Managing planned changes

A group of housekeeping employees who work for a small hotel confronted the owner: “It’s very hard for most of us to maintain rigid 7-to-4 work hours,” said their spokesman. “Each of us has significant family and personal responsibilities. And rigid hours don’t work for us. We’re going to begin looking for some place else to work if you don’t set up flexible work hours.” The owner listened thoughtfully to the group’s ultimatum and agreed to its request. The next day the owner introduced flextime plan for these employees.

A major automobile manufacturer spent several billion dollars to install state-of-the-robotics. One area that would receive the new equipment was quality control. Sophisticated computer controlled equipment would be put in place to significantly improve the company’s ability to find and correct defects. Because new equipment would dramatically change the jobs of the people working in the quality-control area, and because management anticipated considerable employee resistance to the new equipment, executives were developing a program to help people become familiar with the equipment and to deal with any anxieties they might be feelings.

Both of the previous are examples of change. That is, both are concerned with making things different. However, only the second scenario describes planned change. Many changes in organization are like the one that occurred at the hotel—they just happen. Some organizations treat all changes as an accidental occurrence. We’re concerned with change activities that are proactive and purposeful.

What are the goals of planned change? Essentially there are two. First, it seeks to improve the ability to adapt to changes in its environment. Second, it seeks to change employee behavior.

If an organization is to survive, it must respond to changes in its environment when competitors introduce new products or services, government agencies enact new laws, important sources of supply go out of business, or similar environmental changes take place the organization needs to adapt. Efforts to stimulate innovation, empower employees, and introduce work teams are examples of planned-change activities directed at responding to changes in the environment.

Because an organization’s success or failure is essentially due to the things that its employees do or fail to do, planned change also is concerned with changing the behavior of individuals and groups within the organization. We will also review a number of techniques that organizations can use to get people to behave differently in the tasks they perform and in their interaction with others.

Who in the organization is responsible for changes? The answer is ‘Change Agents’. The change agents can be managers, employees or outside consultants. A contemporary example of an internal change agent is President of Harvard University. He has aggressively sought to shake up the complacent institution by leading the battle to reshape the undergraduate curriculum. He proposed the University be directly engaged with the problems in education and public health and reorganizing to consolidate more powers in president’s office. His critics while commenting that he has offended nearly everyone they also had to admit that he has successfully brought in revolutionary changes at Harvard which were earlier considered as not possible.

In some instances internal managements will hire the services of outside consultants to provide with advice and assistance for major change efforts. Because they are from outside, these individuals can offer an objective perspective not available to insiders. Outside consultants however are disadvantaged because they have an inadequate understanding of the organization’s history, culture, operating procedures and personnel. Outside consultants may also be prone to initiating more drastic changes which can be a benefit or a disadvantage because they do not have to live with the repercussions after the change is implemented. In contrast internal staff specialists or managers when acting as change agents may be more thoughtful because they have to live with the consequences of their actions.