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Changes, changes, changes …

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Eric Abrahamson (2000) noted in his famous Harvard Business Review –article that “To change successfully, organization should stop changing all the time.” Today we know that almost all organizations need dynamic stability and ability to change, but if there are too many changes there will be problems to manage all these changes. Often changes cannot be implemented without pain. However, an ideal change process should happen without pain.

One way to implement changes is to create modular elements of change. If change is too big, it creates a lot of stress and pain. Small change efforts that involve the reconfiguration of existing practices and business models are often the best practices of change. If we create big and massive change processes, risks are going to be bigger that planned massive change process is going to be a failure. If we can do this, change process will be organic change, not mechanic change.

To be ready for changes, we should develop change-able and learning organisations. One of the worst barriers against organic change is keen and even active refusal of learning. If we do not want to learn, all changes will be unsuccessful. Some beings are able to learn, some others are not able learn. If we want to develop change-able organisations, we must pay special attention to learning capacity of individual and social teams of organizations.

Professor Robert W. Rowden (2001) has recognized in his scientific article that there are three types of change: planned change, implementation-focused change and readiness-focused change. All these “change types” need a special attention. Sustainable, high performance depends on organisation´s ability to respond quickly and efficiently to changing circumstances in their decision environments, which are today networks, markets and crowds. Especially, our abilities and skills to make sense of changes, matter. Nowadays making sense is not easy. We must analyse a lot of data, information and knowledge. If we do not understand the nature of changes in critical networks, new markets and emerging crowds, we are out of success. Some other organisations, which do it better, will be more successful.

Today´s organizations operate in a challenging environment. In a more complex world, change has become the constant. Just add globalisation to technological shifts and multiply it by today´s volatile economic trends and the pace of change is breath-taking. Making sense of changes is today one of the biggest challenges in organisations and companies.

We should also understand that people are very interested why they need to change. Often people are very tired of changes, before planned changes. Generally speaking, the motivation of people depends on our sense making skill and abilities. If we cannot explain, in a good way, why changes are needed, we cannot motivate people to learn new things, change their habits and find better ways to work. Motivation is a key issue in change management process. If motivation level is low, change process is not going to be successful.

In change-able organizations a way of being is different. In this kind of organisation people are able to change fast, but also they are able to manage knowledge. For such learning organisations, typical characters are: constant readiness, continuous planning, improvised implementation and action learning. These characters require training and tutoring inside organisations. They do not emerge automatically in organizations.

People resist changes for many reasons. Sometimes they want to deny the needed changes. Sometimes people are anger and they blame managers and leaders. “Over my dead body” is one typical reaction to needed changes. “This is nothing new” is another reaction to changes. Sometimes people are simply confused. Then “I do not understand what is going on” is a typical reaction.

In classical Lewin´s study “Field Theory and Social Science”, he described the tendency by people to consolidate negative behaviours as “freezing”. This phenomena is still relevant for change management. Smart leaders can find ways to “unfreeze” by right messages, implementation activities and role models.

The organisational climate of change must be created every day in companies and organisations. Leaders of today need to manage implementation in ways that protect and grow business rather than destroy the very organisational skills and motivations which offer the potential for innovation and new business models. From this perspective we are living interesting times. Many organisations are not able to survive. Some others will find their ways from chaotic conditions.

Whether you are leader, manager or worker, we can ask: is your personal attitude right and mature enought to create optimal organisational climate of change?

Further reading

Abrahanson, E. (2000) Change without pain. Harvard Business Review, July-August 2000, 75-79.

Lewin, K. (1951) Field Theory in Social Science. London: Tavistock.

Rowden, R. (2001) The learning organization and strategic change. Society for the Advancement of Management Journal, 66(3), 11-16.

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