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Introducing Change Management

Bob Little 

April 10, 2015

It was the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus who maintained that you never step into the same river twice. People interpret this to mean that the river – the external world – never stays the same. Another way of looking at this is that the “you” who steps into the river today isn’t the same “you” who steps into the river tomorrow. This interpretation is concerned with the inner world of experience, rather than the external world of facts and figures.

This suggests that there are two ways of looking at, and responding to, change. There are the changes that happen in the “outside world” and the changes that take place in our “inner world.” Often, it’s the internal reaction to external change that’s the key reason why external changes succeed or fail.

Today, the organizations in which we work are changing in terms of their strategies, structures, systems, boundaries, and expectations. This contributes to our uncertainty about the future and poses problems for those who are charged with introducing or maintaining change within their organizations – and ensuring it’s successful. While this article aims to provide an overview of modern change management, its impact on organizations and its implications for those, including L&D professionals, who have to implement it, those seeking specific help in this field may wish to read “Making Sense of Change Management” by Esther Cameron and Mike Green.

Wittingly or unwittingly, individuals, teams and organizations are engaged in the change process but leaders have special responsibilities to make change happen and manage this process in the most beneficial way for those involved. While managers focus on outcomes and tangible results, they must also recognize the underlying emotions of those involved in the change, because these will determine whether the change will be sustained and, ultimately, successful. To be successful, they must balance developing and delivering business outcomes, enabling people and the organizational culture to adapt emotionally, and mobilizing influence, authority and power to achieve the desired result.

There are four key schools of thought when considering individual change:

  • The behavioral approach, which is about changing behaviors through reward and punishment.
  • The cognitive approach, which achieves results through positive reframing (goal setting and coaching to achieve results).
  • The psychodynamic approach, which is about understanding and relating to the inner world of change.
  • The humanistic psychological approach, which believes in development and growth and, thus, maximizing potential. The emphasis here is on healthy development: healthy authentic relationships and healthy organizations.

Each of these approaches has advice for those managing organizational change:

  • Get your reward strategies right (behavioral).
  • Link goals to motivation (cognitive).
  • Treat people as individuals and understand their emotional states as well as your own (psychodynamic).
  • Be authentic and believe that people want to grow and develop (humanistic).

Nick Hindley, the associate director of learning and performance improvement at PPD, a contract research organization employing some 13,000 professionals worldwide, says, “My favorite change quote is by Aldous Huxley. To paraphrase, ‘the only part of the universe I know I can change is myself.’

“Corporate changes happen because of the sum of efforts by many individuals – and these individuals are more likely to support these changes if they see what’s in it for them. Having rewards and performance systems aligned to support change objectives and behaviors helps, because of the truism ‘what gets measured gets done.’ Once you’ve generated personal motivation, the changes that are required will happen quicker and more effectively.

“People won’t fight change if they see how they’ll benefit from it.”

Turning to the dangers for managers who introduce and manage change but who, personally, fear the effects of that change, Nick says, “Managers are people – so I help them establish the personal drive to change for themselves in the same way as for their staff. This results in managers who’re then – to quote another of the four approaches – ‘authentic’ about the changes. One thing that works well for managers, especially when facing change that’s unpopular with their teams, is to focus on what they can control – often the ‘what’ of change has been specified but the ‘how’ a team gets there isn’t. So managers have some latitude to engage their teams to make the change in a way that’s best for them.

“L&D plays a part in organizational change and its professionals are looked to for guidance, support and leadership. They, too, must identify the benefits for them from a change or being involved in the change process. At an organization level, HR should hold the business to account at times of change so it doesn’t lose focus on the engagement and support for managers and employees.”

Dave Webber, an experienced leader of organizational change in the commercial, public and nonprofit sectors and, until recently, the director of business services and HR at the Workers’ Educational Association, points out, “To bring about successful change, it’s important to understand the key drivers for the target audience affected by the change so you can design appropriate interventions and ensure the change works for most of those affected.

“This was brought home to me when I was involved in a change program that delivered fantastic results for one large division of an organization where people were highly service oriented and emotionally driven. But it was a spectacular failure when replicated in another part of the same organization that valued technical knowledge and competence above all.

“The need for, the urgency, and the nature of the change also dictates the choice of approach. The quickest, easiest way to deliver a different performance in work tasks is to use a behavioral approach to change. But sustained attitudinal change requires this to be reinforced and supported by communications giving people information at an appropriate level of detail about the change and which speak to their deeper psychological relationship with work.

“Change always results in some early adopters and determined resisters. A structured approach to change will usually assess who these are and generate specific plans to manage them, but most people naturally adopt a conservative, ‘wait and see’ approach. Even those organizations that are seen as highly innovative and full of change-oriented staff achieve this, in part, by explicitly making change seem part of the normal routine rather than something unusual.”

This is the first in a new season of Mind Tools L&D blogs looking at change. Come back next week for more! Meanwhile, use our comments section below to share the approaches to managing change that have been successful, or unsuccessful, for you.

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3 comments on “Introducing Change Management”:

  1. AP Singh wrote:

    More we explore the change management dynamics, clearer it becomes that change is the only thing that keep happening universally but your internal response to a change is driven by your core values & beliefs. Behaviour is only the outer reaction in response to a change. So it is extremely important that Communication about a change should be clear and transparent. It should clearly articulate the necessity for change in a positive manner taking people related softer issues into account. After all it’s people who are going to drive it to succeed.

  2. Benjamin wrote:

    Change is so complicated my take is it should be allocated sufficient time to allow a mix of the approaches, but even then the process must be carefully guided.

  3. Liz Cook wrote:

    AP and Benjamin both hint at the danger of mishandling change but also sum up well what’s needed for success: communication, guidance and time. Often, leaders give a lot of attention to the decision to change but less to the process of that change. I hope Bob Little’s later blogs on change prove informative and helpful to all our readers who are setting out on change in their organization, and we look forward to hearing more from you. – Liz and the Mind Tools team.