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Organizations and Change

Change can be intimidating, particularly when it comes to your organization. This chapter will help ease you through those changes with finesse. Who knows? Maybe you'll even find yourself looking forward to change.
This chapter is from the book

In 1993, Eric Saperston graduated from college and bought a 1971 Volkswagen Bus. He set off with his golden retriever, Jack, on a journey. Eric said that he had decided to call some of the most powerful people in the world and ask them out for a cup of coffee. His adventures have been documented in the film The Journey. All of us who have been intrigued by a new idea and set off to try to introduce it have felt like this—excited, anticipating a great adventure, ready for a journey! We hope you see these pages as a guidebook when you need help along the way.

You're interested in leading or helping to make a change in your organization and you want to learn more. You'd like to understand why change is so hard for you and your colleagues, and you're concerned about survival in these tough times. The strategies in this book will help you address all these needs. This first chapter introduces the change process and the forces at work that may help or hinder your struggles.

Implementing change takes time. How much time? That depends on many different variables. It may be easy to get a few people interested and, depending upon your goals, that may be enough. For example, if the innovation is a new software tool, your goal may be to persuade your own team to use it. On the other hand, you might eventually hope to encourage the entire company to integrate the software in its processes. This is a substantially more challenging task that may require years of effort with some discouraging slips backward along the way.

Research into the factors that affect change has identified several misconceptions that many of us share. The first is that innovations will be accepted just because they are good ideas. I'm sure you can think of many good ideas that have failed and been replaced by other, sometimes poorer ones. The Sony Beta technology for videocassette recording lost out to the VHS format. The Macintosh operating system clearly had advantages over the DOS operating system for personal computers, but it lost impact in the marketplace, first to DOS and then to Microsoft Windows.

Since those who have discovered an intriguing new possibility clearly see the advantages of the idea, it's easy to be deluded into believing that all you have to do is explain logically why the new idea is better than the one it should replace and viola, others will sign up. How many times have you made this assumption only to discover that there was much more work to be done?

The second misconception is that once a new idea is introduced, nothing else is required. Adopt this new approach. The end. Drop the seed in the ground. No watering or fertilizing or pruning or tending needed. Unfortunately, the reality is that it takes a lot of persistence. To reach your journeys end, you must be in for the long haul.

You may have heard the argument that the quickest way to introduce a new approach is to mandate its use. While you might get compliance, you probably wont get commitment. An edict from on high may prompt some change in the short term, but there is likely to be resistance in the not-too-distant long term. A high-level executive cannot simply declare, Okay, guys, we're going to do <innovation> from now on! and expect it to happen. With top-down change, the emphasis is on making the changes quickly and dealing with the problems only if necessary. Bottom-up change is more gradual, but it addresses resistance more effectively. The emphasis in bottom-up change is on participation and on keeping people informed about what is going on, so uncertainty and resistance are minimized. Based on our experience, we believe that change is best introduced bottom-up with support at appropriate points from management—both local and at a higher level. Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline appears to agree:

During the last few years, a new understanding of the process of organizational change has emerged. It is not top-down or bottom-up, but participative at all levels—aligned through a common understanding of a system.*

As you can see, we believe in a participatory approach. Otherwise, you may share Carly Fiorina's experience when she became president of Hewlett-Packard and tried to make major changes. Because the workforce had little opportunity to be involved, many were skeptical and resistant. They didn't openly attack her new ideas; they simply appeared to meet her goals while continuing to do things as they always had in the past. The resistance was so subtle and so pervasive that it was difficult to accomplish anything. As an old Chinese proverb states, There's a lot of noise at the top of the stairs, but no one coming down. Change driven from on high without significant across-the-board participation creates more heat than light and often ends up becoming a recipe for failure.

Our approach in writing this book is to help you introduce new ideas by encouraging others to become intrigued and interested so that they want to become involved in the change.

The strategies we recommend take advantage of research by E. M. Rogers and Geoffrey Moore, who observed how individuals become aware of an innovation and make the choice to accept or reject it. They describe change not as an event but a process, the innovation-decision process. People move through the stages in this process before adopting or rejecting a new idea. During the first three stages—knowledge, persuasion, and decision—you gather information and form opinions. If you decide to adopt the innovation, then you proceed through the last two stages—implementation and confirmation—where you are a user but continue to need assurance that your decision was a good one.

This research has identified several factors that speed up or slow down the innovation-decision process and, as a result, the time it will take the change to become part of the environment. We consider three factors: the change agent, the culture, and the people. To begin a successful change effort, you will need to understand all three and how they work together.

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