LEADING CHANGE: Analysing The Change Agents Role

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This essay focuses on introducing change in the organization. It looks into the change agent's role; the positives and negatives on the personal front. It also critically analyses how much power lies in the hands of the senior management in implementing change in an organization. A case study has been incorporated into the report to understand how managers implement changes or imbibe them into the organization in real life.

CHANGE AGENT

According to the Oxford Dictionary, 'Change' is '…to make or become different…". Recently, multinational corporations (MNC's) have been facing a lot of changes in their strategic direction as well as their day to day activities. (Stone, 2008) Generally, corporations have experienced a lot of resistance to change from their employees. In order to ensure that the change is incorporated smoothly into the organization, the recognition of a 'Change Agent's role becomes essential.

A change agent, by definition is, "A person who acts as a catalyst for change." (Stone, 2008) There is a deep connection between 'leading and changing' the organization. As Ahn rightly put it; 'The avoidance of change has been described as the opposite of leadership.' (Jick et al, 2003)

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Leadership involves motivating a group of people and aligning their interests towards a common goal in the aim of achieving it.

Change agents could be anyone in the organization who is the driving force behind the change. For Instance, the CEO of the company would be recognized as a change agent on several occasions or a consultant may be hired; who acts as the agent as well. (Jick et al, 2003). The change agent's competitive advantage lies at his/her ability to act in response to the change. There are three general types of responses one can expect from a change agent. (Ulrich et al, 1997)

Initiative Changes, whereby the change agent responds by bringing into the organization; new procedures or projects. This is basically done at the strategic level. The second type of response is Process Change. This occurs more at the operational level; where the change agent focuses on how the task is being carried out; and whether the work can be simplified or distributed; based on the organizational structure. The last type of response is the Cultural Change. It transforms the organization's way of thinking. (Ulrich et al, 1997)

POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE ASPECTS OF A CHANGE AGENT'S JOB

"Change agents are most susceptible to change themselves." (Jick et al, 2003) The agents go through a variety of positive and negative emotions and issues while dealing with implementing change in the organization.

Firstly, the most obvious issue change agents face will be the resistance to change by the employees. This occurs irrespective of how well/not the agent handles his job. Someone, somewhere, at some point in time during the implementation will have a thought process which does not align to that of the others. This leads us to the secondary issue, which is frustration. In case the change introduced by the agent backfires, he would be the first person the organization will blame. The agent would feel isolated and might even get de-motivated at the thought that the plan he introduced did not work out. (Jick et al, 2003)

Though the negative issues do seem to give an impression that the change agent's job is always dreary, it's often counteracted by positive challenges and emotions. The adrenaline rush of having transformed an organization successfully because of that change is a huge plus point. Change cannot be decided by one person; hence requiring the agent to involve himself in a lot of interaction with his employees by which new relationships develop. Often, when the agents look in retrospect, they find that they have gone a long way, and the factor of self - fulfillment shows up. With every step, the agents would have utilized their strengths, opportunities and overcome their weaknesses and threats. (Jick et al, 2003)

POWER AND CHANGE

Power is defined as; "The ability to influence various outcomes". (Bowditch and Buono, 2005: 195). This statement makes it clearer there is a close relationship between power and change in the organization.

French and Raven (1959) came with a power base table which can be applied to change management. (Graetz et al 2002: 242-3) This basically deals with power and change in terms of top - down approach.

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There are five types of powers of which one or two of them might lie with the management responsible for the change.

Reward Power, whereby the managers reward the employees for their co-operation; Coercive Power, which means the employees get punished for non compliance; Referent Power, where personal relationships are used against them to follow the change; Expert Power, where specialist knowledge is required to understand the change procedures and reason for attempting them. The last power is the Legitimate Power, where change is decided by the senior staff and seems necessary for success. (Jick et al, 2003)

This approach lays emphasis on implementation, and is a lot faster. The major disadvantage here is that resistance will arise from employees and middle level managers.

Organizations generally rely on internal managers or external consultants to introduce change. Consultants are preferred since they have a neutral attitude towards the situation; and may be a lot more skilled and knowledgeable in the area. It would be a good idea to combine both of them i.e.; have internal managers as well as external consultants. (Stone, 2008)

In contrast to the French and Raven power base, another strategy might be to hand over the power to the employees. This is the bottom - up approach. While it encourages employee participation and reduces uncertainty on their part; it is very time consuming. (Stone, 2008)

CASE STUDY

Dennis Hightower was Disney's newly elected vice president for Europe. He was required to develop a different business strategy that was something totally different than what had been done in the past. He was given a time limit of three months.

Walt Disney started off as a small company in the entertainment industry and emerged as one of the top most in recent times. They reported overall revenue of $3 billion dollars. A particular division in the company; Disney Consumer Products (DCP) reported $167 million of division revenue. Soon after, this division was involved in international licensing. The market was very diverse with complex environments.

Hightower had formulated a certain strategy in mind. This report focuses more on the way he implemented it across the organization. He followed the 'Squeaky Wheelchair Theory'; which meant he got involved into the situation only when there was a problem. Rather than ordering his team members on how it's done; he persuaded them to see the logic and how each of their contributions added value to it. Loyalty was a key factor in his method. He trusted his team enough to let them make their own decisions to a great extent. This helped him ensure he had his team's support and all their goals were on the same track.

Disney underwent a radical change, where fundamental changes were produced in the organization. It's generally more threatening than an incremental change. (Where the changes involved are on a small scale; for example, modifications in the day to day operations, etc.) This change was planned as well; which meant the change was implemented in an organized manner by the change agent.

In essence, Hightower was the change agent; who tackled the above stated issue in a way which led to higher profits for the company. (Jick et al, 2003)

CONCLUSION

A change agent is thus very important in the introduction, leading and managing the change in the organization. It's very important to find the right person at the right time as it can make or break the situation. Positive and negative issues occur in every job and the change agent is no exception. It's important for the change agent to take up challenges such as resistance and try and make them work in his/her favor. The relationship between power and change is debatable, but finally, what counts is what exact change the organization is planning to undertake; if it's a situation which is of strategic importance, it's better for the top management to decide. The case study showed us one of the real life examples of change management.