Why organisations need to change
Many things cause organisational change. These include:
- challenges of growth, especially global markets
- challenge of economic downturns and tougher trading conditions
- changes in strategy
- technological changes
- competitive pressures, including mergers and acquisitions
- customer pressure, particularly shifting markets
- new organisation behaviours and skills
- government legislation/initiatives.
All organisations are changing their focus, expanding or contracting their activities and rethinking their products and services. Most organisations more than ten years old look nothing like they did even five years ago. And it is likely that in the next year or two organisations will not look as they do today.
In this context managers have to be able to introduce and manage change to ensure the organisational objectives of change are met, and that they gain the commitment of their people, both during and after implementation. Often, at the same time, they also have to ensure that business continues as usual.
Why the management of change is important
Change management matters because, although change is taking place at an ever-increasing pace, there is evidence that suggests that most change initiatives fail.
The impact of failures to introduce effective change can also be high: loss of market position, removal of senior management, loss of stakeholder credibility, loss of key employees, and reduction in engagement.
Issues in the change management process
A large number of issues have been identified as having negative impact on effective change management. Some of the key themes are identified below.
Individual change initiatives are not always undertaken as part of a wider coherent change plan, for example through considering linkages between strategy, structure and systems issues. Therefore a change that considers a new structure but fails to establish the need to introduce new systems or processes to support such a structure is less likely to succeed.
Lack of effective project management and programme management disciplines can lead to slippages in timings, in achievement of desired outcomes and in ensuring that the projects do deliver as planned. Insufficient relevant training, for example in project management, change management skills and leadership skills can impact negatively on the effectiveness of any change initiative.
Poor communication has been linked to issues surrounding the effectiveness of change management in achieving effective change in various ways. For example, imposed change can lead to greater employee resistance (see section below also).
Change initiatives can also be over-managed, with too much energy spent on project management and too little on enacting change.
Finally, lack of effective leadership has been identified as an inhibitor of effective change.
Individual/group resistance to change
Resistance to change can be defined as an individual or group engaging in acts to block or disrupt an attempt to introduce change. Resistance is not necessarily negative, as it may be a clear signal that the change initiative requires rethinking or reframing. Resistance itself can take many different forms from subtle undermining of change initiatives, withholding of information to active resistance, for instance through strikes.
Two broad types of resistance can be considered:
- Resistance to the content of change – for example to a specific change in technology or to the introduction of a particular reward system.
- Resistance to the process of change. This concerns the way a change is introduced rather than the object of change per se, for example, management re-structure jobs without prior consultation of affected employees.
Management need to be aware of these different criteria to ensure they respond appropriately.
Suggested reasons for resistance include: loss of control, shock of the new, uncertainty, inconvenience, threat to status and competence fears. It is important to try to diagnose the cause of employee resistance as this will help determine the focus of effort in trying to address the issue.
Making change management more effective
From the issues raised in the section above it can be seen that change is complex and there is no single solution. However, a number of key areas of focus emerge.
Effective leadership is a key enabler as it provides the vision and the rationale for change. Different styles of leadership have been identified, for example coercive, directive, consultative and collaborative. These different styles may each be appropriate depending on the type and scale of change being undertaken. For example, when there is a large-scale organisation-wide change a directive style has been identified as most effective.
Appropriate and timely training is frequently identified as key to effective change. Examples of learning and development requirements might include:
- project and programme management skills to ensure change initiatives are completed both on time and to budget
- change management skills, including communication and facilitation
- leadership coaching.
Organisational development is one approach or intervention used when trying to bring about change orientated to improving organisational effectiveness.
Two-way communication with employees and their active involvement in implementation has also been identified as a key enabler of change. Active participation is one suggested means of overcoming resistance to change. Research on mergers and acquisitions highlights the importance of senior leaders devoting attention to communication with employees during a time of transformation for the organisation.
Finally, linking all the change agendas within an organisation coherently, rather than completing changes in isolation, is vital to ensure that change effectiveness is maximised. Research with Said Business School has identified seven areas of activity that make successful change happen – ‘the seven c’s of change’:
- choosing a team
- crafting the vision and the path
- connecting organisation-wide change
- consulting stakeholders
- coping with change
- capturing learning.
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