Sunday, October 14, 2012

What’s Changed about Managing Change?

There can be confusion with a simple term like change when applied to organisations. Whereas in the past change might have been considered the exception rather than the rule, our current global business environment requires change to be the rule rather than the exception.
Some of the theories put forward about change simply don’t make sense in many organisational contexts. Kurt Lewin, recognised as the "founder of social psychology", proposed a three stage theory of change commonly referred to as Unfreeze, Change, Freeze (or Refreeze) process. But this implies that the organisation and/or its people are ‘frozen’ in the first place – and I’ve found very few organisations in today’s world that are ‘operating’ and in a ‘frozen’ state – as it would be close to impossible to survive for long. Then having made the change he suggests ‘freezing’ it again – when we know that organisations are competing in a fully dynamic environment where the competition will respond to the changes and hence you can never afford to ‘freeze’ anything.
In fact Lewin’s approach would highlight why organisations are reactive rather than proactive – as freezing anything in business will eventually lead to a need to react to changing circumstances in your market.
I would suggest that most organisations are developing and at least trying to continually improve and hence are making ‘adjustments’ and ‘changing’ on a regular basis.
John Kotter, a professor at Harvard Business School, introduced his eight-step change process in his 1995 book, "Leading Change" where his eight steps were; create urgency; form a powerful coalition; create a vision for change; communicate the vision; remove obstacles; create short-term wins; build on change; anchor the changes in corporate culture.

But again this ‘theory’ has too many negative assumptions that aren’t practical in many organisations. It first seems to imply that the organisation doesn’t have a strategy and vision in the first place or that they have talented employees who are committed to implementing the strategy and hence the changes that are required. Kotter, like Lewin, then assumes that it is healthy to ‘anchor’ the change assuming that the current state won’t need further development as the organisations competitors respond to their ‘changes.’
There’s no doubt that change management has its place when an organisation needs to make a significant change in direction in a short space of time – where it is the pace of change that is the potential problem rather than the change itself. Otherwise any organisation that is seeking sustainable growth must have a culture of continuous improvement, where change and innovation are encouraged at an individual, departmental and corporate level, as long as the change and innovation either align with the strategy or leads to a review and potential re-design of the strategy.
The simple rules of change should include;
a) Change is a constant in todays business environment. You 'freeze' anything at your peril;
b) That you don't make change for change sake;
c) That change must align to the strategy; or you must re-align your strategy to the potential changes (i.e. don't waste time and money trying to be too clever - it's often the little things that make a real difference);
d) Make sure all your changes are aligned in the same direction (obvious, but sometimes overlooked);
e) Don't let people make change a scary topic - this goes to the foundation of the leadership and culture of the organisation;
f) Lead from the front and listen to the pulse of the organisation; be transparent and manage by walking around, answering questions and quelling fears if and when they arise;
g) Recognise that change is taking place on a regular basis - discuss it, highlight it and embrace it - that way it becomes the norm (rather than something to fear).
We need people to encourage organisations to recognise that change is happening all the time, as the organisation and their employees learn and develop on a continuous basis – and hence are continually evolving and changing.
There are times when ‘specialised change management’ can be required and that is when an organisation needs to make a substantive change in direction in a short space of time – where it is the time factor, rather than the change component that should alert you that you may require specialist help to manage the process.
Otherwise change and continuous improvement should be part of the corporate culture and a behavioural trait of your employee talent if you are going to be a successful organisation and enjoy sustainable growth.

1 comment:

  1. Great thoughts Nigel especially about the need to have more or less continuous change. And what we need to start is a fully engaged workforce who are highly motivated and highly committed with sky high morale and innovation literally loving to come to work and at least 300% more productive than if poorly engaged. These people do their very best to do a better job tomorrow than they did today and very quickly realize the need to change.

    Such a workforce is reasonably simple to create unless we are wedded to the traditional top-down command and control approach to managing people. That approach tends to demotivate and disengage employees and is what causes the vast majority of change initiatives fail. It is the proverbial big elephant in the room. Engagement surveys and the like are only lipstick on that pig/elephant.