People and organizations have only two alternatives: get better or get worse, improve or decay. While the thought of status quo might seem comforting, status quo is really decay in sheep’s clothing. Certainly status quo is decay relative to companies who are improving and innovating in the competitive market place. In the personal career arena, status quo is decay relative to those who are improving their career potential.
Take a look at everything that is going on around and in us. Everything seems to be in the process of getting better (growing) or decaying (dying). An example of this is a steel beam, which one might tend to think of as being permanent. The fact is the beam is decaying from the moment manufacturing is complete. On the personal side, we are all constantly changing physically and mentally. Our choice is to manage this process and improve the things that can be improved, or ignore the process and decay. This idea is a key element in the concept of life long learning. Underlying this concept is the thought that we can all decide to learn and grow, or decay (doing nothing is a decision). The same is true for organizations. When we hear about revitalization, remaking, redesigning, restructuring reengineering, etc, we are usually talking about changing the momentum from known decay or status quo (unknown decay), to improvement, innovation and growth. The question for us as individuals, and for organizations, is how to keep on the growth, innovation and improvement upward vector. It can be done, but it takes positive, continuous action and energy. It has to be made to happen because the inertia tends to be towards status quo (decay).
When people ask a manager if all the problems are solved, the response should be: “I hope not”. This is because if there were no problems, there would be no need for managers. Problems include creating and updating plans, adjusting the organizational charts and work processes, leading people to new motivations, and reacting when the controls indicate a problem exists, or is about to exist. In almost all of these tasks, the required decision-making leads to changes. Therefore, change is what we are actually managing. The issue is whether we view change as an opportunity or a nuisance. This brings us to our old friend “˜resistance to change’.
When facilitating the introduction and implementation of a new concept or process, one can boldly make the assertion that everyone loves change and does not resist it. That always generates a response of disagreement. However, when one asks: Who resists a promotion? Who resists a pay raise? The response is usually, well not those kinds of changes. The point is the blanket comment; “I don’t like change” is untrue. We generally like changes that affect us positively and tend to resist changes that affect us in a negative way. The challenge is to take our positive attitude to some changes and apply this attitude across the board.
Pyschologist Kurt Lewin has provided an effective roadmap for the change process. Implementing change is a three-step process: unfreezing, changing, and refreezing. Unfreezing is the most important step in this process. This involves preparing people for change. It is the step that needs to be taken to help people accept and support the up coming change.
Getting people to buy-into, and support, change can be accomplished by combinations of: participation in change definition and planning, education classes/meetings, and extensive communications. All this needs to take place well before the change is implemented so people are ready and supportive. This is the step that is usually ignored or insufficiently completed. When this happens, the likelihood of successful change is greatly diminished. Implementing the change itself needs to be carefully planned to be successful. We need to also remember that in many cases we will be operating the old way at the same time we bringing on the new way.
Finally, refreezing means making the new way permanent. One needs to periodically check to insure the change has remained in place and we have not drifted back to the old way. In working with a change process that is failing, there are three areas in which to look.
During the change process, people resist change for one or several reasons. First, they may not like the change itself. Second, they may not like the way the change is being implemented. Third, they may not like the person who is leading the change – the change agent. If a change implementation is having difficulty, check in all of these three areas. The problem could be in one, or several, of the areas. Of course, when you are fixing a failing change process, you are engaging in another change process.
So change is what we manage. We all know the rate of change is continuing to accelerate. For example, we usually talk about a five-year time frame in the strategic planning process. However, when you think in terms of the increasing rate of change, the amount of change that has occurred in five years in the past, may now take place in two to three years. This presents an interesting challenge for strategic planning.
We are on the threshold of an entirely new way of thinking about change. Soon, there will be a generation that will resist the lack of change. Are we ready to manage people who think that way?
The challenge is to proactively manage change. Become the change agent and you are shaping the future.