The Nature Of Change

In this section, we will focus on how change affects both individuals and organizations. Change tends to unfold in fairly predictable patterns (Conner 1995). In order to effectively plan and manage organizational change, it is important to understand the impact of change, how change may be viewed as a process, and the emotional behavioral patterns of change.

The Impact of Change

At any given time we must deal with changes that affect us. These changes may result from world or local events, the organizations we are part of, or personal decisions and relationships (Conner, 1995). Think about the changes that are going on in your life right now. You may be graduating soon, seeking employment, moving to a new residence, or scheduling root canal work with your dentist the day after tomorrow. The point is that there are a number of changes going on in our lives at any given moment. We may view these changes as being either positive or negative. As Jeanie Duck (2001) observes, nearly all change in our lives entails some amount of anxiety. Anxiety combined with hope is anticipation, while anxiety combined with apprehension is dread.

Whether we view change as positive (anticipation) or negative (dread), there is a certain amount of stress that accompanies each change. For example, let's say that you will graduate this semester and start a new job that requires you to move to a distant city. Although you may be looking forward to leaving school and earning some real money, you may still feel some apprehension. After all, you will have to leave your circle of family and/or friends and the familiarity of your present environment. Once you arrive in your new city, you will need to find a new place to live, make new friends, and become familiar with your new job, the company, and its people. Moving to a new city is relatively easy compared to the other transitions. The move itself is a change that will occur fairly quickly; the transition required to adjust to the change takes longer.

In Managing at the Speed of Change, Daryl Conner (1995) points out that an individual must deal with a variety of changes in his or her life and that we must assimilate these changes over time. Assimilation is the process of adapting to change and determines our ability to handle current and future change (Davidson 2002). For example, you may be dreading that root canal work next Wednesday, but once it's over you won't have the same level of anxiety that you are feeling right now. Or, you may be in the midst of planning a wedding. Most people view weddings as happy occasions, but anyone who has planned and gone through a wedding knows it can be a stressful. The stress and anxiety felt before the ceremony, however, become a distant memory once the happy couple celebrates their first anniversary. It simply takes time to assimilate change because we must adjust to the transition. Major changes, whether positive or negative, will require more time to assimilate than small ones. But once change is assimilated, it no longer creates the same level of anxiety or stress. According to Conner, the problem occurs when we cannot assimilate change fast enough. Unfortunately, change tends to have a cumulative effect, and we can only assimilate change at a given pace. Different people will assimilate change at a different pace, and this ability to assimilate change becomes our resiliency to handle change. Figure 11.1 illustrates the cumulative effect of assimilating change over time. Problems occur when we have to deal with too many changes or when we cannot assimilate change fast enough. When an individual passes a certain threshold, he or she may become stressed out and exhibit dys functional behaviors. The behaviors depend largely on the person and may range from mild irritability to depression or dependence on alco hol or drugs. Therefore, it is important to man age the assimilation of change to keep things below the change threshold. In order to do this, Change an individual may try various tactics, such as threshold exercising more regularly or postponing major life changes so as to deal more effectively with the present changes.

Conner (1995) points out that organizations are made up of people and these people have any number of personal changes going on in their lives. Changes proposed by an organization (e.g., reorganization, downsizing, implementing a new information system) will certainly affect the way people work and the relationships that have become established. Although these organizational changes will have to be assimilated by each person, the organization must assimilate

SOURCE: D. Conner, Managing at the Change of Speed (New York: Villard Books, 1995).

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