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The implementation of strategic change

‘The implementation of strategic change is likely to be problematic. This is especially likely to be the case in situations where this type of change involves people, and in which personal relationships and emotional responses are predominant’.

Discuss this statement, drawing upon what the literature has to say about the nature of change; the reasons why strategic change so often gives rise to problems or difficulties; and the most effective approaches to adopt in order to avoid or minimise those characteristic problems or difficulties.

The management of change and the problems presented by change are nothing new despite the more recent focus on such processes. For many years we have associated change management with overcoming personal angst and/or resistance to such change. Perhaps the first to recognise such a connection was the Greek playwright Euripides when his character Iphigenia stated ‘There is something in the pang of change more than the heart can bear, unhappiness remembering happiness.’ (484 – 406 B.C.) His reflections on the emotions of change remain current where we now assess change as strategic or non-strategic change.

In order to discuss the statement at the question we must define the difference between strategic and non-strategic change. This can be achieved by first defining strategic change as:
‘The process of organisational transformation and renewal that applies innovative and entrepreneurial skills to develop an envisioned future, to draw out the entire organisations capabilities, competences, knowledge and individuals skills with the objective of improving operating performance, realising growth, increasing shareholder value and creating new wealth.

Henceforth non-strategic change can be simply defined as those actions that bring about change with no strategic process. An example of each can be applied as follows. Strategic change would be where a business or organisation relocates it’s premises to increase consumer appeal and was a result of such processes as market testing, consumer response, and sales histories. This move would have been planned to incorporate such benefits as increased performance or growth. An example of non-strategic change may be where the same business was forced to move through any number of factors such as the premises being no longer habitable through damage or eviction.

The reasons why strategic change can be problematic during implementation, and the methods or solutions to overcoming such problems, can be addressed only after determining those factors that outline the nature of change.

The Nature of Change
Change itself is not a constant and it does not always involve people. Change is however a constant factor that we deal with. The times when change does involve people are often the most noticed and more often than not the most difficult to implement. Change is largely defined by the magnitude of change required and is often only recognisable in mass form, however change is a continuing process within both our economic and social boundaries and can be of the most minor impact or one of most significance.

Change occurs in the individual through learning, experience, maturity and many other exposures. Change will occur in our perception of others, how we see ourselves, and our views on the environment in which we live. Change will occur amongst family and friends, our employment opportunities and prospects, and our relationships. The initial problem with these sorts of changes is that the majority of them are minor and only become apparent over the course of time. An example of this would be maturity. Apart from the physical changes throughout our life, our attitudes and beliefs are developed over a period of time and our maturity reflects how we have changed. These changes are not noticeable from day to day, unless perhaps through traumatic experience, however over a measured period they can begin to be observed. Major changes that may occur to the individual include stability of employment, our health and well being, and financial limitations or benefits. These changes are often noticeable over a reduced period of time if not immediately. They have the most significant impact on the people involved due to the reduced timeframe to prepare for and/or adopt change. Quite often they are not expected by the individual and are outside their scope of influence. An example of this would be where an employee is retrenched due to the automation of certain skills or functions. The employee’s previous job security had allowed them into the comfort of continued employment with only minimal skills training specific to that employment. This web or feeling of security has reduced the further career prospects of the individual until additional trade training in other skills is received or the individuals other skills, such as management qualities, are developed.

The nature of change is not only limited to the individual or a group of individuals but may involve organisations, key processes, and services. However a number of these changes still involve the individual or group and may affect them as a product of change rather than the cause of change in an individual or group circumstance. Organisations must accept non-strategic change and manage it accordingly, however these organisations must also implement strategic change, as defined above, in order to remain competitive and viable in the commercial world.

Whether at the individual, the group, or the organisational level, the nature of change is that change itself is a continuum. By accepting that change does not stop but only varies in pace and magnitude, we can better manage the implementation of change and it’s resulting effects on each of the above three levels, and minimise the problems associated with change.

Why Change can be Problematic
The nature of strategic change in an organisation is likely to be problematic when it does involve people, as these people must adopt the change for it to be successful. Strategic change may be geared for continuous improvement or change, or intentional and specific change known as episodic change. Change is obviously implemented by and through people and therefore, it is imperative that employers are skilled in change management. Strategic change must address the organisational needs, the group needs, and the individual needs to be successful. Whitely illustrates these interacting needs as the company or organisational culture, the work or group culture, and the individual or home culture. Where they interact in unison they will highlight common values, beliefs, attitudes and customs. Where only one or two of these cultures meet, the values and beliefs will differ and may cause resistance or friction.

Not all strategic change is met with resistance. By understanding the Conceptual Framework ‘iceberg’ model we appreciate that the most common factor for resistance to change is people that are unaware of the rationale for change or do not understand it. The second most common cause for resistance is those that are unable to make the behavioural change and require skill enhancement or further learning. In this model we find that only a minority of people are not willing to accept change or make the behavioural shifts to allow the change to occur. This minority problem is often only treatable by educating the unwilling to adopt change for the betterment of all or simply to move on.

Modern people are now questioning their employment opportunities and it is determined that money is only a basic incentive and what people are really looking for is fulfilment. Due to technological advances and competitive international markets and advanced logistics, employers cannot expect to be working in the same organisation with the same skills set for their entire career. This lack of job security does create a sense of fear for what may have been a secure position only a short period ago. Fulfilment creates a sense of purpose for the individual or group and generally in return offers the organisation a more productive workplace. Change can often be met with questions about the necessity of change. Such queries may include; ‘if all we do is continue to change, how can we ever improve?’, or ‘why this new system when the current system works fine?’ These questions left unanswered will become problematic to an organisation as people resist change and failure to make behavioural adaptations to accommodate the process.

A lack of knowledge about the rationale for change is not the only cause for problems in the change management process. It is in fact often the management component. ‘Strong leadership is at the centre of successful major change in organisations.’ In many smaller functions or organisations, traditional managers are very familiar with their employees and this familiarity breeds an unwillingness to adopt change. Change may be implemented only in part with ‘off the shelf’ systems but the systemic problems remain, all being they are often avoided. An example of this is in small business or factories. Key elements of the change process may be through outsourcing or automation, but managers are reluctant to adopt such necessities due to the familiarity that has been developed with employees in such a close environment. This strong leadership is often crucial to these small businesses surviving; however this strength is also required in larger organisations at senior and middle management levels.

The reasons why implementing change can be met with problems or difficulties will vary across each and every situation, but by identifying them early and being prepared for them in the planning phase, such difficulties may be minimised or negated through effective change management methods.

Effective Change Management Methods
‘Each change situation is a unique blend of environmental possibilities and constraints, corporate culture, and individual skills.’ It is this reason why there is no set guideline or template for change management across varying situations. This uniqueness must be considered every time a change process is implemented. Although a set template is not practical to these situations, some basic principals need to be followed in order to reduce problems and difficulties associated with change.

One accepted suite of principals is the Demers et al. change management tool kit. The four stages of this tool kit include preparing for change, moving through change, living with change, and the resources for change. The first stage or phase allows employees to prepare for change by better understanding the needs of the organisation, and the organisation to better understand the needs of the individual or group. The second stage provides the required support to each of the needs groups and educates each other of their needs, their concerns, their expectations, etc. The third stage, living with change, involves what is expected of the groups and a process for adopting further change and being prepared for further change, including the ability to remain flexible to keep pace with change. (ibid) The fourth and final stage is resources for change. This stage is the provision of adequate material and resources to the members within the change process to ensure that an environment for change is supported and contributions by all are encouraged.

As can be seen this model is by no means specific and remains general in nature. The key components of any effective change management method must include awareness and education as we are now aware that the majority of resistance to change is brought about by a lack of understanding of the change rationale. We must also recognise that change is ongoing and merely establishing a change process is not true implementation. Continued input from all needs groups are essential in order to have a successful process and this must continue through the change and not just at the initial or middle stages. Another required element for any change method is strong leadership. Tough decisions are made in all change management processes and many involve colleagues, their families and their contributions. Strong leaders will be able to determine what is best for the needs of the individual, the group, and of the organisation.

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