Sustaining successful organizational change
by Abdel Abuisneineh*
Concordia University, Chicago
Elements of change vary based on the size of the organization, complexity of the change, time factors related to the change, and nature of the operations of the organization. Certain common elements of change seem to be shared in the process. After reviewing the specific literature for this module I can point to the following common elements.
Recognizing the Need, Goals, and Vision for Change
All changes start with the recognition of the needs for change then followed by setting the goals and mission for the change process. “Building agility” is what Vermeulen, Puranam, & Gulati (2010) introduced to describe the problem of declining innovativeness resulting from the persistent failure to identify new developments and opportunities in the marketplace. Needs for change are established in what Kritsons (2005) describes as the 'contemplation stage' of the Prochaska and DiClemente’s Change Theory. Also, during that stage leaders are normally “establishing a sense of urgency [after] examining market and competitive realities [and after] identifying and discussing crises, potential crises, or major opportunities” (Kotter, 2007, p. 99). In Fullan’s (2007) ten elements of successful change process, the number one step is to define the gap between where the desired position of the organization and its status quo as the overarching goal. Specks (1996) illustrates the change model proposed by Herdrich showing the importance of the needs assessment by comparing where we are now and where we want to be, where the model also calls for maintaining this data under focus.
It is not only competitive forces and external environment and marketplace forces that mandate changes. The internal structure and hierarchies of the organization can also be another major force mandating change. Vermeulen, et al (2010) argue that an organization “periodically needs to shake itself up, regardless of the competitive landscape. Even if external environment is not changing in ways that demand a response, the internal environment probably is” (p. 71).
The clarity of the goals and visions must be primary concerns for change leaders. Kotter (2007) indicates that “if you can’t communicate the vision to someone in five minutes or less and get a reaction that signifies both understanding and interest, you are not done” (p. 101). Clear mission and goals are necessary to have common and unanimous meanings for the change.
Motivation by Pressure and Support
Kritsonis (2005) thinks that a key to success lies in working on the driving force of members. This basically summarizes Lewin’s Three-Step Change Theory which emphasizes the assumption that “driving forces facilitate change because they push employees in the desired direction.” (p. 1). Working against the driving forces are the “restraining forces” that inhibit change. Leaders of change need to unfreeze the status quo and augment the struggle between the two forces, placing their support and pressure in favor of the driving forces. Muffett (2000) indicates that “research has also shown that adopted changes will go nowhere unless central office staff and building principals provide specific implementation pressure and support” (p. 37). This can be accomplished by first providing motivation, building recognition for the change, and engaging participating members in the change. Then comes selling the idea of change to members after illustrating to them how change benefits them as well. Finally, once signs of successful implementation show, “refreezing” the situation becomes necessary to prevent members to going back to old activities.
Building Strong Formal & Informal Communication Systems
Muffett (2000) argues that “a creative communication networking system including frequent stakeholder meetings, focus groups, face-to-face dialogue, small-group information sharing, ongoing oral and written updates, ...is crucial” (p. 36). Without a multi direction communication system between stakeholders, change will not be sustained, Muffett (2000) argues.
Kotter (2007) believes that a strong communication system is vital in communicating the vision of the organization at the point of change when it becomes critical for the organization to be “using every vehicle possible to communicate the new vision and strategies [and] teaching new behaviors by the example of the guiding coalition” (p. 99).
Fostering communication system can be very helpful in organizations that suffer from ineffective collaborations. Vermeulen et al (2010) suggest that using informal networks can make up for the deficiencies of the formal hierarchies.
Reculturing Not Just Restructuring
Moffett (2000) believes that one of the main elements of success is to nurture professional communities in the educational system. “Studies have demonstrated that schools and districts with strong professional learning communities enable teachers to respond more successfully to the needs of students and to sustain positive change.” (Muffett, 2000, p. 36). Fullan (2007) also stressed similar idea saying that “restructuring (which can be done by fiat) occurs time and time again, whereas reculturing (how teachers come to question and change their beliefs and habits) is what is needed” (p. 25).
Building, Training, and Empowering Professional Communities, Change Agents & Change Facilitators
Leaders cannot effectuate successful changes alone. They need helpers, change agents, or facilitators from within the organizations or from outside the organization. Muffett (2000) believes that change agents which he called “facilitators” provide technical and other know-how supports for organization members. Kritsonis (2005) explains that Lippitt’s Theory of Change focuses on the role of “change agent’s” clear mission, responsibilities, duties, and involvement in the change. The agent will withdraw gradually after the change is stabilized.
Empowering other organizational members to act on the vision of change by eliminating change impediments and by encouraging them to assume more risks in implementing the change is a key point in Kotter's (2007) model where “building coalitions” was also emphasized to carry out the intended change.
High member turnover ratio can compose a risk to successful change. Aside from the assumption that employment turnover is a reflection of employee low morale, high turnover may also be an impediment for successful change. Muffett (2000) reveals that “even in schools and school systems that were serious about [successful change]... reform is jeopardized by the coming and going of school board members, superintendents, principals, and teachers” (p. 36).
Failure After Success
Success is possible but since there are many major internal and external uncontrollable elements that determine the value of the change function there seems to be no end for the value of the change process. Change in our universe began at the Big Bang point, some 14 billion years ago, and the only assumption about the end of that change is another assumption that another similar change will just begin at the end of time! “After a few years of hard work, managers may be tempted to declare victory with the first clear performance improvement. While celebrating a win is fine, declaring the war won can be catastrophic.” (Kotter,2007, 102). Fullan (2007) presents a couple of disturbing issues related to the success in the US educational system. One of them is related to the fact that only small numbers of success cases have been reported and the second one is the belief that “hard won cases over a period of 5 to 10 years cannot be sustained under the current conditions.” (Fullan, 2007, p. 107).
Looking at the massive amount of literature I realize that change is a very complex process. Several uncontrollable social, economic, political, technological and a myriad of other factors enter the equation of change. My experience with change is to some extent in line with the above points. Smaller business like mine are less sensitive to global or national uncontrollable forces like big organizations. For that reason managing changes in my organization was more simple. However, I can speculate now about the reasons why some of my previous attempt to change were not as successful. The process of changing a business from a single person operations to an operations with few people may rely solely on the character of the individual leader. However, as expansion changes are pursued; building, training, motivating coalitions and professional teams become critical. A successful leader alone will not be able to make important changes on his/her own.
Fullan, M. (2007) The new meaning of educational change (4th Ed.). Teachers College Press.
Kotter, J. (2007). Leading change: why transformation efforts fail. Harvard Business Review, 96-103.
Kritsonis, A. (2005). Comparison of change theories. Int. Journal of Scholarly Academic Intellectual Diversity, 8(1), 1-8.
Moffett, C. A. (2000). Sustaining change: the answers are blowing in the wind. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 27(7), 35-38.
Specks, M. (1996). Best practice in professional development for sustained change. ERS Spectrum, 14(2), 33-41.
Vermeulen, F., Puranam, P., & Gulati, R. (2010). Change for change’s sake. Harvard Business Review, 71-76.
* Abdel Abuisneinehis a former college teacher of auto insurance and business insurance.