Jan 2 - 8, 2012

"Change alone is eternal, perpetual, and immortal": Arthur Schopenhauer

This quote supports the notion that the only constant factor in this world is change.

Everyone is talking of change so this is a good time to discuss change and what it implies for an organization. I have attempted to discuss the outlines of change and how we can deal with it and also take profit from it.

Starting with a broader perspective, the universe as a system is basically based on change where the planets are not stagnant and keep rotating around their axis and around the Sun, the season changes from Spring to Summer to Fall to Winter and the weather changes from hot to cold and from dry to rainy. Coming down to individual bodies, the human system changes as life moves from childhood to adulthood.

Lifestyles are in fact a graduation from one mindset to another and in the context of organizational operations changes in external environment like economical, political, social, technological factors warrant an adaptation to change, which is the only guarantee against adversity. Therefore, those who embrace change proactively and faster than others stand a better chance to perform better.

If the seasons do not change, growing crops would be impractical which would disrupt the food cycle and in turn hamper the life cycle.

The universal system has been created in such a manner that each and every thing is linked to the other, directly or indirectly. With such a system when one element changes the other elements change automatically and without one the other is impossible.

There are various reasons as to why changes are necessary. First and foremost, the main reason is external pressure or we may call it changes in the external environment. In order to survive in the changing environment, individuals and organizations have to adapt to the changes.

Change in the economies of scale also lead to changes in the organization calling for the firm to form cost-effective strategies hence altering the budgets. It also affects the individuals as they too e.g. need to lower their expenses on luxurious items during recessionary period.

As much as external factors, the internal factors also create a need to implement change. With the changing external environment comes the need for different goods, services, and resources. Therefore, for better outcomes it becomes essential to fully satisfy these needs and desires.

Change could be categorized as Developmental Change, which is a slightly enhanced version of the old procedure, Transitional Change, which is the instant replacement of the old process by a new, completely unfamiliar process, and Transformational Change, which is the gradual, step-by-step transition.

The regularity of change is now more than what it used to be. In today's world, to remain updated and in order to survive in the ever changing, competitive environment, it is important to restructure the systems and lifestyles and to adapt to new technologies proactively and faster than others.

Not all changes have a positive outcome; some transformations, if not aligned with other elements of life, may produce a negative output. It is for this reason that managing the process of transition should not be handled lightly. In fact, throughout the process, each and every detail should be properly planned and all decisions should be well analyzed before they are communicated and implemented.

This whole systematic process of planning, initiating, realizing, controlling, stabilizing and sustaining new and altered work activities at the corporate, group and personal level is termed as change management.

A somewhat ambiguous term, change management has at least three different aspects including: adapting to change; controlling change; and effecting change. A proactive approach to dealing with change is at the core of all three aspects. For an organization, change management means defining and implementing procedures and/or technologies to deal with changes in the business environment and profit from changing opportunities. For an individual, change management means adapting to new approaches and lifestyles that help improve the physical, psychological, and psychosocial aspects of one's life.

Success of the change management process is dependant on the individual's or organization's action/reaction in response to the change that has taken place in the past, is taking place currently or would take place in the near future.

The process of change requires actions to be taken which effects the way people behave and react. Shaul Oreg identified three kinds of approaches of handling change: Affective Component, which is how an individual feels about the change; Cognitive Component, which is how an individual logically thinks about the change; and Behavioral Component, which is how an individual reacts towards or against the change. This change in their behavior definitely effects the achievement of short-term and long-term goals and objectives.

Not every individual is the same and as a result the change process is different for each individual where if one person is open to change the other may not be open to change.

Clearly, in case of individuals their personality and in case of organizations the working environment and culture play a key role in transitioning to change.

Context and situational sensitivity are of immense importance for leaders and managers who initiate a change process. Those who can sense the situation and understand the context correctly and proactively are generally tipped to do justice to the entire change process. This assumes greater importance with regard to selection of change strategies

Actions and reactions of individuals and organizations consequently vary on the basis of varying situations. Understanding situational sensitivity and application of suitable approaches to manage change with regard to the prevailing situation, is not easy for everyone and it requires objectivity and clarity.

Based on the varying background and the mindset, participants in the change management process mostly those who undergo changes tend to resist change due to various reasons. The nucleus of any change is to bring any individuals out of their comfort zone and that is why people hesitate to accept change. For many people, the spectra of change produces what is sometimes called the fear factor, uncertainty, and doubt. Resistance to change therefore is the feeling that occurs when people think that the change will work against them in one way or the other. This threat can be real or it can be just a perception.

Denial, Resistance, Exploration and Commitment are the four phases of transition even when facing minute changes in daily life. People might satisfy themselves by thinking that they are going along with the change but in reality, they are not readily changing so they might be in a mode of denial where the most frequently occurring thought is "How good things were in the past" and this perception leads to revulsion against hearing new information.

In the resistance phase, a person usually goes through reactions and emotions of anger, loss, and hurt, stubbornness, blaming others and complaining. They tend to focus on themselves with not much concern of the surrounding environment. In such cases, even small success should be celebrated in order to fulfill the visions. They forget that their goals are directly or indirectly linked with the broader vision and hence evolve with the enhancing visions, which are in turn dependant on the external changes.

Moving further, the next phase of exploration, brings with it the thought of "What's going to happen to me?" and leads to chaos, indecisiveness, unfocused work, exploring alternatives, seeing possibilities, analyzing resources and clarifying goals. Last but not the least, the phase of commitment comes with the thought of "Where am I headed?" ensuring focus, teamwork, and cooperation.

A good change management process therefore requires a clear definition of means and ends following the procedure of unfreeze, move, and freeze.

Unfreeze is the stage where the participants are to unfreeze themselves from their current routine then move towards the new procedure and then freeze themselves on the new procedure once the implementation process is accomplished.

Therefore, for a successful transition, the right means are essential to be identified. There needs to be a clear definition of means and end, which is again a very difficult task.

People usually get confused in identifying their means and ends while planning the required changes.

The culture of an individual or an organization is a tool to understand the nature of relations or interlinks of an organization's departments and social associates of a person.

People tend to be really attached and used to their culture and after living and working in one culture for a long time, not all can be happy in cultural change because at times change requires many areas to be truncated as well. Hence, an appropriate culture needs to be identified in order to ensure proper implementation of change; a culture that allows flexibility and promotes a relationship of trust and respect.

Numerous authors have pointed out the significance of communication, which helps in removing ambiguities and prepares the people to bring in change, therefore stating communication as an essential part of the process of change management.

Through open communication in an organization, management gets to know the employees' problems and approval or otherwise regarding the change and addresses any concerns, thus it helps employees understanding of the change and the level of resistance to change decreases.

When considering changes in organizations, management needs to make sure that they communicate the change effectively from the beginning as not only will this send out a clear signal to the employees/customers about the change but will also help in better understanding and also promote the element of belonging amongst them. This may result in positive effects and make the change all the more easier to adjust to. Speaking of individuals, an open and transparent approach for communication helps in prevention of conflicts and misunderstanding that are created due to change in actions and deeds and results in a friendly and respectful social environment for all.

With communication comes the element of quality information. This concept actually deals with the quality of information available to the employee in the transformation process. It is logical that the availability of accurate and reliable data decreases the fears of unknown and helps to achieve the goal. If the employees have quality information about the change, its benefits, importance and the resulting future growth, they will react less negatively.

Managing change is not an easy task. Whether it's a change agent/leader or the line manager of a department who is responsible for managing change in the organization, good leadership skills are crucial for success of the program.

It is mentioned in various literature that in order to best implement change, the leader should possess certain characteristics, for example, the leader/change agent should be a self motivator, should possess coaching qualities and his/her style of leadership should be flexible and democratic in nature.

In the end, leaders can envision change. However, it is important to note that it is always people who are agents for change.

Leaders and managers should know that communities and organizations are made of people. It is mostly people who are at the heart of the change process. Therefore, change mangers should be able to ensure that their vision is shared by all stakeholders; those involved and affected by the change should be able to understand the context of the change and they should also be clear of the need and advantages of the change - both on individual as well as on collective levels.