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Volume 6, Issue 42;   October 18, 2006: Piling Change Upon Change: Management Credibility
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Piling Change Upon Change: Management Credibility

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When leaders want to change organizational directions, processes, or structures, some questions arise: How much change is too much change? Here's a look at one constraint: the risk to management credibility.

Now that he was under fire from all around the conference table, Andre decided to call a halt. "I don't have an answer for that one," he said. "But I'll find out by next week why this isn't working. I think we should wait till then."

Mercifully, Lynn, the chair, came to his rescue. "OK," she said, "let's pick this up next week when Andre has more information." Turning to the scribe, she asked, "What's next?"

With help from Lynn, Andre is dealing with one of the consequences of piling Change upon Change. Chaos has set in, and Andre isn't sure why things aren't working as they were supposed to.

Hoarfrost coating Autumn leaves

Hoarfrost coating Autumn leaves, the result of an early-season ice fog. Photo by Jeff Fontana, courtesy US Bureau of Land Management.

When organizational leaders feel the need for urgent change, they sometimes initiate programs that overlap or follow one another very closely. But when they do, they risk eroding management credibility.

When an organization changes, its people must choose between exiting the organization and coping with the change. Typically, most do cope. Coping with change entails traversing a path described by the Satir Change Model, among others. It's a path all humans know too well.

According to the Satir Change Model, change begins when a Foreign Element disrupts the Old Status Quo and leads to a temporary state of Chaos. In Chaos, employees are uncertain about what will happen next, and many yearn for the Old Status Quo. But as a way out of Chaos, returning to what once was isn't viable. Change is a rocky road.
There are stops, starts,
and lots of backtracking.

To move out of Chaos, employees must find a Transforming Idea that points the way to a New Status Quo. During a period of Integration and Practice, they integrate the Transforming Idea into their view of the world, and practice with the new ways and ideas, eventually reaching a New Status Quo.

It's a rocky road. There are stops, starts, and lots of backtracking. But when we add a new change effort somewhere in the middle of one that's ongoing, the trouble really begins.

During the period of Integration and Practice, employees must accept management's Transforming Idea on trust. They try to use the suggested approaches as a way out of the Chaos.

A second change effort starts with a second Foreign Element (FE2), which sets off another period of Chaos. If FE2 arrives during Integration and Practice from the first change process, people can't always distinguish between the Chaos of the second change and outright failure of the first. And this can lead some to feel that the Transforming Idea of the first change (TI1) isn't working. Management's credibility is therefore at risk.

A safer approach is to either bundle both changes together, or let time pass between them — enough to let people see that TI1 actually works. You can change an organization as fast as possible only if you change it slowly enough. Go to top Top  Next issue: What Makes a Good Question?  Next Issue

For more on the Satir Change Model, see "Now We're in Chaos," Point Lookout for September 19, 2001, and "Change How You Change," Point Lookout for March 20, 2002.

101 Tips for Managing ChangeIs your organization embroiled in Change? Are you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt? Read 101 Tips for Managing Change to learn how to survive, how to plan and how to execute change efforts to inspire real, passionate support. Order Now!

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