Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 11, Issue 50;   December 14, 2011: When Change Is Hard: II

When Change Is Hard: II

by

When organizational change is difficult, we sometimes blame poor leadership or "resistance." But even when we believe we have good leadership and the most cooperative populations, we can still encounter trouble. Why is change so hard so often?
Erecting a floating bridge in Korea (1952)

Members of the 1437th Treadway Bridge CO, US 8th Army, erecting a floating bridge during the Korean Conflict on Route #3-D after the flooded roadbed washed out. Temporary bridge building was and is essential to military campaigns. When we think of combat, though, bridge building is not the first activity to come to mind. Nevertheless, without the capability, most campaigns would fail utterly. So it is with organizations undergoing dramatic change. They must take on responsibilities that they don't consider to be in the usual course of events, and they must construct policies and procedures that will not endure. These activities are necessary when we take on the challenge of organizational change. Photo taken July 8, 1952, courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In Part I of this exploration of the challenges of Change, we examined two sources of difficulty — sources internal (our emotions) and source external (outside pressures). This time, we explore issues related to planning. We'll look at three sets of reasons why planning change is so difficult: unexpected linkages, unexpected detours, and the need for temporary bridges.

Unexpected linkages
Linkages between organizational elements are often informal and unaccounted for. When an unrecognized linkage exists, changing one of the linked elements requires that we deal with the other linked elements.
For example, when one group is physically situated close to another, friendships and associations form. Some of those connections might be channels for ongoing knowledge exchange. Separating the two groups by moving one group to a distant location can stress those connections, degrading performance. Relocating them both together might be preferable.
If we break linkages we don't understand, change can be hard. A plan to move one group might seem perfectly sound, but it can fail if it doesn't recognize the importance of bonds between people. What might seem like resistance could actually be the result of interrupted knowledge flow due to breaking connections.
Unexpected detours and backtracking
At times, only after we begin executing a change plan do we recognize some factors we neglected. When this happens, with a little luck, we can make adjustments and continue. But sometimes we have to stop or backtrack, replan, and begin again.
For example, in an acquisition, if we intend to relocate the acquired IT department, we might find that relocation is impractical because key people would require financial assistance with real estate issues. And keeping those people in place might also incur unsustainable costs. The department relocation plan wasn't defective, though it didn't anticipate real estate market conditions.
If a plan is incomplete, change can be hard. The people involved might not be resisting change — they might actually have legitimate issues that the plan didn't anticipate.
Temporary bridges
When we At times, only after we begin
executing a change plan
do we recognize some
factors we neglected
encounter or anticipate difficulty, we might not be able to change systems directly from their current configurations to the final configurations we seek. Sometimes, we must build temporary bridges.
For example, in the IT relocation problem, the organization might become a lender, investor, or loan facilitator, to enable people who are relocated to secure mortgages for new homes.
Plans that include interim configurations that we intend later to abandon aren't necessarily defective. And the people whose needs we're accommodating in this way aren't making trouble — they have legitimate needs that we must somehow address. Unless we can be flexible enough to find temporary bridges, change can be hard.

When change is hard, and when the job market is tight, some managers are tempted to communicate the change-or-else message. Resist the temptation. Someday, those who are unhappy will have alternatives. And they will choose them. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: When Your Boss Conveys Misinformation  Next Issue

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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When organizations decide to change what they do, the change sometimes requires that they change how they make decisions, too. That part of the change is sometimes overlooked, in part, because it affects most the people who make decisions. What can we do about this?
Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Frank MurphyThe Passion-Professionalism Paradox
Changing the direction of a group or a company requires passion and professionalism, two attributes often in tension. Here's one possible way to resolve that tension.

See also Organizational Change and Project Management for more related articles.

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