The Dynamics of Organizational Change

Norb Slowikowski

November 2009

The companies of today exist in a dynamic and turbulent society in which the question of whether change will occur is no longer relevant. Simply put, change is a given. Societal factors have caused significant change in the work environment, thereby affecting the people, methods and goals of organizations. These modifications occur so quickly that the work force has difficulty maintaining a high level of effectiveness. The factors of continuity and momentum are disrupted and workers are forced to continue on in a game of "catch-up.” The frequency and complexity of such elements as advancing technology, government regulations, economic instability, the energy crisis, foreign competition and the changing character of the work force presents enormous pressure for managers in their attempts to keep their organizations current and viable.

So what can we do? First, let’s accept the obvious: Change is a fact of life. Any effective manager must come to terms with this fact. However, a manager should not just allow change to occur at will. By this I mean the manager must establish change strategies that help him plan, direct and control. He must acquire the necessary skills to respond effectively to change and maintain a means of survival for his organization.

This article is to dig deeper into the question of change and how it affects everyone in the organization.

It has been said that either the person must change, or change will manage the person. Change is indeed inevitable, but it differs in frequency and magnitude from situation to situation. Those responsible for bringing about meaningful change may feel overwhelmed without the necessary skills and knowledge to cope with it. Becoming aware and learning to use these strategies can increase competence for dealing with change.

Organizational change involves people in that it requires them to change habits, expectations, goals and work activities. People must be managed in new and more responsive ways as time goes on. This is an innovative idea that forces us to conceive, construct and convert our behavior to a new view of organizational reality.

The manager who has the power to create change in an organization is a "change agent.” Managers are not hired to maintain the status quo. Instead, they are hired to assist the company and its employees in adapting to the alterations both internal and external. In addition, managers must be activators and executors of the change process.

One of the manager’s greatest challenges as a change agent is to produce desirable and meaningful change in an era of complexity. The main role of the change agent is to figure out what should happen and then cause it to happen. The latter part of this mission is the most difficult. To develop and launch plans for change on a meaningful scale, the manager must contribute fundamental qualities of initiative, ingenuity and commitment to the effort.

In the change process, managers will find that people resist change. This resistance is a state of mind that is manifested by active opposition and/or avoidance to the changes at hand.

Successful activation and execution of change encompasses the ability to do the following:

• Identify, develop or clarify a need for change.

• Explore the readiness and resources for change.

• Define the potential working relationships.

• Negotiate and develop commitment for change.

• Project the desired outcomes of the change effort.

• Plan and design for action.

• Secure appropriate involvement in the change process.

• Implement action and resolve resulting conflicts.

• Analyze and assess.

The effective manager must have an attitude that constructively questions accepted ways of doing things. They must also have the belief that they can make improvements and a capability to integrate known ideas and techniques into new combinations. Finally, they must have expertise in transferring and applying concepts in various situations, willingness to search beyond the logical and a refusal to waiver in the face of difficulty. These are the "change criteria” that breed excellence and growth, rather than the acceptance of the status quo.

By dealing with change in a positive way, we are at least trying to make things better, rather than sitting around waiting for something to happen. Managing change is being proactive, and that is the strategy that will continue to breathe life into the organization and perpetuate success.

Norb Slowikowski is president of Slowikowski & Associates, Inc., Darien, Ill.