Leading Change at Any Level in the Organization

Keli W. Rodriguez

Because of the rapid pace of change in today’s work environment, more needs to be done to train and assist leaders of organizations gain the practical skills that will assist them lead change efforts, which skills may be different than managerial skills most leaders have been exposed to in other types of leadership functions. It would be beneficial to companies to address the basic skills needed by managers at all levels of the organization to best implement organizational change. To be effective, this training needs to deal with the issues that lead organizations to fail in many change efforts. This training must help leaders understand and recognize the attitudes, reasons for resistance, and challenges of implementation, of the overall change project.

The amount of change placed on managers by their organizations has grown at an amazing rate over the last several years. Nor is the rate of change likely to decrease anytime in the foreseeable future. As reported by Hersey et al, in a survey conducted by the Gallop Organization of 400 executives from Fortune 1000 companies, 79 percent of executives described “the pace of change at their companies as ‘rapid’ or ‘extremely rapid’ and 61 percent believed the pace will pick up in the future”. As organizations are being forced to deal with the pressures of the global marketplace, the pace of change is likely to increase, as executives look to outsource, down-size, right-size, merge, re-align or look for any way to remain competitive and increase earnings. As John Kotter has stated, through all these efforts “the basic goal has been the same: to make fundamental changes in how business is conducted in order to help cope with a new, more challenging environment” (Kotter, 2000, p. 59).

However, while top executives look at change efforts as opportunities to strengthen their companies and increase their influence, for employees “change is neither sought after nor welcomed” but rather seen as “disruptive” and “intrusive” (Strebel, 1996, p. 88). Employee resistance is likely compounded by the fact that the great majority of corporate change efforts are not successful. As explained by Michael Beer, “while senior managers understand the necessity of change to cope with new competitive realities, they often misunderstand what it takes to bring it about” (Beer et al, 2000, p. 158), leading to many efforts not reaching the level of success has hoped and planned for. As reported by Jeanie Daniel Duck, after passing through repeated failed episodes of change “by now, the troops have been through so many of these programs that they’re skeptical” (Duck, 1993, p. 111). She describes the situation further by saying that, “Companies today are full of change survivors, cynical people who’ve learned how to live through change programs without really changing at all” (Duck, 1993, p. 112).

While leaders of the corporation may understand the reason for change, and put great effort in planning and implementing the change, they often fail because of the lack of support of the vast majority of the employees. This contributes to a disappointingly large number of change efforts which end in failure. As John Kotter states “in too many situations the improvements have been disappointing and the carnage has been appalling, with wasted resources and burned-out, scared, or frustrated employees” (Kotter, 1996, p. 4).

A more complete understanding of the principles of change leadership and team effectiveness which could be taught to managers in order to help them move their organizations successfully through change efforts could greatly improve the organizations’ overall success rate at implementing changes, as well as improve the overall experience of the employees and managers forced to implement the changes.

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