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Back in the “Dark Ages” when I was in university taking classes in Industrial/Organizational psychology, the topic of “change” was an issue that would come up occasionally, was an interruption to “normal” activities, and had to be tackled much like a project with a beginning and an end. It was a temporary activity that had to be managed through from start to finish. At that time, there were a few agreed tenets around managing change successfully:
1. A change project started with an activity or activities designed to “unfreeze” the organization, and make it more accepting of the required change(s).
2. The greater the number of people involved in the decision making, planning and implementation of the change effort, the greater the acceptance and eventual success. Ideally, everyone impacted by the change would take part in the decision-making involved in the change.
3. Generally, people were assumed to be resistant to, if not opposed to, incorporating changes into the way they did things. Project change efforts were designed to help people accept and incorporate the needed changes into their way of working.
4. The Change project would end with activities designed to “refreeze” or stabilize the organization into its new way of doing things.
Change management is no longer that simplistic. For openers, there are, broadly speaking, two types of potential change efforts, each requiring different approaches and processes:
• Transformational change, defined as a radical change in the underlying business model of the organization. This one is still a project that interferes with “normal” daily operations
• And continuous or incremental change where the necessary changes are more in the nature of modifications or adjustments to how things are done now rather than a radical shift in thinking. We now understand this as a continuous, never-ending activity. This is a way of managing daily operations and must be considered part of the daily job.
Today’s incremental or continuous change is a response to the realities of a globally competitive business environment. Incremental change is effectively a continuous process for businesses desiring to stay competitive in today’s business environment. The realization of this becoming obvious by the mid to late 70’s. Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, published in 1990, was one of the first books formally to acknowledge this new necessity.
In addition to now having two broad types of change, each requiring different approaches, by the early 70’s “time” was injecting itself as a serious problem. The preferred participative methodologies grew increasingly difficult for a variety of reasons:
• To participate, people had to have some understanding of the issues leading to the need to change but time to bring all participants up to speed to enable meaningful interaction was increasingly not available.
• Regulatory changes required by outside powers were increasing and input from those impacted was not logistically possible to meaningfully solicit and incorporate – even if the powers dictating the change wished to do so.
• Multiple examples of “faked” or superficial participation in change efforts demonstrated how to increase significantly resistance to change so attempts to make it “feel” like there was participation even though the conclusions were already decided were not viable.
I first came to grips with the above points when heading up a change effort for Visa, Inc. in 1974 to implement the Fair Credit Billing Act. We had a very limited window to get banks into compliance with ACT before mandatory fines for non-compliance became effective. Most of the critical principles for Participative Change approaches were non-starters.
In the early 1980s a number of colleagues and I created an alternative method of change management that held on to the critical elements of the participative model but allowed for a much more rapid, but equally effective change implementation. We titled this new approach a Declarative Change approach. This approach focused the participants very rapidly on how to most successfully implement the required changes within required time frames. This limited their “participation” in the changes to things they had the background to discuss with no pre-preparation – how to get it done. Almost as a side issue clients have discovered that this approach often results in improved management staff relations characterized by enhanced levels of trust.
After 30+ years of experience with this model, we confidently say it works quite well. In fact, we have clients who now view change efforts as a chance to enhance employee relations and improve trust between management and staff – something that can add to competitive edge all by itself.
If any of you have an interest in this approach, we will gladly provide full information in a separate paper (Declarative Change Model). This paper details the process and key components in such a way that anyone with a modicum of experience in group facilitation and process management can easily apply and get the same outstanding results we have achieved with it.
One of the things that many of us learned that helped make the Declarative Change model easier to apply, was that we had the “resistance to change” bit wrong. People do not invariably resist change. A quick look into the consumer products field highlights the fallacy of this simplistic view.
A large proportion of the population routinely exhibits positive acceptance of change when marketed and managed well. Look at the lines outside an Apple store when a new iPhone or iPad is being introduced. The change from black and white TV to color was incredibly fast and switching from dial phones to push button was almost overnight. Rapid acceptance and change defines the fashion industry. The blossoming digital age is changing damn near everything, and quickly, and the general population appears to pushing for more and more ever faster. Good grief, we are now into our fifth methodology in 40 years for delivering audio and video media, each one making the previous method obsolete.
The key issues around acceptance of change appear to rest with how it is designed, planned, marketed, implemented and managed. Do these things well and people respond positively.
This brings us to my final comment in this blog around the state of change management today. While in the distant past, change was indeed an occasional thing to be managed through, and could safely be left in the hands of specialists—this is no longer the case. We should now consider effective change management a basic skill requirement of managers and supervisors.
When we formulated the basic aspects of Declarative Change, we began by reviewing all of the literature available on change management at the time. Looking across all the various models and approaches postulated, we came to the realization that the basic requirement for managers and supervisors came down to four things that they must do routinely every day, embedded in their daily activities. Four basic skill sets/activities are required to most effectively incorporate change:
1. Enhance Benefit –Make sure everyone understands the benefits—personal, team, unit and company– that will result from the change.
2. Enhance Clarity – Make sure everyone understands why change is needed, what will change, and how and when the change will occur. Never assume clarity. The measure of when you have communicated sufficiently about any change is when people tell you they understand and you can stop talking about it.
3. Diminish Uncertainty – Make sure everyone understands how the change affects them, where they fit in the new system, and what their role and responsibilities will be. Be as clear about what is NOT going to happen as you are with what IS going to happen. It is important to listen carefully to the rumor mill and respond quickly to inaccurate thoughts or assumptions.
4. Diminish Level of Effort – Minimize the amount of additional effort related to the change and make it is as evenly distributed as possible. Try to assure that it is easier to do things the new way than to continue doing them the old way.
J. Robert “Bob” Carleton
Vector Group, Inc.
If you have questions, please email Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org[contact-form][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form] at
Note: Bob is an internationally recognized authority in organizational performance and effectiveness. He is a global thought leader and a pioneer in the emerging field of Cultural Due Diligence (CDD) its application in successful M & A’s. Based on his research and experience, he was the first to coin the term CDD in 1996. He has a lengthy record of achievements in turning around underperforming organizations and bringing them to the top of their respective industries with companies such as GM, Honeywell-Bull, Prudential Assurance, British Airways and Groupe Schneider. He is an expert in organizational analysis and design, post-merger or post-acquisition cultural integration, leadership and executive team development.
He is the author of two books. He and Claude Lineberry published a “how-to” guide for assessing and integrating cultures that will create successful mergers and acquisitions (Achieving Post-Merger Success: A Stakeholder’s Guide to Cultural Due Diligence, Assessment, and Integration, Pfeiffer and Company, 2004) and published his second book, Implementation and Management of Performance Improvement Plans: Emphasizing Group and Organizational Interventions, HRD Press, 2010. He and Gary Craig are planning a revised edition of Achieving Post-Merger Success and another book, Achieving Organizational Intent: A Management Guide to Successfully Implementing Business Strategy.
The International Society for Performance Improvement honored Bob with its prestigious Geary Rummler Award for the Advancement of Performance Improvement at THE Performance Improvement Conference in Toronto, 2012.