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Effective and sustainable approach to managing change in organisations

Two things. First, your organization won’t make it far if it is insensitive to change. Second, if your organization embraces change but with no clearly defined management approach (that is engaging), it will self-destruct with time. Change management is a very complex endeavour because of the complexities of organizations as well as change dynamics. To some, it seems simple because of their constant use of a particular change management model but this approach is problematic because it assumes that all organizations are the same (implying they belong to same industry, they experience the same type and degree of change et cetera).

There is nothing farther from the truth. Seasoned consultants understand and can attest to the fact that no two organizations are exactly the same…no two organizations face exactly the same change and react the exact same way. Even when two separate organizations are faced with the challenges that come with restructuring or mergers and acquisition or expansion et cetera, a critical look at the change dynamics in each organization will reveal some nuances no matter how insignificant. This is where open-mindedness is key. Change consultants must be open-minded enough to conduct proper diagnoses to ascertain the symptoms and peculiarities of the types of change faced by organizations. Do not over rely on past experiences and make quick assumptions that lead to quick fixes.

Change is caused by organizational, industrial, market factors et cetera. There is need to constantly pay attention to these domains that bring about organizational change. Specifically, a proper diagnosis of change pays attention to change dynamics like causes, types, magnitude, duration et cetera. This is important because they have implications for the best approach to managing change. I would be remiss if I fail to mention that diagnosing and making sense of change requires thorough research: interview of key stakeholders as well as some experienced employees; observation of organizational practices; perusal of annual company reports and other organizational reports; industry and market reports. Sole reliance on experience is grossly insufficient.

As regards diagnosis of change, I recall vividly while diagnosing the causes of change in a particular organization (which led me to design a customized change management model for them), I interviewed department heads in order to have a deeper insight into what the organization was faced with. The insights I got were markedly different from what the Deputy Managing Director shared with me. This goes to show that it is important to get multiple perspectives in order to have deeper insights which will inform a more robust and practical approach to managing change.

To manage change in an effective and sustainable manner, one must go beyond assessment of the change dynamics and ascertain the readiness/preparedness of the organization. Attention must be given to the levels of readiness of the individuals, the organization, the change agents et cetera. This is one step towards to lowering resistance which is a big obstacle to change implementation. There are many popular models of managing change in organizations. For example, Lewin’s Three Step Model, Bullock and Batten’s Planned Change Model, The McKinsey Seven ‘S’ Model, Senge Systemic Model, Stacy and Shaw Complex Responsive Processes et cetera. The suitability of any of these models depends on whether you are dealing with a planned or emergent change. In utilizing any of these approaches one must not fail to take into consideration organizational dynamics like power structures, organizational culture et cetera.

Anderson & Ackerman Anderson stated that there are three main aspects of a comprehensive change strategy: content, people and process. The success of any change initiative depends largely on these three components. I must quickly add that to ensure sustainability, any change approach adopted must ensure strategic alignment of change initiatives with structures, systems and processes.

Some factors are very central to effective and sustainable management of change. Communication, financial capability, supportive work culture, employee involvement, organizational learning, (sustained) motivation through rewards of short term wins, leadership etc. Interestingly, leadership (one of the functions of management), communication and employee involvement go hand in hand. Cameron & Green in their book Making Sense of Change stated that “…employees need to hear about change from two people – the most senior person involved in the change and also their line manager. The senior manager is best suited to communicating business messages around the change, whereas an employee’s line manager is best suited to communicating more personal messages.” I remember having a conversation with an MD/CEO while facilitating a change management process in an organization (which I was part of), I told the MD/CEO squarely: “If these change initiatives will succeed, it will largely depend on you. You will have to throw your weight behind this.” This was a sole-proprietorship and that meant the MD/CEO called the shots. Despite the talk session on change readiness I facilitated and other technical efforts made, the initiative lost its momentum before my exit – the MD/CEO didn’t show the required leadership bearing in mind that the political structure of the organization clearly depicted that enormous power and influence, organization-wise, resided at the helm of the company.

Change sensitivity is one of the defining features of a strong organization. Organizations must adopt a proactive approach to managing change by constantly assessing their internal environments and external environments (industry, market(s) etc). The role of having and promoting a learning culture cannot be overemphasized in this regard. Organizations should learn from every change experience. There is need to develop a change management mechanism that is sensitive and swift to respond to changes especially those that require urgent attention. Remember an organization’s survival is also dependent on its ability to keep up with change.
Stephen Hawking said: “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change”. If we situate this quote within the organizational context, it would mean that an intelligent organization is one that adapts to change. Is your organization intelligent?


Adigwe Jude

Adigwe is a certified Human Resource Management (HRM) professional and an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist. He offers consultancy services on OB and HRM issues. More details can be found on his website:

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