Change Management – the One Right Way

1 January 2017

However the offer is often illusory, for particular change approaches usually apply to particular situations, and simple solutions sometimes ignore the complexities of real life. (Stace and Dunphy, 2001, p 5) To utilise a single change approach is to assume that all organisations, all situations and all internal and external variables and influences remain constant. It applies the same logic to all changes without consideration of the many and varied influencing factors.

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I generally agree with the statement presented by Stace and Dunphy but am interested in the reasons underlying the requirement for simple, easy and fast change interventions. Are managers and change agents lazy and only looking for simple solutions? Does management consider change unimportant? Do management really believe that a single solution is going to work in every case? What is behind this trend? Bold (2011) suggests that change itself is becoming the only constant or ‘business as usual’ in the modern business environment.

With technological advancements over the past 10 years, organisation now have the ability to access, collect and process enormous amounts of business data very quickly. This has provided management with the ability to understand the current health of their organisational processes and track against set goals and targets quickly and accurately. Previously, managers may have waited for end of month or end of quarter reporting from all business units to be collated and presented to gain an accurate understanding of the current business position and gauge the results from previous decisions made.

Now, when a manager wants to make a change, they want it implemented as soon as possible so they can assess the impact of the change. Due to the high amount of change occurring in modern organisations and management’s requirement for immediate solutions, I believe that pressure is placed onto the change agents to provide solutions, often without the resources or time to perform adequate analysis to plan and implement the best change approach.

As Bold (2011) suggested, change is becoming ‘business as usual’ and management may expect change managers to be able to develop a change process (i. e. the one right way), in the way that other parts of the organisation develops other repeatable ‘business as usual’ processes. Corporate competencies for change management constitute the critical capacity that is needed to create a learning organisation which is flexible, dynamic and adaptable in a rapidly changing and volatile environment. (Turner and Crawford 1998)

As recent as the 1990’s, research was being undertaken by Romanelli & Tushman (1994) that proposed an alternate viewpoint. Their punctuated equilibrium paradigm argues that relatively long periods of stability (equilibrium) are punctuated by short periods of more radical, revolutionary change. I believe that most organisational change researchers would now agree that this is no longer the case and further progression into the information age has meant that very few industries operate within a long term, stable business operating environment.

Although many different change models and approaches have been developed by academics, consultants and practitioners, none has yet to be accepted as a standard that can be used for all change interventions. Bold (2011) argues that there is no right or wrong theory for change management. It is not an exact science. However, through the ongoing research and studies by the industry’s leading experts, a clearer picture of what it takes to lead a change effort effectively will continue to emerge.

Andriopoulos & Dawson (2009) agree that in the case of organisational change, there remains considerable debate over the speed, direction and effects of change and on the most appropriate methods and concepts for understanding and explaining change. Kanter, Stein & Jick (1992) found that it would be very difficult for a single solution or approach to meet all the types of changes required and to take into account all of the required aspects as organisations are fluid entities. In an attempt to provide a more broad solution, Stace & Dunphy (2001) proposed a situational approach or framework for change.

They argued that there is no single path to successful change implementation that holds true in all situations. This framework however has been criticised by Andriopoulos & Dawson (2009) for neglecting the role of organisational politics and the internal power relationships within organisations as shapers of the organisational change process. Pettigrew (1985) presented a holistic, contextual analysis approach providing a multi-level approach to encapsulate the complexities of change management.

Pettigrew argued that strategic change is a continuous process with no clear beginning or end point. However, Buchanan and Boddy (1992) argued that the richness and complexity of the multi-level analysis presented by Pettigrew, while comprehensive, it did little to simplify or clarify the processes of change and thereby rendered the research as largely impenetrable for the organisational practitioner. Change within an organisation is ongoing and involves many variables which are covered by different change models, processes and frameworks.

Variables include the type of industry, the geographical location, the organisations size, the style of management leadership, the capability of the people involved, the organisational culture, the local and global economic environment, timing in regard to other events, the organisational structure and many more. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but demonstrates the length and breadth of variables to be taken into account when assessing and managing change.

Senior (2002) argues that the trigger for internal change is often in response to external influences which then links the internal and external drivers for change. Often, the change strategy or mechanism used by an organisation is chosen by the change manager and may not necessarily meet the needs of the organisation. This can lead to the change manager selecting an approach that may have worked before, that they feel comfortable with, or that suits their personality. This may not be however, what the organisation really requires.

For example, a change manager may have had previous success utilising a consultative and collaborative approach which would take time to fully consult with all impacted parties while the organisation may actually require a fast, dictatorial type approach due to it losing market share which is putting the very existence of the organisation at risk. Kanter (1983) notes that managers sometimes make strategic choices based on their own area of competence and career payoff.

A model of change strategies that seeks to develop our understanding of change processes is unfortunately restricted if it excludes considerations of anything other than management as some sort of ‘black box’ wherein environmental fit is sought. Stace and Dunphy argue that change managers need to develop a varied behaviour repertoire rather than remain fixed on a particular approach to change. They argue the compelling need for in our modern economies to create and build more dynamic and innovative corporations which can compete successfully in global terms. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Remember that change involves people, is instigated by people and controlled by people. There are many internal and external influences and forces that affect change but the interests of the change agents themselves and their political interests must also be considered. You cannot expect a change manager to ignore their own self-interest when making rational decisions. (Dunford 1990)

Stace and Dunphy argue that the critical requirement for longer term viability and success in the corporation of the future is the ongoing development of what is increasingly being referred to as organisational capabilities or corporate competencies. These are capabilities for the flexible initiation of new strategies and environmental responsiveness that reside in the corporation itself rather than only in the capabilities and skills of the individual members. This will allow organisations to respond quicker to changes and effectively make change management part of the organisational culture.

Change would then be regarded as ‘business as usual’. Many of the change approach methods, tools and techniques proposed by researchers and practitioners have overlapping ideas and cover a lot of the same ground. Rather than working independently towards defining improvements to existing ideas or new ideas, it may be more beneficial to take a collaborative approach and create an international standard for change or a recognised body of shared knowledge that could be used as a guide for organisational change.

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