Figure 11.1 Assimilating Change


Figure 11.1 Assimilating Change change similar to an individual. After all, organizations are made up of people! Therefore, each change adopted by an organization must be assimilated and managed within the change threshold. Just like people, organizations can exhibit dysfunctional behaviors. These behaviors may include an inability to take advantage of new opportunities or solve current problems. Eventually, an organization's inability to assimilate change will be reflected in the organization's ability to make a profit. Like an individual who cannot effectively deal with change and the associated stress, the long-term health and sustainability of the organization becomes questionable.

Change as a Process

Driving forces

Present state

Although a great deal has been written about change management, one of the most useful models for understanding change was developed by Kurt Lewin. Lewin developed the concept of Force Field Analysis or change theory to help analyze and understand the forces for and against a particular plan or change initiative (Lewin 1951). A Force Field Analysis is a technique for developing a big picture that involves all the forces in favor of or against a particular change. Forces that are viewed as facilitating the change are viewed as driving forces, while the forces that act as barriers or that work against the change are called restraining forces. By understanding all of the forces that act as aids or barriers to the change, one may enact strategies or decisions that take into account all of the various interests.

Lewin's basic model includes three concepts: unfreezing, changing, and refreez-ing as illustrated in Figure 11.2. The present state represents an equilibrium or status quo. To change from the current state, there must be driving forces both to initiate and to motivate the change. This requires an unfreezing, or an altering of the current state's habits, perceptions, and stability.

Figure 11.2 also depicts a transition from the present state to the desired state. This state is sometimes referred to as the neutral zone and can be a limbo or emotional wilderness for many individuals (Bridges 1991). Problems arise when managers do not understand, expect, or acknowledge the neutral zone. Those in the organization who act and support the driving forces for the change may be likely to rush individuals through the transition. This rushing often results in confusion on the part of those in the neutral zone, and the resisting forces (i.e., the emotional and psychological barriers) tend to push those individuals back to their present state. People do not like being caught in the neutral zone. They may try to revert back to the original status quo or escape. Escape may mean leaving the organization or resistance to the change initiative altogether. In addition, individuals who find themselves in the neutral zone too long may attempt to create a compromise in which only a portion of the change is implemented. This compromise will only result in missed opportunities and sets a bad precedence for the next change initiative—if this one did not work, why should anyone believe the next one will?

People do not necessarily resist change. They resist losses and endings. Unfreezing, or moving from the current state, means letting go of something. Therefore, viewing change from

Resisting forces

Driving forces

Resisting forces

Present state

Figure 11.2 Change Process

SOURCE: Based on K. Lewin, Field Theory in Social Science (New York: Harper and Row, 1951).

Lewin's model suggests that beginning a change starts with an ending of the present state. Transition through the neutral zone also means a loss of equilibrium until an individual or organization moves to the desired state. Once there, it is important that the attitudes, behaviors, and perceptions be refrozen so that the desired state becomes the new status quo and equilibrium for the individuals involved.

Emotional Responses to Change

Until now, we have looked at change as a process and how change affects different areas of the organization. Change can also bring out emotional responses. An individual may have an emotional response to a change when the change is perceived as a significant loss or upsets a familiar or well-established equilibrium. In her book On Death and Dying, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (Kubler-Ross 1969) provides insight into the range of emotions one may experience from the loss of a loved one. These same emotional responses can be applied to managing change whenever people experience the loss of something that matters to them.

The original model included five stages that we go through as part of a grieving process that leads to eventual healing. If people are not allowed to grieve and go through the first four stages, it becomes difficult to reach the last stage—acceptance. A person may have a number of emotions, such as sorrow, loneliness, guilt, and so forth, but the inability to work through these five stages can create more stress and difficulties than working through the stages. Although Kubler-Ross's model has been widely accepted, it has also been criticized as being oversimplified. However, it still provides some valuable insight for understanding how people may react to significant changes that affect their lives. The five stages include:

• Denial—The first stage is characterized by shock and denial. It is a com mon reaction when a person is given first notice of a change that will have significant impact. For example, when a person is informed that he or she is being fired by an organization, the initial response may be, Are you seri ous? This can't be true! The reality may be too overwhelming. Disbelief may be the immediate defense mechanism. The initial news, however, pro vides a beginning for understanding the full impact of the change that is about to take place.

• Anger—Once a person gets over the initial shock of the announcement, he or she may become angry toward others, or even the messenger. The reac tion is to blame whoever is responsible for creating the change. Although anger is a more active emotional response, it can be a cathartic expression when people are allowed to vent their emotions. Keep in mind that there is a difference between feeling anger and acting out in anger. While having feelings is always acceptable, the latter never is.

• Bargaining—In the third stage, the person is no longer angry. In fact, he or she may be quite cooperative and may try to make deals in order to avoid the change. For example, the person who lost her job may begin making promises that she will "double my productivity" or "take a cut in pay" in order to avoid being let go. A person may look for ways to extend the status quo, or the present equilibrium, by trying to "work things out."

• Depression—Once a person admits that the change is inevitable, he or she may understand the full impact of the change and may enter the fourth stage—depression. This stage generally occurs when there is an over whelming sense of the loss of the status quo. Although losing a job involves losing income, most people become depressed because they also lose the identity associated with their job.

• Acceptance—The last stage is when a person comes to grips with the change. A person does not have to like the change in order to accept it. This fifth stage has more to do with one's resolve that the change is inevitable and must be dealt with. Acceptance is an important part of ending the status quo and getting on with a new state.

These emotional responses can help us understand why people react the way they do when faced with organizational change. Because of these emotions, people may be drained and productivity in the organization will suffer. It is also important to understand that people will have different perceptions of change. But, to them, their perception is their reality. Often management and the project team will have known about and have had the time to prepare for an upcoming change. While they may be impatient for the change to occur, others in the organization will lag behind. Management and the project team may want to "get on with it," while the others are still dealing with their emotions during the transition. Instead of trying to suppress these individuals and their emotions, the leaders of change should accept them as a normal part of the change process and address them in the change management plan (Duck 2001).

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