Change

Leading Change

 

            Leading Change is one ability that all leaders need to develop.  An inability to lead effective change strategies in certain situations, is many times, simply due to a lack of knowledge regarding change strategy and the interplay of employee psychology.  With a more complete understanding of the psychological aspects of change management, leaders will be better equipped to implement future change strategies.

Instilling a change within an organization can be extremely difficult. People are creatures of habit and, consequently, are resistant to change. Management cannot just hand down a new way of doing things and go back to the office expecting procedures to simply change upon command. This strategy might have limited viability if it concerns a simple change, such as a minor change in procedure; but if an organization wants to implement any type of major change, an entirely different strategy needs to be used. Employees must be given context surrounding the change that will bolster their buy-in. They must be guided through the change process by managers offering frequent feedback as well as recognition for initial employee buy-in. Employers must also set up programs that will solidify the change after implementation, shifting it from a change strategy into a new company norm. The strategy I just described follows Lewin’s three step change theory. Once leaders understand this theory they can follow a simple exercise that will lead them toward a greater understanding of the needs their employees will exhibit during the change process. This Blank Sheet Exercise will help managers “lead their team to the realization that individual change is necessary and critical for delivering results and outcomes.”[1]  This exercise will be presented at the end of this chapter, after I have presented a good summary of the relevant change management theory.

            In order for leaders to better manage a change process, they need to understand some fundamentals regarding change and the way employees perceive and react to change. Without this understanding leaders will not be able to anticipate roadblocks and challenges that will surface from employee groups and will be powerless to intervene, resulting in a stalled change process or a complete failure of the initiative. There have been many theories regarding change management that have attempted to guide organizations through the difficult process of instilling a change.  Dale Zand and Richard Sorensen reviewed change management theories in their 1975 article “Theory of Change and the Effective Use of Management Science.” They discussed several categories of theories and their effectiveness, centering on whether or not the theories were relevant in the workplace or were purely theoretical. The first category of theory described was problem-centered theories focused on defining an issue and implementing the best solution. The authors conclude that these “management scientists were proposing changes with insufficient regard for relevance, timeliness, acceptance, and implementation.”[2] The second category reviewed was personality centered theories which concern the personality variance between leaders and management scientists.  They point out that “managers are pragmatic, concrete, and not rigorous conceptualizers, whereas management scientists are analytic, abstract, and rigorous conceptualizers; [concluding that] these differences would hinder communication and the mutual understanding needed for change.”[3]  Zand and Sorensen move away from theories created by management scientists and onto behavioral theories created by behavioral scientists.  They reflect that behavioral scientists “viewed change as a complex, general social process with many sub-activities; for example, conditions conducive to acceptance of change patterns of reaction to change initiatives, client opportunities to participate in a change effort, level of trust and the quality of the decision to change, initiators of change, organizational methods of inducing change, and techniques of diffusing change.”[4] They determine that both behavioral scientists’ and management scientists’ theories fail to bring about change because they lack elements of each other. They postulate that a synthesized theory that takes into account behavioral factors and intertwined them with relevant management theory would offer the best change implementation success rate.  “The general theory of change proposed by Lewin (1974) offered the greatest promise.”[5] 

            Lewin’s theory is a process change theory that describes the phases of change that occur in an organization when a significant change is attempted. There are three phases in Lewin’s theory; Unfreezing, Moving, and Refreezing. Lewin describes the unfreezing process as management “behavior that increases the receptivity”[6] of employees to the proposed change, by increasing their understanding of the need for change. The moving process is the actual implementation of the change and all processes associated with its implementation. The refreezing process concerns the reinforcement of the change, making it a normal business practice. 

            Zand and Sorensen delved a bit deeper into Lewin’s theory by discussing sub-processes associated with each stage of the theory. They describe “disconfirmation, psychological support, and guilt anxiety”[7] all as sub-processes to the unfreezing stage.  The disconfirmation is implemented by managers letting subordinates know that the present way of doing things is either inefficient or ineffective. During the psychological support phase the manager persuades the employee that the change suggested is the proper remedy for the inefficiency or ineffectiveness of the current way of conducting business. The guilt anxiety phase is earmarked by continually pointing out the inefficiency or ineffectiveness of the current process which can lead an employee into feelings of guilt for continuing to use old methods. The moving phase, according to the authors, differs from organization to organization and is also different depending on the level of change associated. They describe this phase as “conceptualizing a problem, acquiring information about relevant forces, locating or developing alternative solutions, and choosing a course of action.”[8] The refreezing stage “occurs through confirmation, psychological support, and heightened confidence.”[9] Effective managerial feedback is of utmost importance during this stage. Managers need to demonstrate or prove to employees that the change has had positive results, increasing efficiency or effectiveness. Managers also need to reward compliance and outstanding achievements concerning the change process as well as help guide employees through obstacles, being careful not to be too harsh regarding mistakes in the early stages of the change. Zand and Sorensen hypothesize that management guiding the stages of change, creating favorable circumstances for each stage, links to a higher success rate for the change.  If management is unsuccessful in creating favorable circumstances in each stage, resistance will occur, stalling the change effort.

            Leonard Goodstein and W. Warner Burke examine Lewin’s theory and its relevance regarding the successful transformation of British Airways (BA) to a privately owned business in 1982.  Prior to 1982 BA was a government run airline in Great Britain that received large subsidies from the tax revenue. After price deregulation occurred in the airline industry, the British government felt they could no longer sustain BA under its existing business model. The problem at hand was that in order to privatize British Airways and sell shares in the open market, the airline had to become profitable. Goodstein and Burke document this incredible change effort and summarize the three stages of Lewin’s model in the following table which identifies each stage as it occurred for the individual worker, the structure and systems of the airline, and the overall climate of the company.    

[10]

            The success of this change effort hinged on management’s close involvement and interaction with employees during each stage of implementation.  During the unfreezing stage, management mandated training programs aimed at “challenging the prevailing wisdom about how things were to be done at BA.”[11] One of these programs was called “Putting People First” and provided the basis for a fundamental shift of BA to a customer service driven airline. The importance of giving great customer service was now paramount to attracting customers and ensuring return customers that would drive company profits and keep the airline operating profitably. When British Airways was government owned, customer service was not considered a priority to the employee because taxes were keeping the airline in operation. Now the airline would need to sustain itself in the marketplace through the delivery of a superior product. BA also instituted training programs for its leaders that were effective in ensuring that the moving phase of change succeeded. Programs entitled Managing People First and Leading the Service Business were given to leaders in an effort “to identify the organization's dysfunctional management style and begin the process of developing a new management style that would fit BA's new, competitive environment.”[12] The new direction was intended to help drive increased employee commitment through proper feedback from leadership.  The refreezing stage was instituted through recognition programs and visible promotions based on commitment to the new customer service based culture and results obtained through it.

            This incredible change effort realized at British Airways was a process that worked its way to fulfillment over a five year period. It involved a complete shift in ideology for the airline. Goodstein and Burke reflect on the difficulties involved in this change process and the pitfalls that were encountered. “Changing behavior at both individual and organizational levels means inhibiting habitual responses and producing new responses that feel awkward and unfamiliar to those involved.”[13]   They reflect that close involvement of change managers helps prevent employees from slipping back into old norms of behavior. “The change process, which used transition teams with openness to feedback, was intentionally managed with strong support from top management. Resistance to change was actively managed by using unfreezing strategies at all levels.”[14]  The chart above shows the relevance of Lewin’s three step model in effecting change at British Airways. By understanding the psychological behaviors associated with each phase of change, managers can effectively drive an organization’s change process through each stage effectively. Managers will institute an understanding for the need of a change, implement the change using effective feedback, and ensure sustainability of the change through rewards and recognition.

            John Kotter, in his book Leading Change, outlines eight steps that must be undertaken in order to effectively institute a lasting change in an organization.  He cautions that overlooking even one of the steps can lead to failure of the change initiative. The chart below reflects on instances in which Kotter’s steps were undertaken, as well as instances when they were overlooked, and documents the results.

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[15]

Kotter clearly outlines the ramifications inherent in disregarding these steps. The ramifications are invariably a stalling of the change effort or creation of additional obstacles that must be overcome in order to instill the change. From my vantage point and experience level, I understand Kotter’s insistence that all steps be adhered to or the stated pitfalls will occur. However, I believe that the most emphasis should be placed on Establishing a sense of urgency for the change, Communicating the Vision effectively, Empowering employees during the implementation process, and Institutionalizing the new approach. These four steps adhere to Lewin’s model: establishing a sense of urgency is necessary in order for unfreezing to take place; communication and empowerment are essential to the movement phase; and institutionalizing the change is the essence of the refreezing process.

            In my research I came across a business consulting firm named Proviti Risk and Business Consulting which expounded on Lewin’s three step change model. This consulting firm understands that “organizations need to understand how their employees are likely to deal with change and how they can be motivated to accept – and even embrace – change.”[16] They review Lewin’s theory in an attempt to give managers a better understanding of the overall change process and state that many change strategies fail “because of defects and breakdowns in communication and planning.”[17] Managers must guide their subordinates through their resistance to the change, their denials of the necessity of the change, into an understanding and a commitment to the change. They outline five questions that managers need to be prepared to answer from their subordinates in order to effectively guide the change into fruition. Employees will undoubtedly ask, “What do I need to know? Can you remind me again? Why do I need to know this? Do you know what I have accomplished? And what is in it for me?”[18] These questions will come up during the three phases of change. During the unfreezing stage, managers will need to equip their subordinates with the knowledge that reinforces why change is necessary. This is when the employee can realize their role in obtaining the company vision through the change process. Giving your subordinate context surrounding change will help achieve buy-in during the unfreezing stage. During the movement phase it is important to test employee’s knowledge of the change process and get their feedback. Acknowledging employee feedback during this phase is a critical component to solidifying the change. In the refreezing phase, managers need to ensure that subordinates are made aware of any realized benefits from the change. They must also institute recognition programs for high achievers that will help guide others into the change process. As some employees are recognized for valued implementation of the change, others will attempt to achieve recognition as well. Letting your workgroup know “what is in it for them” will help reinforce the acceptance of the change.  The Proviti consultants sum this up stating that “by proactively addressing each question in the communication planning process, organizations can successfully introduce change.”[19]

            The two Blank Sheet Exercises attached are activities leaders can conduct that will “jumpstart the change management discussion and by starting with a simple analysis about the nature of change and of their project you can demonstrate why change management is a critical success factor and should have a seat at the table.”[20]

[21]                                                        [22]

            These two exercises are building blocks en-route to a stronger buy-in and commitment from leadership teams and employees as they will open up a dialogue that will add definition and clarity to the change. Through open dialogue and discussion, leaders and subordinates will gain “a more complete view that includes [a better understanding of the] individuals who have to ultimately embrace and adopt the change.”[23]


[1] “Blank Sheet Exercises – Starting the ‘Why Change management’ Discussion,” Change Management Learning Center, Change-Management.com.(2009): p1. Web 15 Oct 2011. http://www.change-management.com/tutorial-blank-sheet-exercises.htm

[2] Zand, Dale, and Richard Sorensen. “Theory of Change and the Effective Use of Management Science.” Administrative Science Quarterly. 20. (1975): 533.

[3] Ibid. 533.

[4] Ibid. 534.

[5] Ibid. 534.

[6] Ibid. 534.

[7] Ibid. 535.

[8] Ibid. 535.

[9] Ibid. 536.

[10] Goodstein, Leonard, and W. Warner Burke. “Creating Successful Organization Change.” Organizational Dynamics. 19/4. (1991): 11.

[11] Ibid. 12.

[12] Ibid. 12.

[13] Ibid. 14.

[14] Ibid. 15.

[15] Naughtin, Pat.. Review of “Leading Change,” by John P. Kotter. MetricationMatters. MetricationMatters.com. 2.Web 14 Oct 2011.

 <http://www.metricationmatters.com>

[16] “Change Management in a Down Economy: Connecting with Employees to Increase the Odds of Success,” Proviti Risk and Business Consulting, Proviti.com. (2009): 2. Web 13Oct 2011. <http://www.proviti.com>

[17] Ibid.2.

[18] Ibid.5.

[19] Ibid. 6.

[20] “Blank Sheet Exercises – Starting the ‘Why Change management’ Discussion,” Change Management Learning Center, Change-Management.com.(2009): p1. Web 15 Oct 2011. <http://www.change-management.com/tutorial-blank-sheet-exercises.htm>

[21] Ibid. 1.

[22] Ibid. 2.

[23] Ibid. 3.

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Robert Pannell,
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Robert Pannell,
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Robert Pannell,
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Robert Pannell,
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Robert Pannell,
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Robert Pannell,
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