VOICES FROM THE FIELD
When I am at my best, my orientation is less as an expert or a recommender and more as a helper to the organization as it explores and discovers choices. Partnering with clients to develop design criteria and options fosters their ownership. I try to embrace the principle of people support what they help to create. It’s less about a particular method and more about creating space to allow people to be involved.
TOPICS COVERED IN THIS SECTION
• How to identify the type of change needed and utilize different change methodologies.
• How to structure an active and mindful implementation effort.
• How to build organizational readiness, engage employees in actualizing the desired strategies and goals, and develop change champions.
• How to work with resistance to change.
WHY CHANGE MANAGEMENT
The pace of change is increasing and shows no signs of slowing down. The major forces of globalization, hyper-connectedness, and immediate communication have changed the marketplace significantly and permanently. We now live in a world of constant flux. Organizations initiate a change only to have six or ten more significant initiatives emerge as necessary and urgent. As a result, 81% of managers in one study report that the pace of change in their organizations has increased compared to five years before. And 69% say that their companies experienced disruptive change within the last 12 months (AMA, 2007).
HR Business Partners have the unique opportunity to lead change in organizations and the responsibility to help business leaders manage change wisely. Changes often stem directly from HR activities, such as instituting a new talent management initiative, installing performance management tracking software, or implementing a work at home policy. However, HR Business Partners’ expertise is sorely needed in business-driven changes as well. These initiatives are, more often than not, disappointing. A McKinsey study reports that only 38% of change initiatives were completely or mostly successful improving performance (2006). Furthermore, 83% of CEOS reported that they expect significant organization change in the next two years, but 59% of change initiatives missed at least one objective or failed entirely (IBM, 2008). There’s room for improvement and HR professionals can help make that happen by helping leaders tend to the complex, tricky issues of helping people adapt to and implement change.
The Basics: What Do We Know About How Change Occurs?
Many ideas about change are based on the work of Kurt Lewin. Often considered the father of organization development, Lewin created seminal ideas about change and how the environment affects people’s and organization’s ability to change. John Adams (1988) explains Lewin’s approach to change:
Kurt Lewin taught us that we first have to unfreeze a situation before we can expect any movement. This means operating in ways that will destabilize the status quo. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways including: increasing dissatisfaction, threatening adverse consequences, and (preferably) building a vision of a better way of being that people can relate to. (p. 9)
In Lewin’s view, organizations move from stability through change to times of new stability. The change agent’s job is to identify and reduce restraining forces that prevent people from adapting and identify and add driving forces that encourage people to alter their behavior. This work was codified in a formula popularized by Dick Beckhard, Kathie Dannemiller, and others:
C = (DVF) >R
Change is possible when the level of Dissatisfaction with the status quo, the clarity of Vision, and the grasp of the First Steps to be taken can combine to be greater than the existing Resistance to change. (Adams, 2003, p. 24)
This formula worked for a while and still helps leaders think about the readiness of their organizations for change. However, practitioners soon learned that not all types of change are created equal. Linda Ackerman Anderson, first in 1985 and then in 2003 with Dean Anderson and Martin Marquardt, identified three major types of change: transitional, developmental, and transformational. Transitional change most closely resembles the type described by Lewin in his freezing-unfreezingrefreezing model. Ackerman Anderson, Anderson, and Marquardt (2003) explain:
Transitional change replaces what is with something entirely different. Transitional change involves the achievement of an existing state over a set period of time. It requires the dismantling of the old state and the creation of the consciously designed new state. Transitions include reorganizations, mergers, divestitures, implementation of . . . technology, or the creation of new products or services. (p. 7)
These are changes with a specific start and end date. They take the form of projects, drawing on project management expertise, and have a clear outcome that aims to improve operations, solve problems, or reduce threats to the enterprise.
Developmental change is simpler than transitional change since it focuses on improvement rather than replacement. The goal is to enhance what is rather than replace it. For example, a team may wish to improve its problem-solving capabilities. An organization may wish to reduce the time it takes to perform a specific process. Or an alliance may wish to improve communication processes. Whatever the specifics, the change is clearly defined and incremental and, thereby, usually less jarring to an organization. Ackerman Anderson, Anderson, and Marquardt (2003) write:
In developmental change, the new state is a prescribed enhancement of the old state, rather than a radical or experimental solution requiring profound change. The degree of pain triggering developmental change is usually low, at least in comparison to the other types of change. This does not mean that developmental change is not important or challenging; it is. However, the risks associated with
it, and the number of volatile variables tied to it, are considerably less than with the other . . . types of change. (p. 6)
The third type of change, transformational change, is prevalent in organizations today. Ackerman Anderson and Anderson (2001) explain:
Transformation is unique in two critical ways. First, the future is unknown at the start of the change process and can only be created by forging ahead with the intent to discover it . . .
Secondly, the future state is so radically different than the current state that a shift of mindset is required to invent it, let alone implement and sustain it. This fact triggers enormous human and cultural impacts.
Each type of change requires that people shift—forging ahead into an unknown future, in the case of transformational change; replacing one known situation with another, in the case of transitional change; or improving the current situation, in the case of developmental change.
William Bridges (2003) explains what people experience during these processes. He differentiates the change event from the human process of understanding and accepting change. His transition model says that people go through three stages as they attempt to adjust to change. The first stage is letting go: releasing the hold on existing processes, services, mindsets, and/or ways of doing business. In this stage, people often experience sadness about loss, anger at the need to change, and confusion about what lies ahead. The confusion increases in the second stage, the neutral zone, in which people travel through a period of ambiguity before they arrive at the intended destination. While anxiety-provoking, the neutral zone can also generate creativity as people question what they thought were givens and experiment with new ways. The third stage is the new beginning, in which people integrate their learning from the neutral zone into their daily work, which now includes new priorities and routines. In this stage, people express excitement, optimism, and impatience to move forward. Knowing these three stages helps leaders understand the experience that they, and the people affected by the change, experience during the process and design outlets for people’s feelings and opportunities for stage-appropriate learning.
Later, Bridges updated his work to address a condition prevalent in most organizations today: that of constant change. In Lewin’s world, change was an event that had a beginning, middle, and end, after which the organization would achieve a new stability that would continue until the next major change process. Bridges recognized that, today, most organizations experience multiple, simultaneous changes that make stability a rare (and sometimes alarming!) experience. To cope with this environment—and the multilayered, concurrent transitions sustained by those impacted by change—he writes: “The first thing . . . need[ed] in order to handle nonstop organizational change is an overall design . . . [in which] the various changes are integrated as component elements” (2003, p. 101).
The issue of nonstop organizational change has been picked up by an emerging field called Human Systems Dynamics or organizational complexity. Proponents of this viewpoint see dynamic, continuous change as a natural an inevitable part of our world. Dudley Tower (2002) explains:
Our world is currently experiencing an escalating and irreversible trend towards increasing complexity. Old methods of understanding change and organizing human systems are inconsistent with this new reality. In the past, the world seemed a more stable place. Assumptions regarding cause and effect, prediction and control, and the desirability of semi-closed, equilibrium-seeking systems had greater merit. Today—with the rise of a global economy, increasingly
interactive communications, continuous product and technology innovations, heightened competition, and rapidly changing perspectives—a new set of assumptions . . . are necessary. These new assumptions will necessarily re-define the practice of Organization Development—making “planned change” and traditional organization structures obsolete—while also providing us with a set of rules or principles that can be applied to all levels of human systems. (p. 4)
For practitioners like Tower, change is not something that can be managed. In fact, for complexity-based practitioners, the very term change management is an oxymoron. One can no more manage a change than one can control the weather. Instead, the role of organization leaders is to help the company adapt and navigate safely into the new world.
Complexity approaches do not make sense in all organizations. Organizations that operate in stable, predictable environments, such as a government-regulated monopolies, are insulated from complexity. Traditional change tools work well in organizations like these. In systems in which there is less stability and predictability, complexity tools are more appropriate and effective. (For more on complexity, see the chapter on Systems Thinking.)
THE CHAPTERS IN THIS SECTION
The articles in this section present the best thinking about change management that has appeared in the OD Practitioner over t...