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May 29, 2014

Difficulties in Facilitating Change

By: Michael Goetzman

1.0 Introduction

“Change is constant and occurs with great frequency” (Nutt, 2001) but strangely organizations find it difficult to implement change. When it is known that competitive advantage (Porter, 1980) is the driver for survival why is it that a company is generally unsuccessful at change? Why are changes so difficult when it is recognized that environments require change; globalization and outsourcing being a great example that has affected both small and large businesses in equal measure? Why do employees find comfort in routine habits? Why can’t employees be outgoing and do something different each day? Why do employees constantly resist change in their workplace? This noticeable paradox gets more complex when some researchers claim the biggest variable to change are the employees, while the other researchers claim it to be the failure of leadership.

The answers to these questions and concerns are not easy. Over a period of time a company develops core competencies (Prahalad & Hamel, 1990) and sometimes management jealously guard these and resist changes for fear of losing them and putting all their trust in them. They tend to overlook that changes take place all around them externally and that these have a profound effect on their internal environments as well. Similarly, there are power groups in a company and political resistance occurs when change threatens these powerful stakeholders (Cummings & Worley, 2005).

This paper covers that in the current scenario technology, economic forces, socio-political and cultural diversity factors are of greater relevance to change at the workplace (Ivancevich & Matteson, 2002). But, it is finally up to both the leaders and the employees to assume larger responsibilities as change agents in using these factors to bring change to a successful conclusion.

2.0 Change Models

Academics and researchers have attributed change issues into three broad areas: Organization, Leadership, and Employees. However, they are all inter-related and overlap occurs in any review or research, including this paper on difficulties in facilitating change. External business relationships have an effect on the culture and relationships within the organization. Change in external environments demands structural changes within the organization for which it falls back on the study of its architecture and review its fit in the environment (Porter, 1996).

Research is easier explained using various academic models. The process of organizational development begins with identifying a model for a focused understanding. Successful diagnosis requires in-depth perception of its architecture or design of the organization. One has to look at the informal and formal side; whether the leadership is more bureaucratic or organic; and if it is operating in stable or changing environment?  (Cummings & Worley, 2005). This is the Model of the Organization. These models provide a framework for examining an organization and deciding where and when change would be suitable and how to plan and execute it (Cummings & Worley, 2005).

Change is resisted as people naturally prefer status quo and organizations wish to avoid chaos. Very early in 1958, Lewin (Lewin, 1958) had suggested that a better way to overcome resistance to change was to reduce the forces resisting change instead of increasing the forces to crush it. This has been corroborated by others in later years (eg. (Beer, Eisenstat, & Spector, 1990), (Bate, 1990) and (Hofstede, Neuijen, Ohayv, & Sanders, 1990)) that the focus of change has to be the work practices and not the worker. Although terminating employees based on attitude or behavior is another matter on improving moral within the organization.

3.0 Change Methods

(Cummings & Worley, 2005) have drawn upon and elaborated on (Lewin, 1958) and described the three phases of change as un-freeze, freeze and re-freeze. They argued that initially organizations must unfreeze the system. This means creating a sense of urgency about the need for change, educating managers and leaders to behave dif­ferently, merging with another organization and so on; the under­lying idea being to shake the system demonstrating a compelling need to do business differently, and by making it open to change interventions.

Thereafter, the change is propelled in new directions with different technologies and ways of oper­ation. Lewin’s (Lewin, 1958) point was that unless and until an un-frozen condition is achieved, the system will not move or change in any meaningful way. Once change, or movement, is underway, the third stage, re-freeze is initiated since the new, changed condition or state needs to be established with a process and accompanying infrastructure like new technologies in place to maintain the newly acquired system. This calls for installing a new extrinsic and intrinsic reward system (Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 2001) to support the performance that fits well within the new changed conditions. The employees are now able to see a clear and direct relationship between the organization’s mission and strategy and their individual employee roles and responsibilities.

On the group/department level, organizational culture has a powerful effect on the performance and long-term effectiveness of organizations. Research findings indicate the importance of culture in enhancing organizational performance. But culture change is intimately tied up to individual change. Unless managers or leaders are willing to commit to personal change, the organization’s culture will remain unchanged. Research has indicated that introduction of TQM and other measures of excellence, as well as downsizing have made for effective change (Cameron, Bright, & Caza, 2004). Different methods of interventions should be experimented with until a measurement of a success outcome can be detected.

Finally, it is the farsighted, motivated, and dynamic leadership that can usher in change. Having recognized the essentials the leaders or managers at levels have to offer; a vision, strategy, as well as leading by example. Successful leadership means that the leader connects with employee’s values and excites them. Change plans are finally executed not based on plans but the active transformational participation of leaders who pull in their subordinates into the new system more as partners and co-sharers of their visions (Senge, 1990). Finally, it is the pull and not the push that motivates workers. The knowledge of desired outcomes, the preparation for contingencies and removal of obstructions (Atkinson & Millar, 1999) are the ingredients of a successful change program. The leaders along with management play critical roles as change agents.

In the current scenario where globalization and outsourcing has flattened the world, change practices have come under severe strains. Change is more often the norm and practice rather than a planned event and task to look forward to. Unplanned change plans are often difficult and lack the ability to change faster than the competition which could lead to an unsuccessful response to the changing market conditions. Competition is on the increase with new factors of foreign organizations coming in with different cultures and views and with outsourcing of work to various parts of the world. This is even more of a fact during the recent recessionary times and with financial markets in an unstable state.

Recent technological advances have drastically altered the workplace, the job processes, and the workers. The conventional worker had one or two skills, was uncomfortable with change, had very little motivation, a poor education, and had few training opportunities. Politics within companies more conventional cause many conflicts and power struggles. In stark contrast, the modern worker is multi-skilled, willing to change, looks for opportunities and is highly motivated towards personal career enhancement. He is better educated, usually at a college level and technologically aware and can teach himself continuously by harnessing the education from the internet.

Within the new working middle class, there is yet another kind of worker known as the knowledge worker. He is highly mobile, widely networked, very opportunistic, willing to work odd hours and believes that change is always best for him. Such a worker is outspoken and his attitude speaks out his identity and aspiration (Perloff 2003). The generational differences between the younger knowledge worker and the generally older more conventional managers, leaders, and change agents have caused a phenomenal shift in successful management methods. For example, the knowledge worker does not respond well to micromanagement and prefers peer support from the decision makers.

This changes the perception of change management. The new workers, especially the knowledge worker, are eager for change and therefore change becomes the burden of the leaders and management. If the managers refuse change, they will find high turnover rates of workers and the competitive advantage of their organization slipping away. Indeed workers have now become Human Capital and just as important as the traditional capital of the company. Technology advancement is becoming more and more a major focus and tool for these new knowledge workers.

4.0 Conclusions

Change within organizations has so many inconceivable depths and unpredictable variables that each situation would never be the same. Researching the present conditions, the possible future outcomes, and abandoning tactics that have been unsuccessful all equalities back to experience of the change process. The key to a successful change process is the motivating change agents who can align the employees behind the given task.

The ultimate ingredients of successful business change in modern times are: coordination, commitment, and competencies. Employees are usually already motivated and interested in their personal career enhancements. The leaders and management can easily capitalize on this and as the new change agents they can recognize the competencies and by offering participation and commitments can expect high degree of cooperation to achieve their visions.

The market as you would expect will force change if ignored for any length of time with possible indicators of decreased profits, turnover of staff, difficulty within the supply, or many other negative impact within the organization. This lack of change will disrupt the market and those who don’t survive the transition will be replaced with an organization who adapted to the new environment. Competition demands improvement of these environmental conditions by reducing costs, adjusting the process, and streamlined supply chains as this is the foundation of the American business.  It is no longer as difficult to bring about change to the various sectors of business as all stakeholders are now eager to participate as they are aware that it is a welcome step away from tradition and necessary to grow any business.


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