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Moving through the three phases of organizational change.

Change, progress, innovation, continuous improvement, task alignment, reorganization, corporate renewal or programmatic change - no matter how one defines it, the fact is that organizations are changing. Change is increasing in response to corporate downsizing, the economic climate, a fluctuating marketplace and the work force. A manager must learn to understand the nature of change and take a proactive role in communication before, during and after the change. The more the human side of change is understood, the better positioned one will be to compete and provide a positive work environment. Change management is the term used to explain the processes designed to provide order to the human side of change.

Introduction to change management

Change is a natural and necessary process. In nature, picture the caterpillar. It is alive and appears to serve a purpose. However, if examined more closely, it may appear to be inefficient. The caterpillar eats too much, stays on one bush most of its life and is destructive, slow and unproductive. But, a natural transition occurs as the caterpillar weaves a cocoon.

To a child, the cocoon could appear to be "dead." It does not eat, it remains very still and it appears to be a lot worse off than the caterpillar. However, unseen by the human eye, a major transition is under way inside the cocoon. The cocoon, once the sleeping place for the caterpillar, starts to open and slowly a creature appears, wet and sluggish. But as it starts to dry off, a butterfly appears in all its glory. In addition to moving, it can also fly and now seems to serve a more noble purpose, for it is now beautiful and plays a role in the propagation of fruits and seeds by pollination.

Not unlike the world of nature, man's own physical environments go through similar positive changes. As an example, think of the renovation of a shopping center into a more modem mall. The shopping center has a purpose and provides a service; the store spaces are occupied and customers are present. But there is room for improvement. Someone has a dream of a more beautiful place and a better environment. However, to accomplish this vision or dream, things have to change. During the change, parking lots are bulldozed, outdated buildings are demolished and dust is everywhere. Minor, temporary inconveniences are created for both shoppers and merchants, stores relocate and customers temporarily stop shopping, missing the way "things used to be." Like the cocoon, the shopping center appears to be worse than before. But, gradually the mall is rebuilt, remodeled and cleaned. Soon the stores open, customers come back and the new mall looks better than ever, serves more needs and makes more money.

Organizations and change

Like the butterfly and shopping mall transitions, organizations go through similar stages of change. The stages are inevitable, whether the change results in a negative or positive outcome. According to John Kane, director of the U.S. Bureau of Census, there are three major changes taking place in the workplace today. These include:

* Changes in organizational structure (mergers, acquisitions, rapid growth and downsizing);

* Changes in technology and work methods (a result of computerization); and

* Changes in the work force profile (aging and diverse populations).

Managers may recognize the need for change, but they often have different plans to implement it. Case studies and "lessons learned" are quickly proving that a well-planned process approach to change management is of key importance. The change process can be improved if the fundamental flaws in ineffective change programs are recognized and corrective actions are taken. Part of this action plan includes understanding motivations for resistance, differences in employee/management perceptions and the importance of ongoing communication. Once these change dynamics are understood, the process can be made easier to digest and accept by employees. Solid plans for positive change results become the most important management tool.

Organizational change shows no signs of decreasing. According to R.N. Bramson, "there have been more structural changes in industry during the last five years than in the Previous 30 years." But even more importantly, he suggests that the decade of the nineties "promises to be even more chaotic and change-oriented." Managing change will indeed become the name of the organizational management game.

Looking at the effects on productivity, quality and motivation over time, a natural "cocoon stage" during a change occurs. Organizationally, the stage is marked by a drop in each of these human controlled attributes, as illustrated in Figure 1.

The good news is that the temporary drop in productivity, motivation and quality is natural, and the time/productivity gaps during these drops can be minimized. The way employees react to and accept organizational change is directly related to what happens before, during and after the change, as shown in Figure 2.

Before the change

Before the change occurs, there are several techniques and skills a company can use to minimize negative effects. These include:

* Unbiased open-mindedness;

* Good strategic planning abilities;

* Commitment to leadership and team-building skills; and

* A history of commitment and good communications skills.

Once the problem has been studied and a justified decision of the desired results has been made, the planning stage can be started.

A good change program should be based on a vision of desired results and should include a plan to move employees through the change as smoothly as possible. The goal is to align people with new roles, responsibilities and expectations early in the process. A fundamental flaw with many change programs, especially those initiated by technical or industrial managers, is an attempt to "work the change in" to the existing status-quo environment. The managers are well-intentioned, thinking that this will create a minimal amount of instability. They try not to disturb the corporate comfort zone, realizing that their employees' response to the change may result in resistance, decreased morale and/or decreases in productivity. However, as a result, too many organizational change programs fall short of their goals for three key reasons:

* The steps identified toward making the change are too abstract and mostly adaptive/involvement-oriented, instead of focused on desired results;

* The planning of the transitional phase-in is often fundamentally flawed in design because management allows the status quo of the organization to guide the implementation of the change rather than letting the change guide employee adaptation; and

* Management fails to fully understand and apply pre-change, during change and post-change methods that stress leadership, commitment, good communications and team acknowledgment/involvement.

Unnecessary changes or change for change's sake should avoided. Think of what would happen if the change did not occur.

Proper leadership, during all stages of the change, is expected by the employees. The reasoning of the employees is "if you have something you want done, show me your vision and lead me there." But, leadership is built over time, as Figure 3 shows. It requires many building blocks, and, over time, managers progressively lay down this multi-layered foundation.

The history of commitment is based on the organization building respect and employee/customer goodwill over time. As someone once said, "cheat me once, shame on you; cheat me twice, shame on me." If a company has not established a reputation of honesty, sensitivity and persistence, it should not expect cooperation.

The last technique for minimizing negative effects is good communication, the common thread that weaves change planning, actions and results together. Communication before, during and after the change is critical. Of course, there may be times when ideas should not yet be expressed openly. However, in-house communications must be a part of the change process for your team to make the desired results materialize. Results-oriented communication does not just stop at dispensing information routinely; it requires a proactive commitment from managers to find new ways to understand what employees are experiencing.

During the change

As these previous scenarios illustrate, the process of change must undergo certain phases of limited productivity while preparing for the next transitional move. A similar period also exists in organizations, a "neutral zone." This neutral zone or adaptation stage allows employees to re-align themselves to the changing workplace landscape progressively and systematically. This latent "cocoon" or "neutral" period during a change can be understood to minimize its potential pitfalls - resistance, lower productivity, decreased morale and lowered quality.

A dedicated total quality management (TQM) program may be used to keep focus on the team effort, continuous improvement and customer satisfaction during the change. It is during this potentially difficult time when extra TQM and communication efforts help. During the change process the negative dips that occur can be minimized with valid rationale, team acknowledgment, reassignments, appropriate time frames and ongoing communications.

Most managers are quick in responding to why change is necessary. Typical reasons often include:

* Continuous process improvements;

* Innovations, or lessons learned;

* Responses to a more fluid marketplace;

* Remaining competitive;

* Re-positioning;

* Adapting to cultural diversity within the workplace; and

* Other related macro-environmental and industrial forces.

Equally important on most technical managers' itinerary is a new focus on quality like that in TQM.

The TQM approach to customer satisfaction, value delivery, teamwork and continuous improvement has helped managers approach the change hurdle more easily. However, when it is time for a change, many still fall short of implementing a planned program of transition.

How would you feel if you were asked to change a process that you have been working on for years or your previous work was ignored or criticized? How would you feel if your best possible job with your resources and skills was "shelved?" The answers are obvious. Despite the necessity for change, employees have a strong need to have their previous work acknowledged. Communicating reasons for the change to employees promptly and clearly and communicating the transferability of their previous skills, methods or task management styles to the new organizational context will prevent possible misinterpretations of failure to deliver quality. Of course, new skills and commitments are expected. If the workers see acknowledgment and team acceptance for their efforts, the change will be easier to accept.

However, it is important to realize that effective change programs do not work over night. A well-managed and well-implemented change program requires a phase-in plan that progressively gains employee acceptance. The change needs to be dropped in and involvement and acceptance needs to be encouraged, but the team should not be overwhelmed. Unfortunately, because management wants to change as quickly and efficiently as possible, pre-change planning and the "cocoon stage" are often ignored. Just as a caterpillar that is rushed out of the cocoon stage may become a dysfunctional butterfly, a poorly-implemented change that is not clearly communicated to employees may fail to get the expected results.

Managers can not realistically expect productivity to increase 40 percent after just one week of the change implementation. As with any change, negative or positive, there will be a normal period of resistance and adjustment. Managers can learn to use this time to maximize not only communicating the benefits of the change to employees and/ or customers, but to also use this period to phase in new staff expectations and responsibilities.

During this change, rumors will be high. Managers must expose all assumptions, clarify mixed messages and reduce irrational barriers. Keep open and consistent communications.

During this "cocoon" phase, time-conscious, results-oriented managers will communicate new expectations of the employees, including cooperation, new competencies and focused commitment. It is also critical during this time for managers to consider necessary training to help re-align valuable resources to new task orientations.

Providing a communications program will best meet the needs of an organization's team. Scheduling a weekly roundtable Q&A session meeting or designated "one-on-one" sessions can make sure employees clearly understand the intentions of a manager's efforts to inform and serve as a listener that is receptive and responsive to their concerns. To even better understand employees' personalities and work style orientations, a manager may want to enroll in a communications workshop.

After the change

Once the change has occurred, continued planning, leadership, team participation and communications are still important. Clear planning will give the team the long-term visions and benefits of the now in-place change. Leadership and team participation will continue to align and adjust the team for new ways to get the job done and an ongoing communications program can keep the team abreast of the organizational climate.

Even when the change is in place and positive results are beginning to show up, a manger must be quick to share the improvements with the employees. They need to know promptly the effects of what they have just gone through. Again, a TQM-based continuous improvement program will allow the team to compare "where we were" with "where we are now." Showing measurable progress toward an organizational goal that occurred because of the change will reaffirm the team's acceptance and commitment to the change. The team will then also be less fearful and skeptical of future changes.


As time has proven, organizational change is inevitable and can be looked at or defined in a number of ways. The change process is natural, however, and organizations will continue to change in order to remain competitive and responsive. During the change, most organizations are likely to experience a natural drop in productivity, quality and motivation. But these are temporary conditions and managers can learn to help minimize this period before, during and after the change.

Steven W. Gambrell is a management communications and technical marketing consultant. He has a B.S. in corporate/business communications and is earning an M.S. in industrial and corporate affairs management and market planning. Craig A. Stevens is a project manager at Science Applications International Corp. He has a B.S. in industrial engineering and an M.S. in engineering management/IE. He was elected 1990 Engineer of the Year and 1991-92 president of the East Tennessee Chapter of IIE. Together they have provided technical services to more than 100 companies and organizations.

For further reading

Bramson, R.N, "The Corporate Wonderland," Personnel Administrator, 1989. Bridges, W., Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. William Bridges and Associates Inc., 1991. Kane, J., as reported by Kleiman, M. in "Ease the Stress of Change," Personnel Journal, September 1989.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Institute of Industrial Engineers, Inc. (IIE)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:Change Management
Author:Gambrell, Steven W.; Stevens, Craig A.
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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