Key Concept - Back to the Future
The requirement for ongoing, continuous and reciprocal processes of change in the organisation must be embraced as a core component of corporate philosophy, and therefore enshrined as a non-negotiable element of organisational culture.When this ambition is realised, there will be a joint and individual commitment amongst stakeholders to a constant adjustment of their ways of doing things, in pursuit of an improved value proposition for the customer.This is achieved by a combination of effective communication and disciplined implementation, and is therefore followed by the generation of quantifiable benefits for all stakeholders involved in the process.
This Key Concept Exercise requires you to reflect on the above summary statement, and to offer your own opinion on its validity, relevance and feasibility in the context of your own employment environment. In short, to what extent can this theoretical view translate into effective action in the context of conditions experienced in the practical workplace?
-Read the Required Learning Resources
-Reflect on the ideas presented in the Week 8 Key Concept Overview and the assigned journal articles in the light of your own practical experiences in the workplace.
Answer the following question:
-With reference to the summarised statement above, to what extent do you believe the propositions contained in this statement are important, valid, relevant and achievable in practice, given the real-world conditions that have been encountered in your own experience?
-When writing your responses, you should synthesise the theory with real world experience and use the examples of the theories in action in a real organisation about which you have read or one in which you have worked.
We have covered a great deal of ground in these past weeks, and there have been quite a number of different ideas captured in the materials presented for you to study, as well as in the discussions that have developed in response to those ideas. Your ultimate conclusion could be that the implementation of successful strategic change is a challenging task that will test even the most capable of organisational leaderships.
How then should you distinguish between what is essential about this content, what is important, what is interesting, and what is not? Also, how should you synthesise our 8 weeks of discussion down to a manageable range of bullet-pointed ‘things to remember’? The answer to that question is derived through reference to the learning objectives originally established as a foundation for the design of this module. If you can successfully present a concise series of responses to those objectives, then you will arguably have generated an executive summary of the key propositions contained in the module.
The Principal Determinant of Success for the Modern Organisation
-The principal determinant of success for the modern organisation lies with its ability to match its internal capabilities and resources with the demands of its external environment.
-This requirement can only be met through the development and maintenance of a future-oriented approach to managing the organisation.
-Organisations will continue to face a series of challenges to their accepted way of doing business, and those challenges will be both predictable and unpredictable, both incremental and disruptive.
-Different categories of external influence require different categories of response, and few, if any, of those responses will be warmly welcomed by stakeholders.
-As there is no single model of effective change that can be successfully applied in every situation, the response models advocated in the change management literature are more valuable as guiding frameworks than as detailed prescriptions.
-The majority of strategic change initiatives are more closely aligned with leading people than with managing resources.
-Most strategic change initiatives will require a commensurate change in the way that the organisation’s activities are designed and/or structured.
-There is a positive correlation between the degree of stakeholder involvement in the design and implementation of a change process and the ultimate success of that process.
-Implementation of significant change will encounter a range of predicted and unpredicted challenges and conflicts, and there is a temptation to incorrectly classify those conflicts and challenges as a resistance to change.
-When contemplating the design and implementation of a major change affecting staff, larger firms in particular should mobilise their human resources department into the role of primary change agent. Recognise however that this will require a substantial expansion of the skill base traditionally required of HR professionals.
-There is an overarching need to acknowledge the status of change as a continuous and neverending journey. It is a naturally recurring element of organisational development and, in some form or other, it is going to be with us forever.
The above points are key aspects of change management theory that are often seen as especially important, though those theoretical principles should be subject to serious scrutiny when any attempt is made to mobilise them in a practice environment. In this week’s first case study example of such a mobilisation, Hind, Smit and Page (2013) review the outcomes of a process applied to change in a SME environment that seemed to embody many of the ideas advanced in the previous section.
Different Categories of External Influence
Notable amongst those was the absence of any sense of dictatorial instruction from senior management, although that may have been because the changes contemplated were perhaps more elective than compulsory in nature. Irrespective of motivational origins though, there did seem to be a major advance in creating employee engagement through an approach in which the change proposals were strongly influenced by the impact of stakeholder opinion.
There is something more to be considered here: a bigger picture than just a simple Lewin-style process of unfreezing stakeholders from their established way of thinking. It includes introducing and advocating for new projects, systems and processes, and then refreezing the new behaviour pattern in a manner that would become part of a revised organisational culture.
Important though that process undoubtedly was, a critical by-product of what was done was the growth in stature of the entire organisation By going through a process of change that many firms would classify as negative and undesirable, but by doing so in a way that ultimately led to enhanced levels of stakeholder engagement, the firms themselves were able to grow both reputation and brand value. This is of course a textbook example of what Peter Senge was talking about in his concept of the ‘learning organisation’, a theme that is explored further in the following section.
The reading by Steenekamp, Botha, and Moloi (2012) draws attention to the specific opportunities offered to the learning organisation through its involvement with a major change project. This is a refreshingly different viewpoint. A key element of this perspective is the almost automatic acceptance of an apparently contentious view that organisations should not only accept the need for continuous change but also welcome it with open arms as an essential contributor to the pattern of growth and development necessary to ensure its survival.
In short, the premise offered in this example is that the need for change can be interpreted as an opportunity for organisational development, and that organisational development can, in turn, pave the way for a future that will inevitably be populated by consistent and ongoing patterns of major change. In this sense, the article is not so much suggesting a way in which sustainable change can be implemented, but rather is it is suggesting a new paradigm of thought within which organisational change might usefully be located.
Yet there are clearly obvious similarities between the practical processes described by these authors and the framework of change implementation that has emerged from our discussions over the past weeks. The initial driver for change can be traced back to the well-known influences of technology development, hypercompetition and globalisation, with a healthy element of political interference thrown in. Those issues were then responsible for the firm being able to overcome the first hurdle in the change process. In other words, it became generally accepted amongst stakeholders that there was indeed a need for change and of the reality that the firm could not carry on doing what it had always done.
Effective Change Management Frameworks
From that point onwards, there needed to be an understanding that organisations can only learn if the people who work in them also learn. In this sense, the label of ‘learning organisation’ is something of a misnomer, in that it is people, not organisations, that actually do the learning. It follows that the acquisition of additional learning by the organisation’s people brings with it an inescapable change in their attitudes, their behaviours or both, and this is something that needs to be carefully monitored.
The next area where the learning organisation aligns with our proposed framework of strategic change is found in the emphasis that both approaches accord to the importance of interpersonal elements. Both in the change framework introduced at the end of Week 7, and in the principal attributes of the learning organisation, you can see a ready acceptance that change is effected through the leadership of people and not the management of things.
This raises the possibility that continuous and ongoing change has a mutual and reciprocal relationship with the development of a learning organisation. That seems to be the point that Steenekamp, Botha and Moloi are trying to establish. What then are the key determinants of success in this respect; or, to be less optimistic, where are the areas in which this process can falter?
As a fitting close to a module that is really all about the ways in which people and organisations are going to have to change in order to meet the demands of an uncertain future, here are our closing pieces of advice for those who would aspire to the role of primary change agent in future years:
Principle 1: Any and all major changes undertaken by the firm must result in an improved value proposition in the eyes of the customer.
Principle 2: Greater profitability should be sought as a byproduct of significant changes and not as the dominant reason for making those changes.
Principle 3: There needs to be commitment to a concept of change as an ongoing, continuous and reciprocal process. This needs to be seen as a corporate philosophy, not as a series of individually managed projects.
Principle 4: That commitment to continuous improvement, and hence to continuous change, needs to be enshrined as a non-negotiable element of organisational culture. Principle 5: The management of change in the pursuit of growth needs a consistently applied discipline in its implementation, application and reinforcement.
Principle 6: The primary objective of implementation is to get everyone in the organisation willingly working in ways that will best meet the changing demands of the external environment.
Principle 7: Achievement of that objective requires honest, open, clear and consistent communication to stakeholders of both the intent of the change and of the methods by which it is to be achieved.
Do those principles make the process of strategic change implementation sound any easier, or even more realistically feasible? Probably not, for the reality is that this process remains one of the most difficult any practising manager will ever be asked to engage with. Realistic or not, feasible or not, the unavoidable conclusion that can be determined from the past 8 weeks of study is that change in our world is inevitable. Changes in ourselves are needed in order to continue to exist effectively in that changing world. The first step to being able to meet this challenge is to accept that those two statements are correct. Only then can managers confront their own professional futures with any degree of confidence.