sreedharan, who was invited to join the Delhi Metro, proved his authority by completing the ambitious project in time and on budget. He asked for and was granted full freedom in the operations and in the hiring and firing of his team, with no political influence, which is unprecedented in the Indian bureaucracy.

Scarcity: This is based on the idea that we want what is restricted to us. If the workforce is told that unless the proposed changes are adopted whole-heartedly, they might lose their jobs, then they are more likely to work harder to assimilate the new changes and processed. We respond to the threat of something becoming scarce, than to the promise of some benefit. Our primitive psyche responds better to the threat of losing something than to the idea of gaining something. However, a manager should be careful to not use threats when explaining the potential losses.

A leader's role when it comes to change management is never ending. One of his core duties is mobilizing support, and there are a hundred different ways, depending on the size, nature, structure and architecture of your organization. But one essential ability is the think out of the box and catch the imagination of your workforce and to be quick on your feet. To be able to out think the others is a great gift for a leader. You have to be a fast thinker, a brilliant strategist and skillful negotiator to be a successful change management leader.

Consider this story:

Just before a Presidential election, the Presidential campaign managers decided to release some three million brochures with a nice photo of the Presidential Candidate on the cover; almost on the eve of the planned blitzkrieg, in the last few weeks of the campaign, they found to their shock that the photo was copyrighted to a studio in Chicago. The campaign was in a quandary; they did not have the time to reprint the brochers; neither could they risk a lawsuit or a scandal at that late stage of the campaign; inquire about the studio and its owner brought further disturbing news. The owner was someone who was difficult and money-minded; so, after a brainstorming session, the campaign manager had his secretary shoot off a fax to the studio owner, which read:

"We are considering offering some studios a chance to sponsor a photo of the Presidential Candidate; when we win, it will be a chance for you to gain huge publicity mileage out of it; so what are you willing to pay us for using your photo?"

The story goes that the offer was a princely sum of $250; which the campaign manager promptly accepted and went ahead with the release of the brochure using the photo. The candidate was Roosevelt, in 1912 and the studio was Moffat Studios in Chicago. This story was told by Professor James Sebenius and the campaign manager is George Perkins.

This shows that, if you are clear headed thinker, who can think on his feet, even major catastrophes can be skillfully avoided, just by deft handling, especially if you know human nature. This is the hallmark of a great leader!

As a leader, you can beg and barter for change; it all depends on your target audience. If your audience will respond better to negotiation, then you can offer some deal which will benefit them hugely when the changes are in place and the organization is healthier. You also have to pick your time and do whatever is necessary to maintain the momentum.

If you can get your workforce to genuinely believe and participate whole heartedly, the changes that you bring to your organization cannot help but succeed. The commitment of your workforce is the key to the success of the proposed changes!


Dr. John Kotter, one of the leading authorities on Change Management and author of 'Leading Change' says, "Accelerate". It is better to change at a fast pace in order to keep ahead of your rivals, or else, chances are that you will be stuck in a perpetual game of catch-up. And for an organization to change successfully, the behavior of its employees has to collectively change; and that is a mammoth task. However brilliantly you plan and communicate it to your workforce, and get them committed to the idea of change, unless you execute the plan equally efficiently, all that effort will end up getting wasted, and the change process will become an utter failure even before its launch.

To help in this Herculean endeavor, Dr. Kotter has devised an 8-step process, of which he says:

"There are still more mistakes that people make, but these eight are the big ones. In reality,

Even successful change efforts are messy and full of surprises. But just as a relatively simple

Vision is needed to guide people through a major change, so a vision of the change process can reduce the error rate. And fewer errors can spell the difference between success and


Dr. Kotter recommends learning from both your successes and your mistakes:

Establish a sense of urgency in your workforce

Examine your competition and the market realities. If the market is in a slump, be realistic in your expectations. In a recession, effecting change in your organization can go only so far in bringing results. Organizational change cannot compensate for the prevailing market conditions. As the senior management, you have to identify your weak areas as an organization, and also watch out for any potential crises in the offing. Communicate such looming crises to your employees so that they are ready and willing to accept the coming changes. Your success in changing for the better, as an organization, depends on your managers' ability to convince their teams that the coming change is inevitable and that it will benefit the organization and everyone working for it.

Plan your strategy to play to your unique strengths, and to take advantage of any opportunities. These initial steps will help you to motivate your employees and help them to adjust to the coming changes, as they have been made aware of the importance of the changes to the future of the organization.

Establish a Powerful Guiding Coalition

A guiding team made up of individuals from the teams across the board will help in promoting employee cooperation and in wider acceptance of the changes, because your employees feel like stakeholders and also as a part of the decision making coalition. This inclusive approach will yield better results when compared to a top-down approach. This coalition should also be vested with the authority to effect necessary changes within the organization and in its policies to improve the results of any transition planned. Most frequently, failure to improve employee participation in all levels leads to fostering of resentment towards the senior management and thereby resistance to the proposed changes. However, this does not mean that the top management is not responsible for effecting the desired changes. The onus is on the top management to see that employee morale is kept high and that the proposed changes are accepted and adopted by all.

A Clear Vision & a Simple Plan to Achieve it

First you have to envision the changes you want to see in your organization, and then you will have a clear vision of the benefits that the proposed changes can bring to your organization, and then take the time to convey the same to your workforce. Then devise a simple plan to achieve that change, and convey that to your teams. This will help your workforce to feel that they are important to the company and also inculcate a sense of participation and inclusiveness. A simple and sensible plan can do wonders for an organization that wants change by motivating its employees. Simplicity will win every day over grandiose words and actions, as most people can see through them clearly.

Share your Vision and your Plan

When you share and communicate your vision of the positive changes and your plans to achieve the same, you can reap the untold benefits of employee participation. When your workforce feels included in the decision making, it inspires them to perform better as they feel like stakeholders and not just employees. It is always better for the organization when they volunteer and work harder on their own conviction, rather than being coerced in any way. In an organization with thousands of employees, such voluntary participation and ready support can make a huge difference to the outcome of the proposed changes.

Empower your employees

Identify those of your employees who can convince their colleagues to follow in their footsteps; when you workforce receives information that is promising from their peers, especially someone they like and respect. When you allocate such responsibilities, you should also allow room for individual ideas and action. New ideas and innovative suggestions should be encouraged and adopted where ever possible. This can go a long way in improving input and in inculcating a sense of ownership amongst your employees. This empowerment will also instill accountability in your workforce, thereby increasing productivity, as the sense of ownership will give them an incentive to see that the organization flourishes. As a corollary, restrictive actions on the part of senior staff and management should be discouraged, as they can be an impediment to successful and sustainable change.

Strategize and Plan for Short Term Benefits

Any vision for successful change has to be, inevitably on a long term basis; but little successes in the short term have to be acknowledged and rewarded, as that will help your employees feel positive about themselves, their changed circumstances, and also help to boost their morale. Set realistic short term goals and reward those who are successful in achieving them. For instance, you can set up annual reward programs for those who perform well in the newly formulated strategy, or master a newly introduced innovation; this will encourage better participation from your workforce in the changed strategies.

Consolidate and Build to Further Improve

By this stage of the change process, you should be able to see that your initial efforts are paying off; your employees have adjusted well to the changes and their productivity has increased. The changes have really helped your organization to perform better and to compete in the market, favorably, when compared to its competitors. But do not stop pushing hard, because now is not the time to rest on your laurels. Now is the time to forge ahead, firing on all cylinders and with more vigor. When you achieve positive results from change effected, you gain credibility. Use this credibility to push forward. Otherwise your sense of achievement might prove to be premature as it takes sustained effort to maintain difficult changes in an organization and change is an ongoing process. You can even hire or promote staffs who are open to change, without too much resistance from the rest of your workforce as, by now, the changes have proved beneficial.

Institutionalize the change

When you have managed to achieve success by changing your organizational behavior, the next step is to institutionalize such changes so that they become part of your corporate culture. When you articulate and highlight the success derived from change, it helps to sustain new ideas and stops your workforce from regressing to their old patterns. This will help with further generation and promotion of new and innovative ideas and also ensure that the successful change does not turn out to be a flash in the pan. The new changed behavior should become the de facto corporate culture of the company, for successive managements too, for the future welfare of your organization.

As a successful leader, your legacy will be felt for successive generations of managers and employees, who will identify you as a great leader of empowering vision.

Dr. Kotter also warns against the following common mistakes organizations commit when trying to change:

Failing to create a sense of urgency:

When you fail to communicate the sense of impending disaster to your workforce, which can be thwarted only with successful change of the existing policies or structure or processes, you give a chance to your workforce to not become fully committed to the changes; you cannot really blame them, as they have not been informed of the urgent need for changes and how dire the situation actually is. You, as the leader, have the responsibility to make it obvious that the status quo is mor dangerous than the unknown that the changes will bring.

For instance, one CEO of a Fortune 500 company is said to have deliberately generated a heavy loss on the company books, so that he can convince his organization to see the wiritng on the wall and change. Though it was an extreme measure, leading to pressure from the Wall Street, it is said to have tremendous impact on the motivation of his employees to embrace the proposed changes.

Not creating a powerful enough guiding coalition:

Just because you have established a guiding coalition to guide the company during the change process does not mean that it is likely to be smooth sailing during the change process. If you do not empower the guiding coalition with the rights and authority to change and restructure as they see fit for the benefit of the organization, there is a very good chance that the changes are about to fail. As we have seen earlier, most of us are wired to be resistant to change. So, for us to embrace change whole-heartedly, we have to be persuaded, pushed or coerced into it. In a large organization with thousands of employees spread over large and/or diverse geographical areas, it can be an immensely challenging task.

In most organizations, many senior managers and a couple of board directors, along with a union representative and even maybe a few customer representatives from your major customers should be part of the guiding coalition. This way, all areas of service, administration, production, customer relations and the employee welfare are taken care of simultaneously. This also helps a great deal when it comes to the hard sell of the proposed changes, because each division will have its own trusted representative involved in the change process. Even if takes them a little longer to learn to work together as a team, it will be well worth the effort in rewards, later.

Lack of Vision:

It is not enough to have a powerful guiding coalition, if there is no clear vision of what the change is supposed to bring to the organization. You, as the leader have the responsibility to create a vision of the future and convey that in clear terms to the empowered guiding committee, who in turn convey the same to their teams. There might be plans and programs, directives and instructions, but without a clear vision, it will all get wasted; a picture is worth a thousand words. Envision a great future and communicate that vision properly to mobilize support and motivate your workforce.

A general rule of thumb for Vision: if you cannot successfully communicate your vision to a group of your employees and elicit a positive response in under five minutes, you need to work more on your vision for your organization.

Under-communicating the Vision:

Even when you have a clear vision as the leader, for the organization to benefit from the same, you need to communicate the vision to your employees, in its entirety. This will help them to get properly motivated; if you fail to communicate the same fully, they will be left with imperfect knowledge which will hinder their functioning at the optimal level. A couple of speeches and mails from the top management is not proper communicating; at the team level, individual managers need to be talking about the vision and its benefits in every meeting and review or strategizing session; this will help to keep it tangible and front and centre in the minds of the workforce. Most organizations have been found to convey hardly 0.0005% of the Vision to the front line employees, who are the ones who will be called upon to make the most sacrifices in case of problems, including facing the threat of layoffs. The next phase of change management can be very difficult, more than usually, if the vision is not communicated to the workforce.

Yet the senior management seldom takes the time and trouble to communicate properly the new Vision, which might encourage them to work harder to achieve the vision and benefit rather than slack and see the organization fail. Even a 40 year old veteran of a plant can be capable of changing his way of functioning with the support of his peers and his team, after being part of the guiding coalition for the change process.

Not removing obstacles to the Vision:

Even after you, the leader have devised the strategy, formulated the plans for implementation, come up with a Vision for the future and communicated that successfully to your workforce, if you do not remove the impediments that may be in the way to the realization of the vision, all your efforts are likely to fail. Some obstacles might only be in the minds of some of your employees, or might be rooted in their insecurity and fear of the proposed changes; in some cases, it might be their senior managers who stifle voices of innovation and new thought.

In one organization, the changes were moving along on schedule, but one senior manager in charge of a large division was reluctant to change; he continued with the old practices and discouraged implementation of the new ideas, stifling his people. Yet he was left unchallenged by his peers and seniors, who felt that since he was a very senior person, only the top management could take him to task. But the top management felt that they might lose a valuable manager if they confronted him. In the end, the whole change process collapsed, because thanks to the inaction of those who should have acted, the workforce got the idea that the top management was not serious about the changes! So the idea of bringing in change lost credibility.

Not creating and appreciating short term goals:

Even if all the processes are progressing smoothly, your workforce needs to be guided along the new path with encouraging signs and appreciation. To this end, your managers should set simple goals for their team members in the changed processes and reward those who achieve them. This will help to boost employee morale to a great extent. Without such tangible short term rewards, the change process will lose momentum. So, celebrating small victories will give your workforce the motivation to slog it out for the long haul. In little more than a year or two, results of the change process can be seen, perhaps in increased production, or better customer feedback, etc. Such short term goals also have the added advantage of keeping up the pressure on your workforce.

For example, in one organization undergoing the change process, the guiding coalition for change came out with a new product in the first six months of the launch of the change process; the product was designed and put into production using the guiding coalition members, who worked outside the regular production units to roll out the product within 20 months; the product was a huge hit and the naysayers had to shelve their cynicism and embrace the change process, with such tangible proof within such a short time.

Not being realistic and declaring premature victory:

You might set up short term goals and win them too, to a lot of cheer from your workforce and giving everyone an impetus to carry on with the change process. But do not rest on your laurels too soon, declaring victory for the change management team, cause you still have 'a ways to go'. It can be disastrous if you end up celebrating too soon, thinking the war to be won, when you have won just a battle. It will take many years of sustained discipline and effort before the changes get deeply embedded in the organization's culture, before it can be declared that the change process is complete. Only when that happens, the changes will continue even under new management, leading to more and more improvement and better changes, constantly.

In one organization, the management declared victory after a couple of years, paid off the expert change management team handsomely, and in no time, things had gone back to square one. It is not a single event, but an ongoing process; the smart leader knows this and constantly reminds his team of the way ahead, in the change process. This helps the workforce to stay motivated and prepare for the long haul and sustained change process. This will prevent regressing.

Not grounding the changes:

Too often, when you succeed at something that is difficult, you tend to relax and get comfortable. In the case of change management, that can be the worst thing for you to do. When you successfully implement the change process, you have to ensure that the hard fought changes and the ensuing advantages are not lost over time. For this, you, as the leader, have the responsibility of seeing that proper procedures are set in place that ensure that the successive generations of managers are forced to comply and carry on with the new policies and procedures. It is your job as a leader to see that the hard-wrought changes are abandoned after a few years, leading the organization to the brink of failure again. Kotter feels that this is the ultimate responsibility of a successful leader of change management and this step is crucial for the organization's future. You have to keep pushing hard until the new policy and procedure become 'the way we do things around here'. This will not happen unless the new changes are highlighted, along with the positive results they have brought in, in every meeting and strategic session.

The hiring and promotion criteria also have to be focused on people who are supporters of change; or else, just one bad senior executive hiring choice can undo almost a decade of hard work when it comes to changes and making them stick. In the case of top management executives, the board too has to be convinced to appoint or approve only pro-change people for top positions.

Though there might be many other hits and misses, these are the 8 most common rights and wrongs when it comes to dealing with change management. Dr. Kotter failaing or ignoring these steps, even if one or two might lead to failure of the change process. He also feels that successful Change comes about when 70 - 90 % of good leadership works together with 10 - 30% good management.

Dr. John Kotter says:

"Successful change is 70 to 90 percent leadership and only 10 to 30 percent management. Yet for historical reasons, many organizations today don't have much leadership."

Potential Pitfalls:

There are many other pitfalls to watch out for when it comes to managing change. One of the most common mistakes managers tend to commit is that they go overboard in their eagerness and try to change constantly, without waiting to see the results of the changed processes, before changing them again. This can be de-moralizing to the workforce, especially if they were supporting the changes whole-heartedly. This is called Repetitive Change Syndrome.

Professor Eric Abrahamson of the prestigious Columbia University Business School, who coined the phrase Repetitive Change Syndrome, cautions against such constant change. He considers it as a particularly more common and dangerous byproduct of the Complex Change, which involves a lot of changes in the functioning of the organization over a long period of time. What usually happens in such cases is the workforce starts to experience fatigue because of the constant need for enhanced performance and processes and also from the unfamiliar reporting hierarchy. And the management team is unsure of how to proceed or how to help the workforce to overcome these difficulties. This happens because some senior members of the organization begin to think that 'change is good, so more change is better'.

Professor Abrahamson contends that this logic of repetitive and unnecessary change leads to what he calls 'creative destruction': to wit, it undermines the organization previous policies and disowns everything that head helped the organization to get this far; it also propagates the idea that to survive, you have to undergo destructive change, and that constructive or incremental change is not good enough; and last but not least, it is dismissive of the stress that the workforce undergoes during the constant changes by holding on to the principle of 'no pain, no gain', where gain equals change. So the Professor argues vehemently against this constant change and turmoil.

Furthermore, Professor Abrahamson contends that based on this idea that constant change is better, if change is good, many solid companies have perished in the US alone in the last couple of decades. Popular books like Who Moved My Cheese have also capitalized on the idea that change is good, leading to unplanned changes in smaller organizations that were ill-equipped to handle drastic changes. So the business owners ended up losing their livelihood.

He feels that this kind of constant turmoil can lead to overload, chaos and burnout.

Overload: Too many new policies and processes being launched frequently can lead to initiative overload, which the organization might not be able to handle. This can lead to a precarious situation where the entire system is in danger of collapsing.

Chaos: Constant changing of the policies and structure or reporting hierarchy might also lead to confusion and operational chaos, because the employees are no longer sure of who is working towards what goals and why.

Fatigue / Burnout: Being constantly bombarded with ideas and instructions on what to change, how to change, the new processes and policies, etc. can lead to dangerous fatigue in your workforce brought on by too much change.

Professor Todd Jick has conducted extensive research on Dr. Kotter's principles in practice in almost a 100 different organizations. He identifies the potential pitfalls when implementing change as:

Implementation, always but always, takes longer than originally planned

Unforeseen problems are thrown up during the implementation stage

Almost always, there was not enough coordination of the implementation activities between the various departments

Stiff competition between the different divisions led to distractions from the end goal and resulted in an avoidable crisis situation

The staff in charge of the new processes are not ready and are mostly less capable than they were perceived to be

The workforce was woefully undertrained and unable to cope with the new system, as they were not given enough training or instructions to handle the changes

Many unforeseen and mitigating circumstances led to the implementation of change being adversely affected.

This just goes to prove what almost every expert on the subject says: however much you think you are ready to handle the proposed changes, once the execution or implementation is under way, you will always find yourself surprised. There is just no way you can prepare or anticipate and train for every possible scenario. The success of your change process depends on how well you and your workforce are able to manage the surprises that are thrown up.


A large Public Sector company wanted to change its operational methodologies and policies to compete in the newly de-regulated marketplace, where until then it had enjoyed absolute monotony thanks to the government's policies. It was basically an engineering behemoth and in order to improve its overall performance, the powers that be decided to bring in a Business Planning Team: experts who can help the organization step out of the managerial dark ages and into the new millennia, so that it can perform in the market place, stronger and sleeker.

The experts arrived, analyzed and advised; the company had 3 major manufacturing plants across India; so they decided to have a team of line managers, selected from all the 3 venues, from different streams and divisions to help in strategizing and mobilizing support for the change process. The team comprised of people from accounting, finance, planning and manufacturing. They were grouped as one new department so that they would have independent functioning, free from other influences or distractions. As the average team member had an experience of around 20 years, you could say that they were all industry veterans in their respective fields, and knew their jobs inside and out. The team was headed by a Deputy General Manager, who had the authority to approve the changes necessary for the new policies and processes to be put in place.

As the organization had enjoyed a monopoly, it had never bothered with ideas like marketing and costing; but now, in a level marketplace, the company had to come up with a strategy that will help it to compete better with the other players in the market. The Planning team was expected to come up with the best way for the organization to deal successfully with all these issues. While the organization had previously concentrated on its facilities and production planning, now it had to worry about procuring materials at cheaper rates and production costs, etc. Innovative new products and value added services were virtually unheard of concepts to this organization. The newly formed change process team was filled with hope for the bright future ahead where their innovative ideas and products will help to usher in a new era of unimagined prosperity and prestige of the organization, as it would have gone from a white elephant to a strong, lean and mean tiger. But all such hopes turned out to be short lived.

It did not take long for the bureaucratic functioning of the traditional public sector organizations to seep into this department too. The hitherto powerful production planning department resented the new fangled ideas that had put a bunch of cross-departmental greenhorns (in their opinion), in a powerful position. The Planning committee found it very difficult to get even the most normal request honored by the Production Planning, as it also resented the fact that the new department reported only to the Managing Director, while everyone else had to report to the Executive Director. Though this kind of hierarchy empowered the planning committee with freedom of operation and to observe any department to assess their functioning, soon everyone came to resent that freedom. It also helped the Planning team to garnish attention at the highest levels. It also was meant to signify the importance of the job the Planning team had to perform, to everyone in the organization.

As they say, 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions'. Though the idea of creating the Planning committee was to establish the need, means and method of the change process, it failed miserably, because the empowered committee attracted resentment and stonewalling instead of cooperation and information.

A public sector organization in India is riddled with rigid hierarchy and it is frowned upon to bypass the set reporting patterns. Though the Deputy General Manager who was in charge of the Planning Committee was expected to report only to the MD directly, he found it difficult to go to him with the problems his team was facing from all the other departments because of the huge gap in the hierarchy between the DGM and the MD. Thus, the team was unable to receive any help from the higher bosses for their cause, however just it was. The poor DGM was often to be found waiting outside the MD's offices, waiting for an appointment to discuss the core issues.

A case in point: when the DGM wanted to buy a photocopier, he had to go to the MD for his approval, as he did not have the authority to approve it himself. The MD, unused to handling such trivial issues, shot off some queries; the DGM, in his eagerness, prepared a host of papers to present his case; the MD countered it with more questions; finally the DGM gave up on the idea of getting a copier, as he felt that he couldn't fully answer the MD's questions and was reluctant to talk to him about the photocopier again. If this happened when purchasing simple essential office equipment worth a few thousand rupees; imagine the documentation and the process for other more expensive equipments!

This was just the tip of the iceberg; such problems waited for them at every turn in almost every department. So the Planning team began to weary of the entire process; the MD was too busy to try and get to the bottom of the issue and get the committee the help it needed. When the Planning team put together a proposal for introducing a new innovative product, the MD shot it down, saying it wasn't executable. Then he went on to undermine the Planning team by voicing his concerns that the committee might be overreaching, beyond its set brief. In fact, the product would have heralded a new era in the organization as it was innovative and not something one would expect from a public sector white elephant. It would have announced the rebirth of the organization like a Phoenix to the world with a bang! But the MD, in his short sightedness, could not see that.

Then, he went on to compound the problem; instead of giving the Planning team a free rein and his support, when asked for his ideas on suitable projects and products, he suggested that they look into a social forestry project, as he had attended a seminar on the subject a few days earlier.

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