Updated: Apr 8
Companies are constantly looking for new and innovative ways to stay ahead of the competition. This requires continuous change. As it is with large corporations so it is with Small-to-Medium Businesses (SMBs). Change comes in many forms, for example, through technology, people and processes, through mergers and acquisitions and in response to environmental pressures. Whatever form change takes, it requires methodical and meticulous planning if it is to be successful. Various methodologies and models are employed when bringing about significant change within organizations.
For example, the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) is used to determine process maturity and provide a good basis for introducing change. Similarly, the Deming cycle (Plan, Do, Check, Act) is used for quality improvement. Experts list their three dimensions of change as:
Content (what to do)
Process (how to do it)
Context (where to implement the change).
Most change managers are more familiar with the Lewin model of “unfreeze, change, refreeze” which will be used throughout this article.
Change leaders, Palmer, Dunford and Akin says that “our mental views of an organization contribute to our perceptions of organizational change and its outcome.” These perceptions can lead to resistance or apathy to change, so in instituting change, the leader is responsible for changing organizational structure or processes, behaviour and thinking, and influencing feelings.
This is usually accomplished during unfreezing by using push or pull factors. as a means of convincing employees of the need or reasons for the change. It is customary for us as humans to grow comfortable at certain stages in our lives or careers. A significant event is usually required to move us out of that comfort level into the next stage of reality. This requires an alignment of our thinking, feelings and behaviour patterns. If any of these are out of alignment, the result is likely resistance to changing our comfort level.
The change manager has to find adequate means to 'sell' the benefits of the change to inspire people to accept it. Simply providing cognitive or logical reasons for the change is not enough. People have to be engaged on an emotional level before they will voluntarily accept any proposed changes. Kiefer (2002) explains that emotions during change can be either positive or negative. Negative emotions are those of “insecurity (of losing a job), fear, anxiety, anger and loss of trust.” She believes that these show up when there is a “lack of understanding of the implications of the change” or when there is a “different understanding of those who are experiencing the change than those who initiated it.”
Positive emotions are derived from a change process where there are continual communication and involvement of non-management personnel during the change. Involvement provides a certain level of control over the events of the change. As humans, we like to feel that we are in control of our environment and the things that directly affect us. This level of involvement prepares employees by setting their expectations for the eventual outcome of the change. Their perceptions (thinking) and feelings align and stimulate emotions such as trust and acceptance, which can be deemed as positive emotions that help drive change success. We can therefore conclude that emotions and perceptions go hand in hand in determining change outcomes.
Donna Broach agrees with this. She says, “People are most comfortable when they can influence what happens to them. The ability to influence is largely dependent on being prepared for what will happen. Preparedness is, to a great extent, based on establishing accurate expectations about the future. People, therefore, feel in control of their lives when their expectations match what they think to be actually occurring”. When this level of preparation has been accomplished, it is time to implement the change.
Freezing and Refreezing
In these final stages of the process, the change manager has to exercise caution not to destroy what was already established in the preparation stage by taking on the images of coach, interpreter and nurturer. She has to continue to put people first by ensuring continuous involvement and providing mentorship where required. As the change unfolds, she will need to help employees understand the various events and actions, and their impact on the organization.
Therefore, to successfully implement organizational change, the change manager requires buy-in from the organization's top and bottom levels. Analysis that shifts thinking is perhaps more important for “those at the more senior levels who are required to cascade the information or evangelize their staff into getting on board and accepting the change.” (Goodyear, n.d.) Truth that influences feelings is geared to those at the lower levels who will have the task of actually implementing the change and supporting it.