The effective management of change

People in general are naturally wary of change. Resistance to change can take many forms and it is often difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons for the resistance. Most people feel threatened and confused by the challenge of change. Emotions such as uncertainty, frustration or fear are common reactions. It is understandable therefore that people often adopt a defensive and negative attitude, and demonstrate resistance to change. Mullins (1996) Buchanan & Huczynski (1997) point out that change can be resisted because it can be threatening and involves confrontation with the unknown and loss of the familiar.

Change presents those involved with new situations, new problems and challenges, and with ambiguity and uncertainty. Many people find change, or the thought of change, painful and frustrating. Fincham & Rhodes (1999) indicate that change can be extremely difficult to get going in organisations, and that in practice, overcoming the barriers to effective change, and what can broadly be termed ‘organisational inertia’, is a key concern of management. They also suggest that because organisations are made up of people who will be differently affected by change, the impact of change needs to be planned accurately rather than widely recognized.

Managers need to know who has changed and who has not. Management must recognise the complexities of the change process. Cummings & Worley (1997) argue analysis of change is one of the most essential and critical stages. The more knowledge and understanding you can gather, with regard to the change, the more likely to stay in control. Most of the early work on understanding organisational change was carried out by Kurt Lewin. His model ‘Force Field Analysis’ has received widespread attention in organisational development.

His model provides a general framework to assist the management of change. This involves a three phrase process of behaviour alteration; Unfreezing, Movement and Refreezing. Unfreezing involves reducing those forces maintaining the organisations behaviour at its present level. Moving involves developing new attitudes or behaviour and the implementation of the change. Refreezing involves stabilising change at the new level and reinforcing it through supporting mechanisms, such as organisational culture, policies and structures.

To energise change requires an ‘unfreezing’ of the status quo, change to be effected, and a ‘refreezing’ or consolidation of the new state. The level of behaviour at any moment in time is the result of two sets of forces – those striving to maintain the status quo (restraining forces) and those pushing for change (driving forces). When both sets of forces are about equal, current levels of behaviour are maintained in what Lewin termed a state of “quasi-stationary equilibrium”. In order to promote the right conditions for change there has to be an unfreezing of this situation.

An imbalance must be created between the driving and restraining forces. To change that state, one can increase those forces pushing for change, decrease those forces maintaining the current state, or apply some combination of both. Lewin suggested that first, the restraining forces should be attended to, and selectively removed as those forces maintaining the status quo produce less tension and resistance than increasing forces for change and that the driving forces will automatically push change forward since removing the restraining forces has created an imbalance in the quasi-stationary equilibrium.

His model also reminds managers to look for multiple cause of behaviour rather than a single cause. Mullins (1996) suggests that the forces against change in work organisations include; ignoring the needs and expectations of members; when members have insufficient information about the nature of the change; or if they do not perceive the need for change. Many writers (Cummings & Worley, Buchanan & Huczynski, Mullins, Hellriegel et al,) point out some common reasons for resistance to change within organisations, which include the following; Fear of the unknown, contradictory assessments, misunderstandings and parochial self-interest.

The literature (Mullins, Buchanan & Huczynski, Hellriegel et al) is clear that in terms for change to be accepted and implemented rapidly and effectively managers have to deal with overcoming resistance, and that the management of change places emphasis on employee needs as the highest priority. To be successful organisations need a dedicated workforce and this involves the effective management of change. But not everyone reacts to change in the same way. Change impacts each person differently and management must accept the individual nature of change.

Successful managers understand why people resist change and what can be done to overcome such resistance. Rosenfeld & Wilson (1999) point out that whatever the extent and content of the change, its implementation can still create large problems for organisations and their workforce. To get people to accept and implement the new ways of doing things is neither a fast nor an easy task, and that unless employees are involved, committed and prepared to change and learn, any plans to change will be likely to fail on the rocks of resistance.

Therefore, the effective management of change must be based on a clear understanding of human behaviour at work. Resistance to change will never disappear completely, but managers can learn to overcome its negative consequences. Kotter and Schlesinger identify six methods for implementing change effectively and overcoming resistance. One of these methods is through education and communication. He states that managers should share their knowledge, perceptions and objectives with those to be affected by change. It may involve training programmes, counselling, group meetings and discussion.

Information about proposed change, its implications and potential benefits should be communicated clearly to all. Staff should be encouraged to contribute ideas and to voice their concerns or worries. Mullins (1996) There is a considerable body of research and experience, which demonstrates clearly the positive advantages to be gained from participation and involvement, with those who might resist change being involved in planning and implementing the change process. However Kotter points out those managers can only use this approach where participants have the knowledge and ability to contribute effectively, and are willing to do so.

The more input people have into defining the changes that will affect their work the more they will take ownership for the results. Involving people in the planning process reduces the risk of resistance, and offers them a sense of control over the change. This is one of the oldest and most effective strategies used. Facilitation and support is another important aspect. Understanding feelings requires a great deal of empathy and support. When people feel that those managing change are genuinely interested in their feelings and perceptions, they are likely to be less defensive and more willing to share their concerns and doubts.

Some employees may need lots of help, even counselling to help overcome fears and anxieties about change. Negotiation and agreement is another method suggested by Kotter and Schlesinger. It may be necessary to negotiate rather than impose changes where there are individuals or groups with enough power to resist any changes. Manipulation and Co-optation is a political tactic that brings people into the decision making process to obtain their support of change, or at least, get them not to resist it. This involves concealed attempts to side step potential resistance.

This can be a dangerous action and Hellriegel et al (1999) point out that many mangers have found that, by influencing subordinates, they have ultimately created more resistance to the change than they would have had they chosen another tactic. Traditionally, change management has focused on identifying sources of resistance to change and offering ways to overcome them. Recent contributions have been aimed at creating visions and desired futures, gaining political support for them, and managing the transition of the organisation toward them. Cummings & Worley (1997)

Cummings & Worley (1997) point out that creating a vision is considered a key element in most leadership frameworks. Those leading the organisation are responsible for its effectiveness, and they must take an active role in describing a desired future and energising commitment to it. In many cases, leaders encourage employee involvement in developing the vision to gain wider contribution and support. The vision statement will describe the desired future of the organisation, and may include some or all of the following elements that can be communicated to organisation members; Mission, valued outcomes and features.

A vision of where the company is going overcomes this resistance to change, as resistance to change is because the organisation members don’t know where the company is going. Many writers (Mullins, Cummings & Worley, Handy) argue that groups and teams are a major feature of organisational life and can have a significant influence on the successful implementation of change. Any business enterprise must build a true team and weld individual efforts into a common effort. Each member of the enterprise contributes something different but they must all contribute towards a common goal.

Their efforts must all pull in the same direction, and their contributions must fit together to produce a whole without gaps, without friction, without unnecessary duplication of effort… The manager must know and understand what the business goals demand of him in terms of performance, and his superior must know what contribution to demand and expect of him – and must judge him accordingly. If these requirements are not met, managers are misdirected. Their efforts are wasted. Instead of teamwork, there is friction, frustration and conflict. (Drucker in Mullins p723) Conflict should be properly identified and managed.

Conflict is seen as a natural feature of organisations. The traditional view of conflict is that it is disruptive and represents a form of abnormal behaviour, and that it should be controlled and changed. Conflict is not necessarily a bad thing and if properly managed can have potentially positive outcomes. It can be an energising force in groups and in certain circumstances should be welcomed or even encouraged. A good manager doesn’t try to eliminate conflict; he tries to keep it from wasting the energies of his people. If you’re the boss and your people fight you openly when they think you’re wrong – that’s healthy.

If your people fight each other openly in your presence for what they believe in – that’s healthy. But keep all the conflict eyeball to eyeball. (Townsend in Mullins p725) Cummings & Worley (1997) state that from a political viewpoint, organisations can be seen as loosely structured coalitions of individuals and groups having different preferences and interests. These different groups or coalitions compete with one another and given this political view, any attempts to change the organisation may threaten the balance of power among groups, thus resulting in political conflicts and struggles.

This brings us on to the need for leadership, or good leadership is seen as crucial to the success of change. Any change programme also needs commitment from top management, and they must be seen to support it and “Walk the Walk and not just Talk the Talk” (Tom Peters) Mullins (1996) points out that the most important factor in the successful implementation of change is the style of managerial behaviour and Mullins (1996) and Buchanan & Huczynski (1997) argue that the introduction of change is more likely to be effective with a participative style of managerial behaviour.

If staff are kept fully informed of proposals and encouraged to adopt a positive attitude and have personal involvement in the implementations of change, there is a greater likelihood of their acceptance of the change. Interest in what makes effective leaders is one as long as history itself. It is a topic of constant study and discussion where everyone seems to have a view and where definitions of leadership are as varied as the explanation.

Burnes (1996) indicates one of the weaknesses of the leadership literature is that it tends to concentrate on the traits of individual managers and their relations with subordinates, and that a good manager in one organisation will be a good manager in all organisations. Yet as Burnes (1996) and Hales have argued, a managers effectiveness may be determined as much by the nature of the organisation in which they operate as by the qualities of the individual manager. It is out of these observations the contextual approach to leadership developed, which focuses on leadership style instead of behaviour.

The two organisational states or context are convergent and divergent and the two matching leadership styles are transactional and transformational. Transformational leaders are seen as opposing the status quo, they aim to change their followers’ behaviour and beliefs and unite them behind a new vision of the organisations future. Organisation development (OD) is concerned with the diagnosis of organisational health and performance, and the ability of the organisation to adapt to change. It involves the applications of organisational behaviour and recognition of the social processes of the organisation.

The manager needs to understand the nature and importance of organisational culture and climate, employee commitment, and the management of organisational conflict and change. Mullins (P 707) Organisation wide change often goes against the very values held dear by members in the organisation, that is, the change may go against how members believe things should be done. Much of the organisational change literature discusses needed change in the culture of the organisation; including changes in member’s values and beliefs and in the way they act out these values and beliefs.

Rosenfeld & Wilson (1999) point out that achieving a cultural change is complex and that the difficulty is in reversing or in changing the direction of the pattern of learned behaviours so that these can be implemented and become part of the new way or life for the organisation. Mullins (1996) states that the extent to which employees accept the culture of the organisation will have a significant effect on climate. The conclusion to be drawn is that one of the biggest traps in change management is underestimating the resistance factor. There are strong resistances to change, as people are afraid of the unknown.

Many people think things are already fine and don’t understand the need for change. Many are inherently cynical about change. Lewins Force Field analysis model provides a general framework for the analysis of management change. The natural tendency for most of us, if we want change, is to push. However, the equally natural tendency of whatever is being pushed is to push back. In other words, driving forces activate their own restraining forces. Therefore, decreasing the restraining forces is normally a more effective way to encourage change than increasing the driving forces.

Barriers or blocks to change give rise to resistance to change, therefore, a lot of effective management of change comes down to overcoming the resistance to change. Communication is an important element during times of transition. Leaders that can challenge, motivate and empower their teams through change are successful. A clearly defined vision of the end result enables al the people to describe the most efficient path for accomplishing the results. At the heart of change management is overcoming resistance and creating conditions for acceptance of change.

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