Managing Organizational Change

Photo of the TOC (Technical Operations Center)

A panorama of the Technical Operations Center, where Jim Fordham works.

Change is inevitable. I’m reminded of Sam Cooke’s classic song which says, “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Oh yes, it will.

As managers, our role is crucial in times of change because of the relationship we have with the employees on our team. We are the closest to the employees who must adopt the new processes and behaviors associated with a change.

Organizational change occurs when a company makes a transition from its current state to some desired future state. Managing organizational change is the process of planning and implementing change in such a way as to minimize employee resistance and cost while simultaneously maximizing the effectiveness of the change.

Most successful change efforts begin when some individuals or some groups start to look hard at a company’s competitive situation, market position, technological trends, and financial performance.

Why Change?

Today’s business environment requires companies to undergo changes almost constantly if they are to remain competitive. Factors such as globalization of markets and rapidly evolving technology force businesses to respond in order to survive.

Organizational change initiatives often arise out of problems faced by a company. In some cases, however, companies change under new leadership that recognizes potentials that have not been previously visualized.

Why is there Resistance?

But organizational change is also resisted in a number of ways. Managers have defined resistances as: pushback, not buying in, criticism, foot-dragging, and so on. In fact, according to research by McKinsey & Company, about 70% of all changes in all organizations fail. The failure may be due to the manner in which change has been visualized, announced, and implemented or because internal resistance to it builds. Employees remember previous experiences and expect history to repeat itself and resist going through it all over again.

Technological changes are frequently introduced as components of larger strategic changes, although they sometimes take place on their own in the form of an upgrade to software or hardware. These changes can affect the way the frontline staff perform their day to day operation and can be met with pushback and resistance if the proper training is not applied. An important aspect of changing technology is determining who in the organization will be threatened by the change.

People changes can become necessary due to other circumstances, or sometimes companies simply seek to change workers’ attitudes and behaviors in order to increase their effectiveness or to stimulate individual or team creativeness. People changes are the most difficult and important part of the overall change process. The science of organization development was created to deal with changing people on the job through techniques such as education and training, team building, and career planning.

As managers, trying to execute a change, no matter how small, we should expect to encounter some resistance from within the organization. Resistance to change is normal; people cling to habits and to the status quo. Undoubtedly, managerial actions can minimize or arouse resistance. People must be motivated to shake off old habits. Without motivation, people won’t help, and the effort goes nowhere. This should take place in stages rather than abruptly to minimize people anxieties.

How to Minimize Resistance

Photo of John Kotter

John P. Kotter, Harvard professor and author of Leading Change.

John P. Kotter regarded as the authority on leadership and change says leaders who successfully transform businesses do eight things right:

  • Establishing a Sense of Urgency
  • Forming a Powerful Guiding Coalition
  • Creating a Vision
  • Communicating the Vision
  • Empowering Others to Act on the Vision
  • Planning for and Creating Short-Term Wins
  • Consolidating Improvements and Producing Still More Change
  • Institutionalizing New Approaches

Kotter’s eight step model is explained more fully on his website

Education and communication are key ingredients in decreasing negative reactions. Employees can be informed about both the nature of the change and the logic behind it before it takes place through reports, memos, group presentations, or individual discussions. Another important component of overcoming resistance is inviting employee participation and involvement in both the design and launch phases of the change. Managers can ensure that employees will have the resources to bring the change about. As a result of the Technical Operations Center (TOC) launch, TOC managers make themselves available to provide explanations and to reduce stress arising in many situations.

Some companies manage to overcome resistance to change through compromise and rewards. They offer employees tangible incentives to guarantee their cooperation. Other companies resort to manipulation, or using subtle tactics such as giving a resistance leader a prominent position in the change effort. A final option is coercion, which involves punishing people who resist or using force to ensure their cooperation. Although this method can be useful when speed is of the essence, it can have lingering negative effects on the company. Obviously, no technique is appropriate to every situation, and a number of different approaches may be combined as desired.

Photo of President John F. Kennedy

President John F. Kennedy.

As managers, we must actively support the change in visible ways to curtail resistance. By engaging Kotter’s eight steps on leadership and change; managers can help support employees through the change process; provide direction and encourage successful performance in the new environment. Change is vital if a company is to avoid stagnation.

 “Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” – John F. Kennedy

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