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Handling Organizational Change


Change in the Workplace

Management textbooks of the 1950s contained all the standard chapters (on Leadership, Organization Structure, etc.) but never chapters on "Handling Organizational Change" and seldom even short paragraphs on the subject. Change was regarded as irrelevant in well-managed organizations. Based on early-century classical organization theory, proper structure and SOP (standard operating procedures) established by top management avoided unexpected changes by means of well-constructed administration of all operations. Any incidence of "surprises," crises or other unplanned events was merely evidence of poor management, a failure to establish and implement administrative SOP covering every part of operations.

Exponential Change as a Way of Life in Business

 Today's management texts all have entire chapters on "Handling Organizational Change."   The reason: the exponential change that began in mid-century to become an integral part of personal and corporate life. Classical organization theory was based solidly on human life and business as stable for thousands of years, slow changes and easily predictable (a straight-line Y=X on the chart). Fueled by ever-new scientific discoveries and engineering technologies (along with rapidly changing federal laws on civil rights and personnel management), change has become an integral element of management: Creating it designedly, handling and managing it. To compete successfully and survive, individuals and corporations are increasingly forced to deal with daily changes in their environment - and even build a corporate culture of innovation and change in order to outpace the competition, retain market share and survive.

An engineer, just out of College, is obsolete in five years unless he keeps up with the changes occurring in his field almost daily. Otherwise, young professionals rapidly become "obsolete" in their thirties. Companies that ignore or cut back Research & Development rapidly lose market share to innovative competitors and their ever-new products. Change is now a routine part of organizational life, necessary for the innovation driving competitive success.

Change is no longer the aberration or exception ruled out by classical organization theory as poor management but instead an integral part of the modern management of innovation for progress. The avalanching change (exponential as Y=X or Y=X ) is here to stay and Change itself has to be managed as an essential element of organizational administration.

Matrix Organization Structure

As examples of the radical changes in modern organizations, consider just three major upheavals in what used to be stable organizational routine.

Most corporations (and government agencies) today have been forced to abandon classical Line/Staff organization structure and "principles" such as the once-sacred clear and single chain of command in which every employee in the hierarchy was accountable to one boss only. Today, in new organization arrangements called "matrix" structures, an employee is usually accountable to many different managers at the same time.  The reason for this is the extreme complexity of the new task technologies, each part managed by a different expert, and complex legal environments in which businesses operate. For example, a supervisor of engineers is accountable to his line boss and also a maze of Program Managers for products demanded and also accountable to "staff managers (such as budgeting, personnel and legal) for strict adherence to orders and restrictions demanded by top management.   Often employees find themselves caught in conflict between the various demands with almost no chance of resolving them. The result is daily high anxiety, intense frustration at never being able to complete all work required satisfactorily, a general loss of job satisfaction in one's life.

"Adhocracy" - A World of "Temporaries"

Many corporations are rapidly "downsizing" (reducing permanent staff by layoffs of thousands) in order to cut huge personnel overhead costs (medical and other fringe benefits) and thus keep pace with international competition, especially the Japanese. When the need arises for more manpower at peaks of activity, corporations avoid new in-house hiring and instead hire outside resources for ad hoc (specific here-and-now) jobs to be done with no new high-cost permanent staff on the payroll. This tactic has become so common, it's been coined "adhocracy."

The Nature of Creative Thinking

Until recently, people believed that rare and great creative ideas descended upon a chosen few like lightning bolts, probably from God (or maybe Satan). New ideas, also, were instinctively resisted as inherently dangerous, a potential threat to the status quo and long­standing Church doctrine. As noted above, Galileo spent his last years imprisoned by the Church for his daring idea of a heliocentric universe (now known to be true) rather than the orthodox Church-approved Earth -centered universe. Modern methods of much-needed artificial birth control (to stop the horrors of our world's over-population) are still banned by the Catholic Church.   Even today, creative ideas are discouraged or punished severely in many religious and political institutions.

Psychologists today, by decades of research, know that a creative idea is simply the skill, and will, to use a natural and normal mental faculty called imagination - if one is permitted or trained to use it. Just as our memory recalls images in the brain from past experiences, imagination is the faculty of the mind which combines and rearranges such images in new forms never actually experienced in the real world. For example, modern cartoonists imagine and delight kids with TV shows of talking tigers, money growing on trees and green horses.  Human imagination, if let loose to work and do it, does this easily by combining into a new combined image known images of, say, "green" and "horse," which in imagination become a green horse. Although no one has yet seen any such unreal and only imagined green horse, many such imagined rearrangements in the minds of inventors result in practical realities such as glass bulbs that burn (Edison's electric light), self-moving carriages (the automobile), traveling to the moon (now already done by a few of us) and Einstein's theory of relativity (now proven).

Human intuition, not well understood and often called the workings of the subconscious mind (with or often without logical reasoning), is usually at the root of new ideas. But there are ways consciously to promote one's personal creativity, especially for problem-solving. We will soon list a few of them.

  Here is a sampling of ways to activate one's individual creativity:

• Practice healthy skepticism, with mind open to new ideas.

• Question everything about "how" and "why" things are done as in the past rather than in possibly new and better ways (in both your organization and in your own personal life). For example, many time-consuming forms employees must complete and report might have been useful for tax or other purposes years ago - but, upon review, are now obsolete and a huge waste of time.

• Practice the "Uses" exercise to sharpen your habit of creative thinking:

Think of any object (such as a wooden spoon or metal clothes hanger) and rapidly write down dozens of practical uses for it. A first-time creativity exerciser typically can think only slowly of two or three uses in a minute. With practice, he soon thinks of many dozens quickly such as using a clothes hanger as a tool to open a locked car door, to reach an object a foot out of arm's reach, etc. Try these exercises: List within a minute dozens of ways to use a screwdriver or a car or an airport or ways to reduce the world's industrial pollution or over-population. These are easy but "muscle-building" mental exercises you can do even while driving to work or waiting in an airport. But, despite seeming like kids' games, it is the development of the basic power of imagination and creativity that is critical: once developed and available to you, by whatever methods of exercising and building it, the power becomes activated, usable, yours - and can be applied to your most serious problems in both your job and personal life.

 • Listen carefully to others' ideas, spoken or in the national media, looking for ways to use or modify them rather than rejecting them instantly as merely different from your own. As a political conservative, I, for example, always subscribe to several very liberal magazines to keep testing their ideas against my own (often modifying my own as a result of the new ideas).

 • Suspend Judgment and Criticism of any budding ideas in your mind (or others'), whether spontaneous or from reading new and different sources of information. Take time first to fully understand the idea, then only later evaluate it to accept or reject it in whole or only some of its parts. For example, an expert in a magazine article might urge the idea of saving money by canceling all your automobile insurance, but, after first understanding his reasons and then on evaluation, you judge it better to cancel only the expensive collision insurance on your 5-year-old car but retain a sufficient level of liability insurance to protect against an unlikely but potentially major financial disaster.

 • Concentrate on Goals First and only later the Means.  Many organizations and individuals (in their personal lives) live in a rut of old habits, SOP (standard operating procedures) and policies, accept them as cemented into place forever and never review them as merely (good or poor) means to their changing goals. This is the common fallacy of mistaking means and ends. One should think exactly in the reverse:

Review first and often one's goals, reset them as necessary or desirable and then examine which means are best to achieve the goals. An aging couple, all kids grown, still clinging to their huge home as sacred (the home a means only) never examine their new goals in life for which an efficient, trouble-free condominium might be the best means to their new goals. Organizations today rapidly go bankrupt by ignoring new goals and continuing old means, long since obsolete.

 • Brainstorming is a now proven and standard method which organizations (or individuals) can use to generate and then later evaluate creative ideas. Brainstorming is a two-part process, consisting typically of two meetings of people trying to solve a problem or find new ways to achieve a goal.

In Part 1 (called "ideation") everyone is directed merely to generate new ideas as rapidly as possible while a recorder writes them down as a list. The ground rules for Part 1 are that no evaluation or judging of new ideas is allowed; even a nonverbal shake of the head suggesting an instant rejection or ridicule of an idea is a severe violation of the Part 1 rules. The purpose of Part 1 is only to generate as many new ideas as possible, with no evaluation of them at all, and so the more original, numerous and even absurd the ideas the better. For example a Part 1 brainstorming meeting to increase sales might include seeming absurdities such as "just give the product away with no price at all!" or "stop producing the product and then there's nothing to sell!"

Hours or days later, a Part 2 meeting of the same or other people evaluates all the Part 1 ideas with a practical critique of their realistic feasibility. The goal in Part 2 is to modify one (or a few) of the Part 1 ideas so that it is both original and practical. Most of the Part 1 ideas will be quickly rejected as unrealistic - unless radically modified. For example, the absurd "give the product away" idea might become fine-tuned into a practical and successful sales promotion selling the product at list price but including a second free; the "stop producing the product" idea might lead to redesign of the product to better fit the market or even to discontinuing it and producing a totally new and "hot" product.

 Bureaucratic Barriers to Creativity in Organizations

Large corporations and government agencies have long been known as dinosaur-type bureaucracies laden with unchanging policies, rules, SOP (standard operating procedures), red tape and the slow motion of the Queen Mary trying to make a sharp left turn as she nears New York harbor. Staid, stable, inflexible, seemingly solid and safe, any new idea is instantly rejected as unorthodox, even threatening, "just not the way we have been doing things here for decades."

New ideas are often risky and, at the least, disrupt familiar and comfortable habits.   Thus the natural reaction of bureaucrats (in any ancient institution, whether corporate, government or religious) to any new suggestion or even any hint of it is to reject it as unthinkable, shocking and almost heretical. Common sense workers at the operating level, knowing from first-hand daily experience that current SOP is counter-productive or absurd, continue to do it anyway, as ordered by supervisors, because no one in management will even listen to their feedback about the realities they experience - and suffer - every day.

As noted above in our reference to the Silicon Valley giants such as Apple and Hewlett-Packard, many of these huge and seemingly safe bureaucracies, even IBM in the East, are today suffering the profit losses of "dinosaurs" which can't or don't adapt to changing environments and thus become extinct. They are "downsizing," reducing personnel by the thousands and using "ad hoc" temporaries instead, but that will not be sufficient for survival. Fundamental creativity is necessary. Such death of non-adapting giants even happened to the huge Roman Empire in about 400 AD after a thousand years of effective domination of most of the known world from Britain in the West, North Africa in the South to India in the East. (One must wonder similarly about the long-range future of America with its soaring deficits, welfare burdens, racial imbalances and overpopulation, crime and mob-driven anarchy.)

Psychological and Organizational Barriers to Creativity

What promotes and suppresses creative thinking in organizations can now be summarized as below:


bullet   Healthy skepticism – questioning
bullet   Listen to new ideas
bullet   Be Goal oriented
bullet   Participative Leadership
bullet   Decentralized decision-making
bullet   Two-way communication
bullet   Welcome & invent Innovation
bullet   Open, Free human environment
bullet   “Theory Y" 'carrot motivation Treat people as creative gems
bullet   Build employee self-confidence by positive "strokes," training and coaching



Old attitudes never revised


Judge and reject instantly


Never question current SOP


Autocratic – Bureaucratic


All decisions by top Mgmt.


One-way (no feedback)


Fight all change as a threat


Strict rules about everything


"Theory X" "stick" motivation


Exploit them as mere machines


Criticize and intimidate people, "dump" on them instead of clear, helpful delegation.


With some creativity, you can easily add more specific and apt phrases to both the Left and the Right side of the list above as immediately appropriate to your own workplace or personal life. The little time needed to add to the list can become a startling revelation about your long-range career and personal goals and your current means (many mismatched to such real goals) for achieving your really important goals. People often live out entire careers and lives until death, accepting as an unexamined habit the SOP imposed upon them routinely by parents, churches, spouses, families, government or corporations. They should instead stop the process often, review their own true life goals, reject current means frustrating these, choose new and creative ones that really achieve their goals - and create radically new and satisfying lives.

Resistance to Organizational Change

Change and progress are perceived very differently depending upon who gains or loses by it - and who initiates it or is affected by it. We have so far examined three faces of change: its exponential pace today which can be exhilarating or distressful depending on how one adapts to it; the necessity of change (as innovation and progress) in order for corporations and individuals to remain successful in an increasingly competitive world; and the basic methods to increase one's own personal power by the mental habits of creative thinking.

Finally, we must deal with the fourth face of change and one that all managers today must be able to handle often and competently. The fourth face is the natural resistance of employees to change perceived as "imposed" upon them by management. The practical importance of this deeply-rooted human tendency is that the best designed plans by managers for innovation and progress will surely be defeated and fail if employees fiercely resist and fight them.

The Reasons Why Employees Resist Management Change

Even when one decides for oneself on a major change in one's life or career, there is always uncertainty, anxiety and fear of failure attached to it - along with the excitement of "new horizons." Most of us have experienced the entire spectrum from anxiety to invigorating hope as we entered a new job, marriage, cross-country move or remedial surgery. When such changes are imposed upon employees by another, an impersonal "outside" force, i.e. management, the anxiety, fear and resistance soar to intensity levels approaching extreme hostility (aggressive resistance) to near paralysis (passive resistance). In either case, management's planned change will fail for lack of necessary cooperation from employees - many even bound to sabotage it consciously or subconsciously.

Employees resist organizational change by intense and instinctive "fight" or "flight" reactions common to all animals when faced with severe threats to their basic safety and security. It's a survival mechanism as fierce and deeply rooted as Darwinian "survival of the fittest" in the entire animal world. For humans confronting organizational change, the immediate "survival" reaction is massive fear about one's job, income, home mortgage, money for food, personal status among peers and basic lifestyle security. The planned change sparks deep fear of the unknown; it is seen as a life-threat to everything important in one's life, all fearful like a terrified deer sighting a pursuing tiger. The human "fight" or "flight" reaction is similarly intense.

Force-Field Analysis of Change

Kurt Lewin is generally credited for the origins of "force-field analysis" as a powerful, but simple, method of analyzing the consequences of change and managing it accordingly. The method, a generic model applicable to all organizational changes as well as career and personal, maps out the positive versus negative forces involved in any planned change - before it is attempted. It is powerful simplicity and consists of carefully listing all negative or "resistance" forces "restraining" employees against a change versus all positive forces that could "drive" and motivate them to welcome the change. Then a manager facilitates change by reducing the negative forces and increasing the positive forces.

Communicating and explaining this critical information is the magic key to eliminating negative forces and most resistance to change!