Thursday, February 19, 2015

How to Tackle Change

Increased complexity, diversity, and flexibility. Those are some of the most common buzzwords and they can seem a bit worn out. In contemporary management literature they dominate the conversation and call for frequent changes. And while phrases like “a world of increasing complexity” can be thrown around a bit too often, there is something to it as well. Otherwise it probably wouldn’t have been a buzzword in the first place. Change is, however, not as easy as is sounds, and it almost always generates resistance in an organization. This resistance, uncomfortable and challenging as it is, needs to be tackled head on, and not pushed aside, if changes must have any real effect. Here I present some of the ways to overcome it.

Envisioning the Future - Together
In order to implement changes successfully, the first key step is to ensure commitment among the stakeholders in the organization. Include staff in envisioning the future to create alignment (Brown, 2010). Also it is vital to stress a sense of urgency (Hamel & Prahalad, 1989). There needs to be a clear answer to why change is required for the organization. Change is hard and challenging, so if you’re not sure why it’s necessary, why bother making the effort?

Inclusion: Just Another Buzzword?
Once everyone is on board with why the organization needs to undergo change, the next phase is to make sure the process is one of inclusion. While this can also come across as a worn out buzzword, it is never the less necessary. A holistic approach should seek to include all stakeholders not only to create ownership and defenders of change, but also to make sure that every important aspect is included in the strategy. A strategic plan can be formulated solely on the strategic/executive management level, but when it comes to the implementation phase there is a big risk that it isn’t supporting day-to-day operations, and is thus going to require further time and money in order to be accommodated into the organization (Tregoe, 1983).

Leave No One Behind
One aspect of why change can be terrifying is the uncertainty regarding your role in the future. What if your skills become redundant as a result of the new path the organization is embarking on? Training and retraining of staff – paid or unpaid – is paramount to overcome this barrier of fear when initiating change. In “Transformational Leadership” it is pointed out how 25 % of IBM’s workforce is involved in a training activity every single day (Cameron, 1991). Not only does retraining have the benefit of making sure that staff is ready for change, it also motivates them to look for opportunities of change themselves, and thus contribute valuable input to the ongoing discussion of which direction the organization is headed at.

Continued Communication
Okay, so the sail has been set and the major changes initiated. What now? Continued articulation of the vision and frequent updates on how far we’ve travelled on the road to change is necessary to keep everyone on track (Cameron, 1991). Preferably in a variety of ways: everyone gets tired of hearing the same messages repeated over and over again.

Balanced Measurement – a Long Run Solution
Inclusion will also foster a better measurement system. Performance measures have long been implemented to affect the behavior of organizations. “What you measure is what you get”, as Robert Kaplan and David Norten argues (Kaplan & Norton, 1992). However systems that focus mainly on financial performance are out of step with today’s knowledge society, where research has shown that they are at best with no effect or at worst even demotivating for staff (ibid.). Developing a more holistic measurement system of organizational performance is more of a long run solution to barriers of change. It can be seen as a way to make way for future changes and secure better receptivity in the organization, since employers will see how their input benefits the organization and how they are contributing to the realization of the mission and vision. 


Brown, William A. (2010). Strategic Management. In: Renz, David O, ed. 2010. The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco, CA. 

Cameron, Kim (1991). Transformational Leadership. In: Developing Management Skills. David A. Whetton and Kim S. Cameron. New York: Harper Collins.

Hamel, Gary. & Prahalad, C.K. (1989). Strategic Intent. Harvard Business Review, pg 63-76.

Kaplan, Robert S. & David P. Norton (1992). The Balanced Scorecard – Measures that Drive Performance. Harvard Business Review p. 71-79.

Tregoe, Benjamin. 1983. “The Challenges of Strategic Management.” In Top Management Strategy. Benjamin B. Tregoe and John W. Zimmerman. New York: Simon and Schuster.