Why Creating Change Is Critical

In today’s fast-paced world, change is ubiquitous, and there are many high-profile victims in the business community that could not keep up.

Once a market leader in the video rental industry, Blockbuster Video fell from grace as competitor Netflix took advantage of a new operating model that bypassed retail stores. This greatly increased its revenue and reduced overhead. Netflix also set a new standard for the movie rental industry as it explored new technology and delivery methodologies, resulting in its digital streaming functionality.

Technology is not the only meter by which talent leaders can measure change and its impact on business. The global economy also has nations, companies and organizational leaders re-examining and rethinking their methodologies to create and implement change while simultaneously keeping the masses happy. Managers must be able to anticipate change and adapt accordingly, but doing so is easier said than done.

In 2001, Andrew Hede and Wayne H. Bovey published “Resistance to Organizational Change: The Role Of Defense Mechanisms” in the Journal of Managerial Psychology, which offered a sentiment that remains true today: Everyone knows change is inevitable, but it doesn’t mean they have to like it.

“Individuals go through a reaction process when they are personally confronted with major organizational change,” the authors wrote. This process is composed of “initial denial, resistance, gradual exploration and eventual commitment” and presents the greatest challenge to leaders, who must figure out how to keep employees comfortable while they transition from the known to the unknown.

This transition and its associated complexities often causes passive organizational resistance, and acts as an inhibitor to change-motivated success. Passive resistance is a kind of subtle dissent. An example of such resistance is “not actively supporting change initiatives, or behaving in ways that more covertly impeded the effectiveness or rate of change,” according to “Resistance to Organizational Change: Linking Research and Practice,” published by Dennis Erwin and Andrew Garman in 2010 in the Leadership & Organization Development Journal. Without change, most organizations will become stagnant and die on the vine.

The Heart of the Matter
The actual meaning of the word change depends on its application. Managing it successfully has been the difference between innovative achievement and forced liquidation for many a company. For example, in 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone. “Although smartphones were already commonplace, the iPhone dispensed with a stylus and pioneered a touch-screen interface that quickly set the standard for the mobile computing market,” John Markoff wrote in an October article in the New York Times. Steve Jobs’ forward thinking changed the cellular phone industry and spawned a host of imitators who copied the technological innovation into their products.

The telephone has experienced many upgrades since it became the standard medium of distant communication. Alexander Graham Bell could hardly have imagined how his invention would change the world. Nor could he have foreseen its transformation from a household and office device into an omnipresent global communicator. Today, technology has transformed it from an audio device into a two-way audio/video communication tool.

Similarly, Skype, a video communication program, arrived on the technological scene in 2003. At first, it was not well received and was limited in its application. Today, it is available on computers, tablets and cellphones. It allows people to connect globally and is an example of how creating change can revolutionize an industry that already has experienced many revolutions.

One method to implement change successfully is to manage internal communication. By ensuring all employees are aware of a change and how it affects them, organizations can mitigate feelings of uncertainty. “Uncertainty during the change processes is typically about the aim, process and expected outcomes of the change and implications for the individual employees,” according to the 2005 article “The Role of Communication in Organizational Change” by W. J. L. Elving, published in Corporate Communications. Although many organizations are adept at communicating, there is a big difference between what is said and what is ultimately done.

Another method to successfully create and manage change is to use change agents. MFD, a privately owned manufacturing company, attributes the success and ease of its transition from a batch manufacturer of low-technology engineering components to the mass production of high-technology telecommunications equipment to use of a change agent.

But to be effective, change agents must demonstrate contextual mastery of what Oswald Jones, in the 2006 piece “Developing Absorptive Capacity in Mature Organizations: The Change Agent’s Role,” called three logics of change — problem solving, ownership and legitimacy. Essentially, change agents must embrace a change as their own and bring others along for the ride. Change cannot be perceived to occur as a result of politics or closed-door meetings. Change agents must be the employees’ champions, placing their needs first and not giving in to organizational politics, partly because change agents are often a temporary solution.

Instilling a culture of change will foster a climate in which leaders can create change and provide relative comfort for employees. In a dynamic culture, for instance, use of a new system or process can become contagious and permeate easily throughout an organization, becoming part of its persona.

In this scenario, it is incumbent upon leadership to nurture the culture’s ability to implement strategic objectives and minimize employee discomfort. Culture can have a profound effect on how well change is received and how successfully it is achieved, but it too must change along with the organization.

Talk It Out
In the aforementioned change management strategies, change is a reaction to something internal or external to the organization, but only for a specified duration. From that perspective change is transient and temporary in nature, a kind of “once the organization adapts, things will be fine and it will be business as usual” idea. Change becomes a brief, perhaps unsettling interlude to the comfortable business practices to which employees have become accustomed. This change practice can leave many employees disenfranchised and create resistance in the workforce.

There are ways to create change without disturbing employee comfort, just as there are many ways to create and implement change. However, many are temporary in their effect and impact, and ultimately disrupt employees even if only for a brief time. Communication, for example, is a vital and necessary component of successful change, but it must constantly be balanced. Too much communication is just as ineffective as too little. Maintaining an appropriate balance that satisfies everyone can be daunting, however. Change agents can help; they are typically enlisted to assist with a particular change, but are not to be perpetually active in creating change.

To create change without disrupting employees’ comfort, organizations must incorporate change into their vision. That vision should depict a realistic and attractive future, a condition better than the one that currently exists in important ways, according to Dawn Kelly’s “Using Vision to Improve Organizational Communication,” published in 2000 in the Leadership & Organization Development Journal. Vision is the future end state, what the organization is working toward, and change is a key component in a credible future scenario.

Vision also must be part of the organization’s mantra and leadership and personify its methodology to the extent that change becomes the norm and is easily handled. Further, the vision must be clear to everyone because transparency contributes to increased levels of job satisfaction and organizational commitment and decreases levels of employee discomfort.

Change initiatives often fail without a shared vision to sustain employees through challenges related to implementation, adoption or even leadership stumbles. In “The Path of Transformation Change,” published in 2010 in Library Management, Alison Nussbaumer and Wendy Merkley write that the challenge of leadership “is to continue to communicate the vision at every level and at every opportunity in the midst of ‘plans, directives and programs.’”

Google is a prime example of a company that thrives on a continually evolving vision. It was founded on the vision to create the perfect search engine. Today, its innovations set the standard for other companies to follow.

Vision and creating change go hand in hand. A vision is born, and the passion and impetus needed for change is created. Starbucks revolutionized its industry by creating a social atmosphere that focused on the purchase and enjoyment of coffee as an experience. The company “has created not only a series of product outlets but aesthetically constituted spaces that are as much a part of the product as the coffee itself,” said Philip Hancock in “Uncovering the Semiotic in Organizational Aesthetics,” published in 2005 in the journal Organization.

Essentially, that means creating change is the norm; it is the standard and accepted practice. In organizations such as Starbucks, creating change is part of the vision and is anticipated and expected, which minimizes employee discomfort.

Enable Acceptance of What’s New, Different
Creating change is a continuous process. At its core, it is a method of process improvement founded in the shared vision of an organization. Incorporating the process of change into an organization’s vision allows change to flourish without disturbing employees because change embodies the company culture. It becomes part of what it means to be an employee in that organization and is embraced and welcomed as a better way of doing things. A vision based on change can pave the way for innovation and success.

An organization must continually create change. To do this successfully, change must be synonymous with the accepted work ethic and embraced by all employees. By incorporating change and its creation into the vision of the organization and by making it an anticipated and accepted business practice, organizations will be better prepared to adapt to change — without really changing.

William Bishop is a U.S. Navy veteran and doctoral student at Regent University specializing in strategic leadership. He can be reached at editor@talentmgt.com.