Change Management, if implemented well, has the ability to make transitions positive, possible and profitable. It goes without saying that change is a part of life. From the moment we are born until the moment we pass away, change is occurring in us and around us. That being the case, it needs to be clearly stated that organizations, companies and institutions are much like individuals. No organization is able to exist without the people that work within their walls or the clients that utilize their services or products.
If change is inevitable and constant then, why do so many people resist change? I would argue that while some people may be resistant to change, they are more likely to resist the act of being changed. I will discuss why people resist being changed. I will also talk about why some organizations are successful in the art of change management and why some organizations fail miserably. Finally, I will look at the impact of change management on project success or failure using case studies and personal experience.
Change is indeed a part of life and change management needs to be recognized as having a significant role in success of any project. When examining the life cycle of a project, from initiation to closure, we need to be aware and recognize that we are implementing a change at every level. People will be impacted by whatever change is implemented. I would argue that change management has the greatest impact on people in the initiation phase of any project. Before I explain my reasoning for this, I think it is important to understand some of the changes that modern organizations must deal with on a regular basis.
A few of the changes they face are market conditions, evolving technologies, increasing customer demands, significant rises in production costs and, thanks to an ever increasing global economy, significant threats of competition. These changes and added pressure may often force drastic changes on organizations at a pace that may not be sustainable for the organization or its people. One such example of when a change in technology failed and caused significant damage to a corporation was the Ford Edsel.
The Edsel was first rolled off the production line in the spring of 1957. There was great fanfare and mystery surrounding this car. “Dealers were required to store the Edsel undercover and would be fined or lose their franchise if they showed the cars before the release date. All the hype brought a curious public in record numbers to see its unveiling on “E-day” September 4, 1957“. The anticipation in the marketplace was not as strong as Ford had expected. The United States was in the midst of an economic recession and consumer demand for the Edsel was not strong.
Ford did not take into account a number of factors during the initiation, planning or execution phases of the Edsel project. “Ford launched the Edsel as a brand-new division, but they didn’t give the car line its own manufacturing facility. Edsel relied on Ford to produce their cars and Ford workers resented assembling “someone else’s” vehicle and took little pride in their work. Not having a dedicated work force to build their cars was Edsel’s third and biggest failure. ” Ford had made the assumption that they could utilize their skilled workforce to build a new line.
There was little or no consultation with these workers and as a result, workmanship and quality was poor, ultimately resulting in poor sales and the death of the project. While this lack of “buy in’ from production workers was not the only reason for the Edsel’s failure, it was certainly at the top of the list. The Ford example of poor change management in relation to project success is only one example. Business, industry and government have provided countless examples of projects that failed due to poor change management.
It is important to examine the root causes of why change fails. If we were dealing with inanimate objects with no feelings, thoughts, or consciousness, change would certainly be more easily implemented. As I stated earlier, organizations are made up of and rely on people. People often look to their leaders when change is to be implemented. Some might suggest that Leadership is about change. In the 2008 Presidential Election, Barrack Obama ran his campaign based on the slogan “Change you can believe in”.
That being said, what does a leader do when he or she runs into strong resistance to change and what does that resistance look like? Resistance can manifest itself in several different ways. According Paul R. Lawrence, Such resistance may take a number of forms — persistent reduction in output, increase in the number of “quits” and requests for transfer, chronic quarrels, sullen hostility, wildcat or slowdown strikes, and, of course, the expression of a lot of pseudo logical reasons why the change will not work”.
Lawrence made this observation in 1969 and remarkably, today’s experts agree that not much has changed with respect to the manner in which resistance manifests itself in the modern workplace “Kotter and Schlesinger (1979) mention that negative responses to change from individuals and groups can vary from passive resistance to aggressive attempts to undermine it. ” The experts agree that people are resistant to change and if the change managers don’t win over the “hearts and minds of those that require a change in attitude and feeling, resistance will occur.
What are the main reasons that people resist being changed? John Schermerhorn, in his text, Managing organization Behavior, suggest that there eight sources of resistance. “fear of the unknown, lack of good information, fear of loss of security, no reason for change, fear of loss of power, lack of resources, bad timing, and habit. ” Schermerhorn and his co-authors suggest that most of these drivers of resistance are emotional in nature. It is suggested that if the managers of change can utilize several different approaches when dealing with these different sources of resistance.
For the purpose of this paper, I will only discuss three approaches that I believe are the most relevant to this subject and have the greatest opportunity for success. The first approach is Education and Communication. This approach is often used when there is a lack of communication or inaccurate communication being distributed. The advantage to this approach is that once people are presided to change, they will often help in the implementation. There is a drawback however as this approach can be very time consuming.
My reasoning for supporting this approach is simple: communication in my mind is the bedrock of change management. Without communication and education, I think any change is destined to fail. Another commonly used approach is that of Facilitation and Support. This approach is used most often, according to Schermerhorn, when people are most resistant because of adjustment problems. “Providing socio-emotional support for the hardships of change; actively listening to problems and complaints; providing training in the new ways; and helping overcome performance pressures. The drawback to this approach is that it is very time consuming, very expensive, and still may not work. I believe that many changes fail simply because there is a lack of support from upper management and the executive. If the leaders are not supportive of the people working to implement the changes, those changes will most likely fail due to a lack of recognition and motivation on the part of the workers. The third and final approach I would like to mention is Participation and Involvement. This approach allows for other people to help design and implement the required change(s).
The change managers would ask the workers to contribute ideas and offer advice with respect to the changes being implemented. This approach is most commonly used when the change initiators don’t possess all of the information required to make the change and where other people have considerable power to resist. The greatest advantage to this approach is that the people that participate in this change will have a vested interest in the successful implementation of the change. These people will also possess a great deal of relevant information required for the implementation of the change.
The biggest drawback or concern when utilizing this approach is that if the participants are wrong and the design change is inaccurate, the scope of the project could change dramatically in time, cost and the quality of the deliverable could suffer. In a perfect scenario, a combination of all three of these approaches could be implemented, allowing for concise and accurate communication and education, extensive participation and involvement and encouraging facilitation and support. Why do some organizations, handle change well while others fall flat on their faces?
According to John Kotter, there is an eight stage process to creating major change. Organizations that follow this process or at least utilize the guiding principles are more likely to be successful than those which do not. I would like to discuss a similar change that occurred at two post-secondary institutions. One was highly successful and one failed dramatically. A strong, functioning Student Information System (SIS) is a vital piece of technology for every post-secondary institution. This system houses all the information required for both the students and the institutions success.
In 2005, two Alberta post-secondary schools began the implementation process of new SIS’s. These institutions will be called School A and School B. Both School A and School B were comprehensive community colleges. School A was located in a small city of approximately 65,000 while School B was located in a larger city of roughly 800,000. The offered similar programs, had similar student demographics, and faced similar challenges. The biggest difference between School A and School B was the size of their student population and staff.
School A had a student population of slightly over 3, 000 and a staff of 400 whereas School B had a student population of approximately 10,000 and a staff of 1,100. It is important to note that the ratio of student to staff and faculty was very similar. When it was determined that a new SIS was required, School A enlisted three people to begin the research to determine which Vendor would be used. Once they determined which vendor would supply the technology and software, one of the people step down. That left two people to set up the implementation process for a multimillion dollar project.
A steering committee was established and met on a monthly basis. This committee consisted of four executives, three members of the finance department, one registrar and two front end users. As a result, the implementation went badly very fast. The steering committee, with the exception of two people, had never used the existing SIS and therefore could not offer the degree of expertise that was required to offer direction to the implementation team. During the initiation phase of the implementation, staff members were rarely consulted about their needs from the system.
As a result, there was little or no buy-in from the staff. They became resistant to the changes and as a result, some student records were lost as well as several thousands of dollars in student fees. The implementation was scheduled to take eight to twelve months. In actuality, the implementation took nearly two years to complete and the final product was characterized a complete failure. The two people on the implementation team were terminated and to date, the cost of the implementation has nearly tripled.
School B on the other hand developed a strategy using John Kotter’s eight stage process to creating change. The primary driver in the change was School B’s new President. She recognized after only a few months that the old SIS was inadequate for the school if they were going to achieve the goals that had been established. Because this new president had no history, it was easier to move forward with radical changes. According to Kotter; “It is not a coincidence that transformations often start when a new person is placed in a key role, someone who does not have to defend his or her past actions”.
The leadership at School B set up several teams from within the institution to complete a SWOT analysis. They made their employees aware of the issues at hand and the need to make radical changes and eradicate the complacency that had engulfed the school. They were aware that bold or radical change would create a certain level of fear and anxiety but were prepared for it. School B Then established working groups with the power and skills to work together. They created a “Guiding Coalition”. According to Kotter; “A guiding coalition that operates as an effective team can process more information, more quickly.
It can also speed the implementation. ” Kotter’s leading change provides an exception framework for change implementation within project management. The eight steps he outlines, if followed properly provide the project manager with a template for success. Throughout the process, the most important aspect of their mission was to communicate both what the change meant to the school and what would be the risk if change did not occur. School B engaged all stakeholders, particular the “Super Users” of the SIS.
The Steering Committee consisted of super users, several members of the Information Technology Department, a handful of department manager, the sponsor and one member from finance. Throughout the implementation, School B involved members of the staff with questions and asked for direction. The implementation team held weekly meetings to help minimize the feelings of uneasiness and stress. Each month, the team held a wine and cheese to provide an update to the staff and celebrate any milestones. Most importantly, the sponsor and the project team allowed for transparency.
As a result, School B implemented their SIS on time and on budget. To date, the users of the system are satisfied with the product that was developed. The implementation of for each school was radically different. School A utilized a very small group to make the required changes. They offered little or no communication or feedback. The staff did not have a voice and felt like they were being forced to change. School B utilized a larger group for implementation. They developed a Guided Coalition and provided constant communication and feedback.
It is not surprising that School B enjoyed a successful implementation. Change is often a frightening event. As a manager, I am always in the process of change. I have staff changes, leadership changes and each year, I have new students to deal with. Their situations are always changing and always different. I have had five different supervisors in eight years. Each one brings in new ideas and changes the way things are to be done. Change is indeed a part of life. The way we propose and implement change is what makes change successful or not.
The literatures I have read all suggest the same thing. People don’t necessarily resist change, they resist being changed. By providing education, information, a forum for both ideas and concerns and leadership that understands and respects what people bring to the organization, change can be viewed as not only a “good” thing but also as a necessary function that will allow the organization and its employees the opportunity to prosper and grow. Change Management, if implemented well, has the ability to make transitions positive, possible and profitable.