Organizational change necessarily entails letting go of parts of the status quo. Even when no existing processes are affected, we must let go of the belief that the status quo was ideal.
People carry out this letting go in their own ways, at their own times, for their own reasons. Because letting go is personal, those who accept change (acceptors) often come into conflict with those who are undecided, and with those who reject it (rejecters).
Although these tensions prove that Change is happening, they can limit effectiveness, sometimes threatening organizational survival. Managing these tensions makes change efforts more effective.
Among the many indicators of tension are the content and structure of the often-informal debate about the need for change. The debate tends to proceed in three stages.
- Early stages
- Acceptors are generally in a defensive position. Undecideds, who neither see the need for change, nor oppose it, quietly outnumber both acceptors and rejecters. rejecters tend to be vociferous — often more vociferous than acceptors.
- Estimating the sizes of these three populations is a common technique for gauging progress. But a better predictor of future progress is the content of the informal debate. Use focus groups to measure the power of the arguments used by acceptors and rejecters. Try to determine what keeps undecideds from deciding.
- Intermediate stages
- The need for change is now obvious to many. Acceptors are growing in number, if not effect. Rejecting change has become difficult to justify, marked by increasingly inventive re-justification of the status quo and increasingly energetic attacks on the case for change and on the acceptors themselves. In desperation, some rejecters adopt emotionally charged tactics, such as name-calling, blaming, and fearmongering.
- Since polarization of opinion in the group is usually deleterious, and since it and its effects can last beyond the change process, preventing polarization is preferable Use focus groups to measure
the power of the arguments used
by acceptors and rejectersto repairing it. Training in prevention and management of polarization of opinion is always valuable, but never more so than when that training is applied to preparing for organizational change efforts.
- Late stages
- Now the undecideds have accepted change, for the most part, as have most rejecters. Some of the most confirmed rejecters are those who feel most threatened by the change. They are often important to the organization. If polarization has set in, the last rejecters experience isolation and loss that sometimes turns to bitterness. Some depart the organization, voluntarily or otherwise.
- To achieve organizational acceptance with little bitterness or turnover, monitor the emotional energy of debate. If polarization sets in, professional intervention might be needed.
When people understand that diversity of opinion is a natural result of our uniqueness as people, leading to differences in letting go of the status quo they're more likely to see debate as helpful and constructive. Probably some of you, dear readers, disagree. That's OK. We're all different. Top Next Issue
Is 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!
For more about organizational change, see "Now We're in Chaos," Point Lookout for September 19, 2001; "Piling Change Upon Change: Management Credibility," Point Lookout for October 18, 2006; and an archive of past issues of Point Lookout relating to Organizational Change.
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More articles on Organizational Change:
- The Ties that Bind
- Changing anything in an organization reveals how it's connected to its people, to its processes, to
its facilities, and to the overall context. Usually, these connections reach out much further into the
organization than we imagine.
- Good Change, Bad Change: I
- Change is all around. Some changes are welcome and some not, but when we distinguish good change from
bad, we often get it wrong. Why?
- Good Change, Bad Change: II
- When we distinguish good change from bad, we often get it wrong: we favor things that would harm us,
and shun things that would help. When we do get it wrong, we're sometimes misled by social factors.
- The Restructuring-Fear Cycle: II
- When enterprises restructure, reorganize, downsize, outsource, lay off, or make other organizational
adjustments, they usually focus on financial health. Here's Part II of an exploration of how the fear
induced by these changes can lead to the need for further restructuring.
- Deciding to Change: Trusting
- When organizations change by choice, people who are included in the decision process understand the
issues. Whether they agree with the decision or not, they participate in the decision in some way. But
not everyone is included in the process. What about those who are excluded?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
- Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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