Change – Just Do It!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was that easy. During my Navy career it was just so because the change normally came in the form of an “order or command” that was quite naturally and robotically followed. There was no discussion or reasoning behind the change. It came from the top and us in the middle and below followed the order, regardless of the impact on the person(s) accomplishing the change.

However, people-paradigms have changed, even in the military, from the old style of control directed through a rigid hierarchy, with employees treated like uneducated children to reach short-term goals, to a new paradigm with the following characteristics.

    • Openness
    • Employee Empowerment
    • Employees Treated Like Knowledgable Adults
    • Cooperation & Collaboration
    • Relationship Building
    • Values of Integrity, Trust and Respect

Under this new paradigm, change is championed from the top leadership throughout the organization. Modern-day leadership, especially practitioners of Servant Leadership, understands that employees at all levels desire to be involved in the decision-making, including change, in their workplace; especially if it involves the way they have to do their job.1 

Dr. Janet Jackson (2006) says organizational change initiatives fail because of four important factors.

1. The primary focus is on the technology of change.

2. Organizations overlook the importance of people in the change, and they do not fully address their concerns.

3. Systems perspective is ignored thinking the change only impacts a portion of the organization.

4. Leadership and management fails to acknowledge the difference between change, transition, and transformation.

When people and systems are ignored in the change process, there is employee push-back to the change, which further exasperates the change process.

Dr. Jackson identifies three types of change: Developmental Change; Transitional Change; and Transformational Change.  Each requires specific strageties for implementation in order for the change process to be successful and effective.

Developmental Change pertains to a particular situation within the organization, which could include basic policy changes, new boss(es), moving to a new location or a procedural change for a current policy. Developmental change is described as the exchange of one thing for another, the improvement of a certain skill, method or something that requires improvement because it is not meeting a prescribed standard.

Although it is considered the simpliest of the three changes, i.e. a first-order change, nontheless, it requires specific strategies that include:

    • Training – both technical and personal, regardless of the level of supervision and/or management;
    • Team Building and Problem Solving;
    • Improving Communication;
    • Conflict Resolution;
    • Survey feedback;
    • Job Enrichment.

The aim of these strategies is to reduce personal stress toward the change and the impact of the change on daily work requirements and schedules, while instilling acceptance of the change in employees.

Transitional Change deals with replacing what is currently in place with a new concept, procedures, equipment or policy. It begins with the recognition of a problem within the current framework that cannot be resolved with a simple developmental change. The purpose of the change is to improve productivity, efficiency and/or quality of service to meet emerging demands.

Old State—————————>Transition State————————–> New State

Dr. Jackson describes this as a second-order change because it is a planned and intended change to implement a new direction in the organization. It requires thought, a predetermined need for change coupled with an in-depth and critical assessment of the purpose of the change, which will result in the desired outcome and intended improvement of the change within the overall organization.

Drawing on past research and writings, Jackson outlines specific strategies relative to Transition Change, which include the following:

  • Clearly establishing and communicating the need for the change;
  • Developing a clear plan for implementing the change;
  • High involvement with those impacted by the change in designing and implementing the change;
  • Allowing local control of the implementation of the plan; and
  • Providing adequate support and integration time to ensure that people are succeeding in the new state.

Additionally, these strategies need to include training to develop new skills, continual communication throughout the change process to allow for realignment, and renegotiation, if necessary, to form new coalitions to insure successful implementation of the change.

Another important strategy to improve motivation and maintain focus on transitional successes is to create transition rituals that not only mourn the past, but also celebrate the future.

Transformational Change is by far the most complex and difficult change to implement. Before this type change can be implemented, several analyses must be completed to examine what they were, what they are, where they need to be and how to get there. This type change is much more than a straight-line or linear change with simple procedural or policies differences in the organization. People must change transformationaly, from what they were doing, to a whole new way of thinking about what they do as well as how they may be doing it.

Transformation change involves several periods of adjustment:

    1. Birth of change, upward growth period, followed by succes and leveling off period;
    2. After a period of succes, chaos emerges that causes a decline in performance;
    3. Change stops and requires a shift in vision and focus;
    4. Re-emergence and slow growth as visioning and learning is enhanced;
    5. Process continues until transformation occurs and change is fully implemented.

Successful Transformational Changes requires all the implementing strategies of the above two change processes. Additionally and most importantly, this process may require the hiring of an external Organizational Development (OD) expert to manage the change process. OD experts are more skilled in the process and assists management work through the process smoothly.

As can be seen from this discussion, change by command is no longer a plausible method of implementing a change in an organization. The process needs to be fully and thoroughly explained to employees throughout the organization, employee by-in is imperative and requires strong leadership with superior communication skills to overcome push-back. To be completely implemented the change must be championed by top-down leadership throughout the process — each one serving the needs of the other for successful completion.

I look forward to your comments and thoughts.

1 Jackson, Dr. Janet Cooper, 2006. Organizational Development: The Human and Social Dynamics of Organizational Change. University Press of America, Inc., New York.

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