How Not To Manage Change

Sheila Smith and Mary Silva Doctor offer some sure-fire ways to disrupt a change initiative:

• Communicate by Vulcan Mind Meld—Although being able to learn another person's thoughts and feeling like Mr. Spock in the old Star Trek TV series has its advantages, many managers seem to believe that as soon as they think something is a good idea, everyone else in the organization will know it, too. Unfortunately, this type of communication does not work very well.

• The Rational Person View of Change—Often orga nizational leaders and managers believe that people will support an idea if it makes sense. Unfortunately, change can be emotional and unset tling for many people, and, therefore, people may not always act rationally.

• Cuckoo Clock Leadership—Ineffective change lead ers tend to isolate themselves from the rest of the organization and communicate through their staff. A

company whose leaders only pop out of their offices occasionally to champion a particular cause soon became known as cuckoo clock sponsors.

• Sponsoring the Concept, Not the Implementation— Sponsoring the recommended solution for a change initiative is an important, but not sole, ingredient for success. An effective change leader must also sponsor the implementation as well. Championing a concept is relatively easy compared to its actual implementation.

• The Best-Laid Plans—Although a transition plan is important, it cannot be the only plan to make the change successful. Moreover, a carefully constructed, detailed plan may not be all that useful when much of the real change is opportunity-driven, and the oppor tunities can occur in the day-to-day, informal interac tions among the people in the organization.

SOURCE: Adapted from Sheila Smith and Mary Silva Doctor, Sure-Fire Ways to Derail Change Efforts, CIO.COM, September 1, 1997,

around here." The targets of change in this case may be highly resistant to new ideas or new ways of doing things.

This approach can be very difficult and time-consuming because the change agents and sponsor must study the existing values and beliefs of a group. It requires unfreezing the current norms so that the change can take place and so that a new set of norms can be refrozen in order to solidify the acceptance of the new way of doing things by the group. As a result, change becomes more effective when each person adopts the beliefs and values of the group. The focus for managing change under this strategy becomes helping people redefine their existing social norms into a new set that supports the change effort. Some key principles include:

• Capacity for change is directly related to a person's participation in a group. When we become part of a group, our views and beliefs and those of the group become interwoven with each other.

• Effective change requires changing something not only about the individ ual's values and beliefs, but also the values and beliefs that make up the existing group's culture.

• Bias and prejudice toward guarding one's closely held beliefs and values diminishes one's ability to think rationally. Even when presented with the facts, many people may not act upon them in a rational way.

Power-Coercive Approach The power-coercive approach to change management attempts to gain compliance from the change targets through the exercise of power, authority, rewards, or threat of punishment for non-conformance. Many managers may be lured into using this deceptively easy and straightforward approach, but there is a real risk when used in the wrong situation. People may comply (or at least go through the motions of compliance), but an approach based solely on rewards or punishment may have only short-term effect. For example, a person may comply for the time being, until they can find new employment. On the other hand, a person may view the change as temporary and just "wait out the storm" until it is convenient or safe to go back to the old way of doing things.

There are, however, situations where the power-coercive approach is useful and effective. In such cases, the targets of change recognize the legitimate power or expertise of the change agent. For example, a person may not change his indolent lifestyle until the doctor cautions him that certain health problems will get worse unless he changes his diet and begins an exercise program. Similarly, an organization may be faced with a situation that requires immediate attention — i.e., any inaction or time lost trying to get "everyone onboard" would spell disaster for the company. In this case, the use of rewards and threats would be a rational approach. As Davidson observes,

People's dependency on an organization largely dictates how effective the power-coercive approach and the use of sanctions can be. If people are highly dependent on the organization; live paycheck to paycheck; have few job alternatives; and are not financially, mentally, or emotionally prepared to walk, you are on relatively safe ground using the power-coercive approach judiciously. (90-91)

The objective is to change the behaviors of the targets so that their new behavior supports the change effort. Davidson points out that sanctions should be imposed on an individual level and should focus on what an individual values and what they dread losing — perhaps a bonus, a paycheck, or a position within the organization. Sanctions can be imposed in ascending order to demonstrate a point in the beginning and to keep any target's losses at a minimum. A change agent or sponsor can lose credibility, however, if they issue a warning or sanction that they do not fully intend to carry out. Finally, the change agent or sponsor should never be abrasive or disrespectful and should not impose sanctions in a cruel or vindictive manner.

Environmental-Adaptive Approach Like a pair of old, comfortable shoes, people often become attached to and comfortable with a certain way of doing things, perhaps an older system or established processes that have become part of the group's culture and norms. The premise of the environmental-adaptive approach is that although people avoid disruption and loss, they can still adapt to change.

Following this approach, the change agent attempts to make the change permanent by abolishing the old ways and instituting the new structure as soon as possible. Cortez, the explorer, probably displayed the most drastic form of this approach. After landing in the New World, many of his men began to grumble about the conditions and what lay ahead. In response, Cortez burned the boats so that there was no option other than pressing on. A much less drastic example would be upgrading everyone's word processing software over the weekend so that when everyone returned to work on Monday morning, they would have no choice but using the new software package. In both examples, the targets of change were given no choice but to change.

Although this approach may be effective in certain situations, it is still important that the targets of change assimilate the change as quickly as possible in order to adapt to the change as soon as possible. Some ways may include helping the targets of change see the benefits and showing them how the new way is similar to their old, familiar way of doing things.

The change management strategies introduced here are typical for many change initiatives. A single strategy or approach, however, may not be effective in every situation. A more useful approach may be to combine the different strategies, depending on the impact of the change and the organization.

Implement the Change Management Plan and Track Progress

Once the players and the strategy for the change management plan have been defined, the next step entails implementing the change management plan and tracking its progress. Although tracking progress should be integrated into the overall project plan and monitored using the various project tools, such as the Gantt chart, PERT chart, and so forth, introduced in an earlier chapter, milestones and other significant events should be identified and used to gauge how well the organization is adapting to the change.

In addition, one of the most critical issues for ensuring that the change takes place as planned is the establishment of effective lines of communication. At the very outset of any change initiative, gossip, rumors, and people's perceptions will find their way in both the formal and informal organizations. It is important that the project team and project sponsor create and open channels of communication.

The communication media can be important, especially when delivering certain types of news. For example, a richer media, such as face-to-face communication, is generally preferable when delivering important or bad news. There are a number of stories about people who realized that they were being let go when they found their phone line and network connections disconnected and security guards standing by their desk waiting to escort them out of the building. Delivering bad news is something that no one really enjoys, but must be done nonetheless. The point is that management can handle difficult situations with class or with very little class.

Finally, open channels of communication should be both ways. The project team and sponsor must communicate effectively with the various groups within the organization affected by the change, and these groups, in turn, must be able to communicate effectively with the project team and sponsor. In addition, Web sites, e-mails, memos, and newsletters can all be mediums for effective communication.

Evaluate Experience and Develop Lessons Learned

As the project team carries out the change management plan, they will, no doubt, learn from their experiences. These experiences should be documented and made available to other team members and other projects so that experiences can be shared and best practices can be identified. At the end of the project, it is important that the overall success of the change management plan be evaluated. This evaluation may help determine the effectiveness of the different players or a particular change management strategy. The important thing is to learn from experience and to share those experiences with others while adding new form and functionality to the project organization's IT project methodology.

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Project Management Made Easy

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