Theoretically, there are various strategies that explain how change can be successfully initiated and implemented. However, let us first take a look at some of the common things to consider, before you embark upon an organizational change:
What do I want to change? Typically this might point towards a specific “problem” area.
Is this the fundamental thing that needs to change or is there a deeper “reason” lurking behind the “problem” that needs to be addressed? This question is particularly important because many times, after the change process has been run halfway, it is realized that a problem exists at a more basic level. Focus then shifts between new change areas that are discovered and the energy of change efforts get dissipated.
Why do I want the change?
How will I achieve the change? This will involve weighing the risk and incentives, balancing them out and addressing any gaps between intended process to achieve the change and issues related to these processes.
What about the finances required in implementing the change?
Will business possibly continue as usual during the change phase or will it get affected adversely?
What type of resource (external or internal consultants) should I use, given the size of my organization and knowledge base?
How, if at all, will the change impact the work culture or vice versa?
How critical is the situation and how much time do I have to respond to it?
Does my core change driver team have the contextual and operational knowledge, capability and influence to survive the change process or do I need to empower them in some way?
Once you have precise answers to these elementary questions, you can decide upon the strategy you want to adopt. Theory offers at least four different change strategies. In practice, we typically use a combination of some or all of these to address change situations. These four strategies are: The Empirical-Rational Approach, the Normative-Reeducative Approach, the Power-Coercive Approach and the Environmental-Adaptive Approach.
All four provide you with different insights into the type of change environment that may exist in an organization. The type of change environment broadly varies with the ideology of the informal organization or the cultural consensus that they may share and the type of change being introduced. The relevance of the different change strategies lies in the fact that they explore different assumptions about human motivation and behavior in order to understand or anticipate response to change. Thus, they take into account the psychology of the informal organization, and hence help effectively manage the human side of change.
Their beauty, however, is that they are never mutually exclusive, and different strategies may be used at different stages in the change process. Thus, depending on your change environment, you must decide on the appropriate mix of strategies, to be used to push change.
A “classic” approach to change management, developed by Robert Chin and Kenneth D. Benne, this strategy is built on the premise that, in general, human beings are rational and can be reasoned with.
Hence, although change innately is resisted, people can be won over by the genuine logic behind the change, and by what is there in it for them.
If people are convinced on these two aspects of change, the process becomes easily navigable. Thus, this strategy uses persuasion to make individuals accede to change, through planned, managed dissemination of information, which makes the incentives of change clear to them. Thus, this strategy demands skillful use of communication in selling the benefits of change. The emphasis is on providing correct information; education and training that inspire people to change of their own volition. Also, it is important to identify potential carriers of change – people who willingly accept the change, and are influential enough to spread the same.
The role of the CEO is important here. Being the leader of the organization, not only is he an influential figure, but also has relatively more credibility than anyone else in the organization. Hence, he can play a major role in securing the buy-in of his people and inspiring them to embrace the change.
However, by virtue of rationale again, people are seen to be generally resistant to change, if it has an imbedded downside that is not balanced or offset by an equal upside. Hence, a foolproof plan for successfully initiating change, or at least managing the human side of it, must work out the following:
A strong basis for initiating the change
Linkage to actual benefits or incentives to be derived from the change
The pros and cons, including an exercise on possible measures to negate the “cons”
This strategy works well only if you can balance the incentives against the risks in a profitable manner i.e. only if you are able to show that the value-add from the change is proportionately much higher than the risk involved.
This strategy becomes difficult to execute, if your risks outweigh your incentives, and especially so, if the general perception is that your company is in a relatively comfortable position, even without the change. A good idea then might be to show people some genuine reasons as to why the perceived comfort is just a passing phase and won’t last long.
In such a situation, some people may buy your logic, some may not. If you find the buyers to be capable of influencing the rest, endeavor to form a class that can serve as interpreters between you and the mass of people, and hence serve as drivers of change.
For the empirical-rational approach to succeed in the later phases of change, you also need to build your case on a strong Current Situation Analysis, proceed with proper training and development programs, initiate appropriate education, and carry out relevant research and development to support the change. Hire the services of field experts and Organizational Design and change specialists if required. Once these backups are in place, people will inevitably become much more confident of shouldering the responsibilities of change. Also, while you may initially identify a representative class to drive the change, eventually you must graduate to a phase where every team player is encouraged to come up with creative solutions aligned towards attaining a “best-of-all” situation.
However, the Empirical Rational Approach disregards the fact that while employees may understand the need for change or the rationale behind change, they may still not like to undergo change, because of the emotional troubles, adjustment issues etc. that come with transition.
NORMATIVE – RE-EDUCATIVE STRATEGY
Another “classic” approach to change management, this strategy takes wings from the fact that humans are social beings. Hence, they always have the inherent urge to conform to social norms and standards.
It does not deny that humans are rational and intelligent creatures, but views their behavior as being guided by socio-cultural norms and their allegiance to these norms. Restructuring their normative orientations and inducing them to commit to new norms introduce change.
Often, a cultural shift in the organization becomes imperative to adapt to market situations and survive competition. For example, your competitor may be producing twice your output because of their technological advancement, whereas you lag behind because you still rely on manual operations. This needs you to shift work culture from a manual to a technology oriented people set, which in turn requires you to appropriately train and prepare people for the change. Normative – Reeducative Strategy is defined as a strategy that believes that norms in an organization can be purposely shifted to attain higher productivity, through collective people efforts.
Given that culture and norms quickly become a part of who you are, an initial resistance to anything non conformist or maverick is quite expected. Ironically, norms and standards too are not constant over time. If they had been, evolution of society would never have been possible. Just like a stream of water that changes its course, when it meets a strong obstruction, culture and norms can also be re-established and redefined.
This approach believes that changing the attitudes, values and culture leads to an automatic change in behavior. The very logic that makes initial resistance to such change inevitable is used to explain how, over a period of time, this kind of a change tends to adhere. Thus, although it may be paradoxical, it is actually practically observable that once a new culture sets in, people instinctively feel the need to conform, simply in order to survive.
An important tool in initiating this change is the presence of a magnetic and dynamic personality, who can considerably influence people and their perspectives. This personality can be a leader, a change agent or most effectively, the CEO of the company. Given his visibility, prominence, credibility and authority in an organization, he possesses all that is required to effect a change.
While a culture change is possible, it is never immediate. For it implies considerable adjustments to the hitherto established thought patterns and mindsets. As a result, it can emerge only as an outcome of a gradual process. Hence, this strategy is applicable only if you have a longer time frame at your disposal for enabling the change.
The Normative – Reeducative Approach is perhaps the most widely used strategy in present times. When using this strategy, it is important to remember that it is better to try and work through the existing culture, collaborating with people, and helping them see a new and better possibility, than to wake up one fine morning and replace it with a new culture. After all, you cannot change culture the way you change clothes, because it connects to a deeper part of you and how you operate. So, this approach calls for an honest endeavor to work in sync with people, identify problems and facilitate solutions. It should be directed towards improving problem-solving capacities, upgrading processes within a system, and fostering new attitudes, skills, and norms for people. While the bright side is that when your efforts engage people so much, chances of resistance are minimized. But on the other side of the coin, this approach is too dependent on employee cooperation. For instance, new software developed for a certain insurance company was found to be left unused even till months after, because the employees did not want to step out of the comfort of the “old way of doing things.” Often, such a change involves unlearning and relearning, and while the change may ultimately trigger simpler solutions to their work problems, the transition phase comes as a real challenge, often leading to resistance.
This strategy could be used in conjunction with a change in the employee performance management systems that reward people who facilitate change and penalize those who oppose it. This may help to beat the resistance and build a more cooperative atmosphere. Further, since work culture falls as much within the domains of the formal organization as the informal organization. Therefore, a change to the work culture can succeed only if an amiable relationship exists between these two counterparts, or at least if leaders of the informal organization buy the proposed change.
Another perspective on this strategy tells us that while most of the time, individuals prefer to stick to established conventions; the story is different when people within the system are not happy with the status quo. This is a situation where people are actually looking out for change. In this scenario, the preliminary step that the management needs to take to trigger a change is to evaluate and clarify organizational norms and culture. This can be done through interactions, discussions and at a personal level, introspection by the employees of the organisation. So, more often, this strategy will intimately involve people in the “process” of change rather than have them face only the “impact” of change.
Hence, the normative-reeducative approach targets attitudes and values. It tends to produce long lasting changes as it usually involves group goals, group norms or common values. The reason is that once a new norm sets in, after being initiated either by the formal or the informal organization, it eventually becomes part of the system – “the way things are” – and therefore stabilizes over time.
POWER – COERCIVE STRATEGY
This “classic” strategy bases itself in the power of “power”. According to Hans Morgenthau:
Power may comprise anything that establishes and maintains the control of man over man. Thus power covers all social relationships, which serve that end, from physical violence to the subtlest psychological ties by which one mind controls another.
Applied to our context, this strategy advocates “power” in the form of threat sanctions, and believes that people are, in general compliant, and will ultimately bow down to those who possess greater power.
At times, when the change is not radical but moderate, the company may also use subtler forms of power or hegemonic power to attain its objective. In fact, the Normative Reeducative Approach or the Empirical Rational Approach ultimately uses hegemonic power very subtly, to navigate through the change process. Hegemony is like an internalized form of social control, which makes us feel we are choosing when really we have no choice. The 20th century French Marxist Louis Althusser called this ‘trick’ as Interpellation.
In both these cases, when a change has been decided upon, people have no choice but to accept it. They may resist for some time, but ultimately must go with the flow. However, instead of using force, these strategies use “reason” and “collaboration” to make the “change situation” seem like a choice that will lead to a better situation than the status quo. So, while the idea that the change will lead to a prospective better situation is true, it is ultimately never open to choice. Hence, indirectly even these strategies use some form of subtler hegemonic power. However, the difference is that while these approaches secure the support of the people through logic or collaboration, hence ensuring that change endures and stabilizes over time, the direct use of imposing power, as advocated by the Power – Coercive Strategy, runs the risk that once the power is removed, people may revert to their original behavior.
But many times, exerting authority, subtly or otherwise, in the form of political and economic sanctions, legislation, policies, “moral” power etc. may seem the only way to bring about a change. This happens when people in the organization collectively fail to perceive a threat that is, in reality, grave and must be resolved within a restricted response time. Use of power may also be necessary when people become obstinate and intractable in the face of a change, which has lots at stake. So, people may become even during times of an exigency. The trick applied here is to have it your way and leave no other option for your people but to accept the change. While political sanctions usually reward non-conformists with imprisonment, economic sanctions curtail financial incentives to those who resist the change. Thus, the use of coercive power is an attempt to make people yield to change by inducing fear or using actual force.
However, the use of power may not always be negative. For instance, one power – coercive strategy uses the behavioral psychology concept of “the carrot and the stick”. In this approach, power can be used to both reward employees who support change through financial incentives and punish those who don’t with political or financial consequences, through sanctions. Thus, power can operate both ways.
The success of this strategy, however, depends on the general temperament of the organization.
Some organizations, as a part of their culture, believe in the authority of seniority, and appreciate the role of the hierarchy in issuing guidelines or directives for organizational development. If your people are attuned to a system of healthy authoritarianism, this may come easy. But in an organization where liberality has long been practiced, Hitlerian tactics will face resistance. Still, with Power-Coercive strategies, people have little option but to accept change, since most of these strategies use stringent policies, where impunity is ruled out. However, to ensure that the foundations of change are built on unanimity rather than repressed fear or dissatisfaction, it is important to evaluate the nature of your organization, the problem at hand and the time frame at hand, before embarking on this strategy, as a last resort.
Robert L. Kahn observed that:
To say that A has the power to change B’s behavior necessarily implies that A exerts some force in opposition to some or all of the previously existing forces [including B’s own needs and values] on B. This is conflict….The exercise of [coercive] power, thus, necessarily creates conflict…
Thus, while the use of authority structures and threat sanctions can accomplish change, they may breed hatred and contempt for the organization or the senior management, which is harmful to organization in the long run.
ENVIRONMENTAL – ADAPTIVE STRATEGY
The Environmental-Adaptive Strategy, suggested by Fred Nickols, is built on the premise that while people innately resist change, they also eventually adapt themselves to it, when they are left with no choice.
Also known as the “die – on – the – vine” strategy, it takes its cue from the common observation that while individuals are quick to oppose change that they find threatening, they also have an innate ability to adapt quickly to a new set of circumstances. Applied to our context of organizational change, this human psychology translates to a strategy of first creating a new environment and then gradually moving people from the old to the new system. Thus, rather than proactively trying to “change” the organization by effecting a “change” in the behavior, processes, culture and norms of people, this strategy recommends that a new set of circumstances be created, and the innate nature of humans to eventually adapt be exploited, in letting the change “sink in”. Therefore, in this strategy, the ball shifts court from the management to the people, as the responsibility of regularizing the change now lies on the people and how they adapt to the change. They practically have no choice to accept or reject the change, unless of course one prefers to quit the organization altogether. Here, the change is made, and the individuals merely adapt themselves.
This strategy is best suited for changes that are radical in nature rather than those that are gradual. Say, you want to introduce the SAP-HR system to increase efficiency and speed of HR related work. This is an incremental change that will happen over time, as your Business HR personnel gradually learn how to operate the new system and shift from the old manual practice to the new systematized process. If you were to use the Environment Adaptive strategy here, creating the environment and leaving them to adapt to it in their own way, the transition phase, very likely would stretch too long. This is because, your managers already operate within a framework that they are comfortable with, and so they may be reluctant to shift to a new system. Here, you might have to use a mix of the empirical-rational and the normative-reeducative strategies instead to change that comfort culture and enable them embrace the change.
Now, consider the example that Nickols gives, of a radical change handled in the Environmental-Adaptive way. Rupert Murdoch wanted to shift to an entirely new operating structure, on terms that were very different from the current one at Fleet Street. So, he set about quietly establishing an entirely new operation in Wapping, some distance away from Fleet Street. As soon as the new system became operational, he informed the printers at Fleet Street that he had some good news and some bad news for all of them. The bad news was that they would have to shut down their operations at Fleet Street. So, everybody was fired. The good news was that a new operation had jobs for all of them, albeit on very different terms.
Now, most people in this situation will embrace the new option – a radical change, tackled using the Environment-Adaptive strategy. Of course, the strategy is a mix of the empirical rational and power coercive strategies, and that is only a reinforcement of the fact that practical situations often need a mix of different strategies to effectively manage change.
Many years ago, my work took me to a slum infested area. I was pained to see the kind of life those people led, the abject poverty everywhere, the bowl that every child held out in his hand, not for food, but in the hope that a kind passerby may drop some alms.
A few weeks ago, I got the opportunity of revisiting the same place to run an education camp, and was pleasantly amazed at the buildings that stood in place of the slums – an obvious outcome of a rigorous rehabilitation program! It was only when I ventured inside that I realized, that barring the safer, better and more decent dwelling place to live in, nothing much had really changed. The litter was still around, the kids still ran about in the mud in tattered clothes and they still held out their hands for alms. The rehabilitation program had done well in shifting them to a new place, but perhaps something more remained to be done to have them live a new, more meaningful life. Their “homes” had changed, their way of life hadn’t.
And to change that culture, they needed to be educated, to be shown that a better way of life existed, and existed within their reach. But even for that education to show its impact, I was now beginning to understand; I needed more kids like Jana, Neil and Don. Among the close to thirty kids I had been asked to supervise, there were only these three who were genuinely interested. The rest were happy with their life, as it was.
The above incident links to an important factor that you must consider before using this strategy. Ensure that you have at least a few capable, influential and probably “non conformist” employees, in your organization, who will embrace the change and drive the others. These are your “seed” employees – people who will foster a new and more effective work culture in the newly established setup. Correspondingly, Nickols uses the term “bad apples” to refer to people from the old culture, which are detrimental to the new culture and must be done away with.
If there is no buy-in on the change, at-least at the “seed” level, the strategy may not work. Rather, it may lead to a situation where you have a new workplace that continues to work in the old manner and follow the old culture. Effectively then, there hasn’t been much change.