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The onset of globalization in the early 1980's introduced the current trend where organizations need to persistently and recurrently evaluate their strategies and methods of operations. This phenomenon brought along rapid developments and advancements in ICT infrastructure which span the globe. The results is that firms are under pressure to compete globally as local and national boundaries have somewhat dissolved. The challenges to competing globally are enormous so too are the benefits. Armenakis et al., 2000 contend that this increasing global competition has increased the rate (and need) of organizational changes including changes such as product/process reengineering, corporate restructuring, and organizational downsizing. The researchers posit that the result is growing cynicism among employees faced by managers intending to initiate changes within the organization.
Organizational change has been several defined. Barnett and Carol (1995) considered organizational change as a transformation within the organization between two time periods. In conformance to earlier definitions, organizational change in the context of this research will be viewed as a shock, a transformation or the introduction of new systems, technologies, processes, way of work etc. introduced to achieve a certain objective but causes the organization to deviate from its original path. This conforms to the view point of researchers who have documented the benefits of organizational dynamism emphasizing the need for organizations to adapt and develop by reconsidering and revising their strategies, processes, technology and structures. As expected the most unpredictable element and therefore the success determining factor within a change context is human behavior (Armenakis et al., 2000). This raises the need for organizations to be proactive in managing and influencing the behavior and responses of their employees during the change process. The concept of preparing employees for change has been dubbed as 'Change Readiness' within the organizational setting.
This concept looks at how management communicates and interacts with employees immediately before introducing change in the hope of keeping the employees 'on-board' and making the change process successful. Armenakis et al., (1993) contend that management attempts to influence employees through messages, interpersonal and social dynamics and influence strategies (such as the use of change agents).
The research question under investigation is;
'How do organizations influence employees at times of organizational change?'
This question will allow the researcher to explore both the conscious and unconscious acts, processes, behaviors, attitudes, reactions and relations by management (on employees) in their attempt implement a successful change program.
Change is constant and many organizations are forced to enact changes frequently to cope with pressures in the organizational environment. Although change and dynamism may seem to contribute positively towards organizational development, it may lead to failure if not properly managed. There is no one theory guiding the management of human behavior and so management uses various techniques to prepare their employees for eminent changes. If best practice in change readiness could be observed, documented and modeled, then it will facilitate and in fact significantly improve organizational change management. This gap in the literature is yet to be filled.
Change readiness is only one, albeit a major one, of the factors that contribute to the effective implementation of change programs within organizations. The concept of change readiness is pervasive within the organizational management literature but there is little empirical evidence to support the notions and models that have been developed and depended upon for years. The need to reduce resistance to change had been long highlighted in the theoretical literature on change management. Early researchers such as Coch and French (1948) established that the success of organizational change programs will highly dependent on the participation of employees in the change program. The researcher employed an experimental research design to show that employee participation reduced resistance to change. Subsequent supporting evidence and contributions to this body of knowledge have been provided by Gardner (1977)- readiness factors, Bartlem and Locke (1981)- readiness factors, Bandura 1982- cognitive aspects of change readiness and Griffin 1987- social information processing models of change readiness.
Half a century of research has given rise to the development of a change readiness model proposed by Armenakis et al., (1993) and building on the works of other researchers such as Katz and Kahn, 1978, Nadler and Tushman (1989), Bushe 1988, Fishbein and Azjen (1975) amongst many others.
The model asserts that change readiness can be instilled through several factors including; quality of the message for change, interpersonal and social dynamics, Influence strategies (including persuasive communication, management of external information, active participation), systems readiness and the attributes of the change agent.
The contribution of this research is imbedded in the incorporation of new variables that impact employees' attitudes to change into the development of a more practical framework. Recent research in the area has identified several other factors such as trust in senior management (Albrecht 2010), perceived personal competence and adaptability (Kwahk and Kim, 2008), mean-making (Schreurs et al., 2009) etc. that impact on employee readiness and the success of implementing organizational change. These factors and others will be explored in the current research.
Research Approach and Philosophy
I will employ qualitative methodology with a mixed method approach in the study i.e. content analysis, interviews and questionnaires. for my philosophical stance, I consider the social constructionism approach where I will base my research on specific cases, carrying out in-depth analysis to fully answer the research question. This research approach has been supported by other management researchers such as Martinez and Kennerley (2005) and has been recommended by other researchers such as Yin (1994) and Voss et al., (2002).
I will build my study on the changes that occurred during the credit crunch. I will investigate four organizations that were involved in different the same change process from different industries. The change process I consider is corporate downsizing where employees are involved through massive layoffs.
The general methodology to be used in this study is a case study analysis where data will be collected by way of content analysis, interviews and questionnaires. The study will attempt to collect data that fits squarely with Armenakis et al's model of creating readiness (Armenakis et al., 1993)
Content analysis will particularly be relevant to the analysis of management communications with regards to the change process. The goal will be to measure the extent to which the 'Discrepancy' and the 'Efficacy' concepts of change communication are exercised.
Interviews and questionnaires will be used to measure social and interpersonal dynamics, and influence strategies. The goal will be to assess the persuasiveness of communications, the use (and management) of external information and involvement of employees in the change process (active participation).
The interviews will also be used to assess the use and impact of change agents as well as management's assessment of the readiness of the organization.
Documents and interview transcripts will be analyzed and evaluated using standard content analysis procedures.
Likert scales will be used in the construction of questions thus enabling more objective mathematical or numerical analysis to be conducted.
The major limitation of this research is that it is conducted ex ante when the change process is completed. This may introduce bias as employee's perceptions of management actions can change significantly through the change process. Employees who were unhappy about management's approach to the change process could be more tolerant if the change improves their positions within the firm.
A second limitation for a more detailed research is a limitation on time and resources. There is inadequate time and resources to conduct a fuller analysis of the 'change readiness' process within an organization. The researcher might be forced to consider only a few actors in the change process during interviews. This will be problematic as the views and opinions of some actors might be biased. Because the research depends on few actors, the results obtained and conclusions drawn might be affected by this bias.
A bigger problem is the elimination of bias during interviews and questionnaires. The researcher plans to curb such bias by maintaining the anonymity of respondents. This however cannot curb bias fully.
I hope to find empirical evidence to show that employee readiness is a key factor in the management of organizational change. I hope to find support for the change readiness model proposed by Armenakis et al., (1993) and integrate recent findings in the area to further expand this framework. In a nutshell, I expect to contribute to the literature on how organizations prepare their employees for change and how the effectiveness of the readiness program can be assessed.
Due to the fact that this research deals with humans, ethical approval will have to be obtained from the university's ethics committee prior to conduction of any interviews or distribution of any questionnaires.