Managing successful change within organisations.

Published: 2019/12/06 Number of words: 3561

Globalisation has internationalised the marketplace. Companies are facing an increasingly competitive environment. Pressures come not just from within the industry but also from within the country (or countries) in which they operate. Change is inevitable and any attempt to preserve the status quo will end in disenchantment and maybe even disillusionment. It is the job of the leaders to correctly gauge the need for change within an organisation and respond quickly to that change. The best organisations are the ones that successfully implement the changes they plan. Change affects an organisation’s processes and this can sometimes lead to the development of a new “organisational life cycle.” Change not only affects the employees of a company, it also affects the managers and arguably most importantly, the customers. Managers should be motivated to change by the changes that will result in organisational effectiveness. However, employees may be resistant to such a change. It is the job of the leaders to correctly gauge the need for change within an organisation, and to bring about that change in an orderly manner.

There have been many models put forward to help managers and leaders successfully implement change within an organisation. One of the key models is Lewin’s “three steps to change” – unfreeze, moving and refreezing. In the first stage, emphasis is placed on minimising obstacles to change and maximising the change effort. The next stage sees the recognition that change is needed and the acceptance of the proposed change. Following this, the new system has to be reinforced and consolidated. Another key model is Kotter’s “8 steps to transforming your organisation” which emphasises the need for continual communication and having a shared vision. (Kotter, 1995)

Although helpful, articles written by scholars often fall short of the ideal mainly because insufficient consideration is given to the reality that the world is continually evolving. What is successful in the realm of theory may not necessarily work in reality. Therefore, it is necessary to have a practical manual of change that will enable managers and leaders to help to instil change in as painless a way as possible, because it has been argued that change that is painless is the one that is most effective (Abrahamson 2000). The aim of this paper is to provide managers with a useful and realistic way of implementing change. In doing so, theories of change management will be applied and practical examples included.

1. When dealing with change, create a sense of urgency
Although there may be a perception of the problems and the need for change, there are often greater forces at work, namely complacency and apathy. One of the most important things to do when implementing change is to establish the need for change. The process begins when the manager (or appointed ‘change agent’) takes a long, hard and objective look at the company and considers the triggers for change, whether they are internal or external or a mixture of both. (See figure 1.1) Some of the key questions that need to be asked are as follows:

  • What is going on in the industrial world now that is driving the need for change in the organisation?
  • How are other organisations responding to changes taking place?
External factors that trigger changeInternal factors that may trigger change
Government policiesDrop in profits
CompetitorsLoss of important members of staff
CustomersLack of motivation
The mediaLoss of motivation

Figure 1.1

The next step is to communicate this information as broadly and as prominently as possible. However, a balance is necessary when communicating with people. Any extremes may be counterproductive by reducing motivation and co-operation amongst the employees i.e. if it is communicated too sedately, then people may not be motivated to change and if it is passed on with too much of an alarmist attitude, it could reduce employee confidence in their ability to change the situation. This step is not always easy and is demonstrated by the statistic that as many as 50% of companies fall at this stage (Kotter 1995). The reason for this is that managers underestimate the resistance to change and how hard it is to shift people out of their comfort zones. There are ways of communicating the situation to the employees. The most effective of these methods will be discussed in the following sections.

1.1 Conduct Employee Interviews
These are very effective as the employees are immediately involved and have a say in how the change process will be managed. Doing this helps to clarify the daily challenges faced by the members of staff. By doing this, a feeling of mutuality can be engendered and resistance to change can be significantly reduced.

1.2 By showing people the need for change through competitive or financial information
This type of information has to strike the right balance between dramatic and the pessimistic. It is essential that the data is accurate. This is because if employees perceive that they are being deceived, there is less likelihood of their cooperating in the change process, especially if they find out about the deception.

Open and honest discussion of what is happening in the marketplace (loss of market share, reduction in competitive advantage and so on) will aid in making this first step to change a success. People have to believe that the change desired can be carried out and is necessary. If people do not believe that this is the case, they are unlikely to engage in the change process.

When the business is doing well, the above measures come into their own as ways of communicating because there are more resources to help make the necessary changes. However, convincing people for the need to change is much harder. If the company is already experiencing problems, e.g. financial decline, then there will be no need to create the need for change. However, there may be less room for manoeuvre.

There is no one who can correctly predict the problems that an initiative will have on the procedures, policies or structure. Therefore it is necessary for the manager to include feedback sessions so they can appraise the proposed change from all angles. The change process has to be participatory one. Therefore discussion at all levels helps engender commitment and helps in driving change forward.

2. Enlist the help of change agents to help with the process
This is an essential part of the change process because “it takes people to make a change work.” (, 2006). A very important part of this process is mapping out where the areas of resistance and support are within the organisation. These individuals can support the cause for change within their relevant departments.

2.1 Dealing with resistance

2.1.1 Through training and communication
One of the most popular and effective ways to beat resistance is to educate people before the proposed change. This is ideal when the information about the change is incomplete and is being put together while the change is taking place. This can be done through regular reports, face-to-face discussions and presentations. This takes time and effort and requires good relationships which can be built up slowly.

2.1.2 Through participation
By involving the potential resistors in the change process – either the design or implementation, they are less likely to create conflict because “participation leads to commitment not merely compliance.” (Kotter and Schlesinger, 1979).

2.1.3 Support
This may appear to be the ‘soft’ option. However, it can be effective if fear lies at the root of the resistance. This involves providing training, or listening when employees have problems. The value of this cannot be underestimated. It is time-consuming and expensive but if used effectively, can help the transition process.

2.1.4 Negotiation
Negotiation may involve the offer of inducements to any potential resistors. This is often very effective if someone is likely to lose out as a result of the proposed change. However care has to be taken that these incentives are not seen as blackmail.

Major transformation initiatives can begin with only a few people. In successful transformations, the top management, such as a chairman or CEO plus any other divisional heads, come together to develop a mutual commitment to carry out the process. There needs to be a minimum level of trust that needs to be created. One of the most effective ways of doing this is to organise a corporate day out or event.

3. Motivate the people by creating shared vision
The purpose of the project needs to be clarified through genuine consensus building” (Tyler, 2004 p.204). This is essential for the success of a change implementation. One of the most effective ways of doing this is to make sure that there is a vision in place. What is a vision? It is something that “helps to clarify the direction in which an organisation needs to move” (Kotter 1995). This is very important because without a vision, the change implementation process may just break up and become a confusing hotchpotch of perplexing and mismatched plans that can end up taking the company in the wrong direction or keeping them firmly in the rut that they may be trying to get out of. This goes beyond just compiling a list of rules, procedures, goals and deadlines. It is about communicating something that gets the attention and that can be easily understood. This may take the form of putting into place a formal program of sharing information, a short video or regular informal meetings with the departments answering any questions.

One of the main reasons why change is difficult is because people have to change habits built up over a number of years. This takes commitment. Often small and achievable goals in the habit-changing process may prove more successful than trying to force wholesale change in one big step.

People need to know even though they make mistakes, they are in a safe environment. Having a strong support network in place will help people make the changes necessary to make the transition.

4. Keep communicating.
Communication is important especially if the structure of the company will have to be changed i.e. job losses and organisational restructuring. Knowing what the issues are and learning where potential hindrances lie can go some way in making the transition successful. There are several ways of doing this.

4.1 Suggestion Programme
One of the most effective ways of opening the communication channels is by starting up a programme where people can submit their ideas on the direction and the vision of the organisation. This is a practical way that people can get involved in the process of change and therefore be more motivated to see it through.

4.2 Setting new targets
A vision can only do so much. In trying to get the change process continually moving, it is essential, to have targets and objectives for the people to aim towards. It is very important to have goals that involve stretching people. Goals that are not too easy to achieve and not too hard to be deemed achievable. If they are too hard, then people will lose heart because they will not be able to meet set targets. If they are too easy, then people become lazy and settle more into their comfort zones. In addition to this, it is essential that success i.e. reaching the targets is celebrated.

5. Remain active
Good managers and leaders take action and encourage others to do so” (Hendricks, 1989). An increasingly effective way to help people is just to walk around the office. This has been deemed as soft. However, the presence of management can help boost morale and productivity. It is always necessary to keep the process going until it has become institutionalised while the employees are kept motivated all the time. Passivity will kill any efforts to implement change. One of the most positive things that can be done is to actively remove any obstacles. Wishing that problems will go away does not work. Ignoring them will not be effective either. Regeneration of any kind within an organisation requires the recognition and the removal of any obstacles that stand in the way. There are several types of obstacles that may need to be overcome

5.1 The Organisational Structure
This may be the biggest obstacle to the change process. For example, the job classifications could be very narrow and this could be a problem for any attempt at increasing productivity and this may also affect the way that customers are considered.

5.2 Money Talks
It may be the case that the payment systems, such as performance-related pay, may force people to choose between the new vision and their own self-interest. Having rewards (not necessarily monetary) for successful fulfilment of change ‘goals’ will help to reduce this problem.

5.3 Inconsistency within the top management
There are few things that can prove more detrimental to change implementation than the top management only paying lip service to the proposed changes. For example, if one of the changes proposed is that teams will be rewarded for any innovative ideas that they come up with and this is not done, this change will not work and people will not be apt to carry it out to its conclusion.

It is not always possible to remove all the obstacles, but it is necessary to locate the main ones and remove them. Ignorance cannot be an excuse to leaving the issues unsolved. This is especially the case if the cause of the obstacle is a person. Treat the resistor fairly. This is essential to maintain the integrity of the change process as a whole.

Another aspect of this is the constant education of the employees through training or education. The continuous improvement in employee knowledge and skills is essential to successful change.

6. Consolidation of the new process
There is no point in pushing through change if people forget about it as soon as it has been implemented. The change will become permanent when it is described as ‘the new way things are done.’ Until the new actions are entrenched in the norms and values of the company, their influence will be undermined as soon as the pressure to change stops. There has to be a monitoring and evaluation process in place to react to any issues arising from the new operations that have been put into place.

There are two elements to be considered here. There must be a conscious and determined effort to demonstrate the new processes and attitudes have helped to improve the company performance. If people are left to their own devices, then they make mistakes that are contrary to the new way of doing things. If there is no one to correct them, this may lead to the degradation of all the new operations that have been put into place. Thus, again the importance of communication is emphasised. This may be through the company newsletter showing how the new behaviours have changed things such as efficiency, market share and financial performance. If employees see concrete evidence of the results, then they are more likely to stick with the new programme.

Another element will be to make sure that the next generation of management do embrace the new process. One bad decision can undermine the renewal process and in doing so, take the company back to where it was or even worse, further back than it was.

There are many ways of consolidating the new way of doing things. The most effective are as follows:

  • Rewarding success either monetarily or by other incentives. People are more likely to continue the change process if they feel that they are going to be rewarded as their efforts deserve.
  • As a last resort, it may be unavoidable to dismiss someone particularly resistant to the change. This is to make sure that they do not undermine the change that has taken place within the organisation. New blood may be what the company needs especially in an industry that is constantly changing.
  • Constant monitoring systems must be put in place. It is not enough to have successfully implemented the change. It is necessary to keep on changing incrementally so that the edge gained by the company is not lost.
  • It is necessary to develop a wide-ranging communication system that lasts beyond the change implementation process to when actual results are visible.
  • When and where possible, the new way of doing things must be linked into existing procedures and made part of the culture of the organisation.

It is worth noting that during this process it is essential that customers (both internal and external) become the number one priority. If a change is put into place to improve efficiency, then it is good to tell the customers. They may have suggestions that the company have not thought about. Customers’ views (especially in the case of external customers) are taken on board as they may be more objective, and not originally considered by internal looking management.

For successful change management, managers must also be leaders. They have to be proactive, patient and show persistence, as lasting change takes time. The key to successful change is not only the managers but also open and honest communication at all levels. Communication helps to engage people at all levels, which helps to decrease resistance and increase motivation and commitment. It is not manuals full of procedures and policies that guarantee successful change, it is the community spirit engendered by honest and open exchange of ideas and employee interaction.

By breaking old habits and assumptions, an organisation can be transformed, but all the efforts made by the people have to be rewarded. As these new behaviours and attitudes become the norm, then the change will become more permanent.

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