XI. The Change Process

A. Introduction

As a manager, one of your primary tasks is to improve the organization. To improve implies creating changes. This is why managers are often described as "change agents." Unfortunately, change is not easy to accomplish. Even if the change is a positive one, people tend to resist it. Managers must understand the change process and actively lead their organizations by guiding their people through this process.

B. Forces Behind Change

Change can result from any number of forces acting on the organization. External forces include the markets the organization operates in, governmental laws and regulations, technology and macroeconomic shifts. External forces act upon the organization and intelligent organizations must react to them. In today's economy, organizations that do not react to change are doomed to failure. One of the purposes of environmental scanning is to identify these forces early enough to be able to be proactive instead of reactive. Proactive organizations accept the changing conditions of the outside world and attempt to make changes within the firm before the impact of the new condition is felt. Reactive organizations wait until they are overwhelmed by the new conditions and then attempt to repair the damage.

Internal forces can also cause change. Whenever a company changes strategy, modifies its workforce, changes equipment, or when employee attitudes are modified (for instance, by the efforts of a union attempting to gain representation rights) the organization must react.

C. Two Change Models

The classic model for change is Lewin's Freeze Model. In this model, the organization is static. A change must be made and this involves a three-step process: first unfreezing the current conditions and structure, then changing the structure, and finally, refreezing the structure in its new form. To unfreeze the original organization, Lewin provided three methods. First, increase the pressure from the driving forces behind the change. Second, remove the restraining forces that attempt to prevent the change from occurring. Third, try a combination of the first two methods.

Lewin's model is often attacked as simply modifying the status quo of an organization. The faster tempo of today's organizations seems to preclude the "thawing ice cube" model of Lewin. However, with some slight modifications, the model still works.

Rather than using an icy example, shift the perspective to a gelatin dessert. Initially the gelatin has jelled as a cube. Even through it is a cube, pressures from outside the gelatin or from inside the cube can modify its shape to fit a situation (ask any child who has sucked Jell-OŽ through his or her teeth!). However, whenever the pressure is removed, the gelatin will spring back to its original shape. To change the "remembered" structure of a gelatin, the cook must reintroduce heat and perhaps new ingredients (like more water) to break the old structure. The cook then finds a new desired structure to pour in the gelatin into (say a cone). When the forces within the gelatin reach steady state, new cone structure is now "in memory" and the cube no longer exists. Once again the gelatin can be forced into new shapes to cope with pressures exerted, but now it will return to a new remembered cone structure.

Lewin's methods of changing from an equilibrium state still apply, but now, managers have the choice to force the structure to bend by applying some pressure, or to modify the structure with greater pressure. The gelatin will always remain gelatin, just as an organization will always be a collection of people working toward a common goal, but the relationship between the proteins that make the gelatin is always subject to change or stress, as are the structural work relationships between people in an organization. The very nature of gelatin reminds the manager of the instability of structures and the need for change.

D. Inertia and Overcoming

Resistance to Change Resistance to change can often be traced back to the fact that the change itself was not properly "sold" to the people who are affected by it. There are three fears regarding change that must be surmounted to remove resistance.

First is uncertainty. Change always will result in some uncertainty in the minds of those effected. Old rules no longer apply and the new ones may not be known as yet. People tend to get very uncomfortable in uncertain situations. To combat this, managers must actively reduce the amount of uncertainty by planning the changes and how the changes will effect the workers. When implementing a change, open communication and clearly indicating the new rules and structure will alleviate much of the uncertainty and resistance.

Second is the concern of personal loss. This form of inertia is strongest in people who have many years in the organization and who are afraid that the new changes will cost them some of the benefits they have accumulated through working under the old conditions. Office workers who were promoted based on their skills at manual typing and filing skills often fight computerization of the administrative department. They fear their old skills will not translate into this new environment. Intelligent managers will try to foresee these fears and will go out of their way to show workers that the old skills or benefits will not be lost (or become useless) because of the change.

Third, is the workers belief that the change is a detriment to the organization. These workers will decide that the change goes against the goals and interests of the firm. Managers must sell these workers on the value of the change by clearly indicating how the changes enhance the organization's goals and strategy.

In all these cases, managers act like salespeople and think of the change as their product. They have to examine the product's characteristics, consider the good and bad aspects of the product, and the forces for purchasing resistance within the organization. These managers then develop a sales pitch (i.e., how to communicate the change) for the organization. Communication and openness to feedback are the keys to implementing a change.

E. Techniques for Implementing Change

In addition to the "sales mindset" discussed above, there are a number of specific techniques designed to reduce inertia and resistance.

Directly in line with the sales approach is education and communication. The greater the amount of communication, the lower the resistance to change. Facilitation and support moves beyond just communicating about change to dealing with personal counseling and support for people moving through change.

Some techniques seek to remove resistance by bringing those impacted by the change into the change creation process. Participation is having workers directly involved in the making the change decision. This increases knowledge regarding the conditions that forced the change as well as a high level of employee buy-in. Co-optation involves removing the resistance of key influence leaders in an organization by getting them associated with the decision. This is a very manipulative method of trying to make changes.

Other manipulative methods include manipulation itself, negotiation with sources of resistance, and coercion. These methods while powerful, are very dangerous to use from both a practical and ethical standpoint. People who have been "used" and discover this fact (and they always will) are not only more resistant to change later, but will actively attempt similar manipulative techniques toward the organization later. With the highly intelligent, sensitive and mobile workforce of today, managers should strongly consider all other options before deciding on these manipulative methods.


Copyright Information
Title: The Change Process (Lecture Notes)
Author: John Anderson  (Instructor)
University: National University
Course: MGT 409C- Principles of Management and Organization
Date: June 1, 2002 (Received)

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