Change Leadership Today: Challenges Abound, but You Have the Power to Make Change Work for You and Your Organization

Article excerpt

This is part 1 of a four-part series on change.

Change is an increasingly important focus of attention in today's organizations. Globalization, advances in information and workplace technology, and increasing sophistication of the social sciences are some of the reasons for the big interest.

Leaders and others express their interest in many ways, asking such questions as

* How can we manage all of this change?

* How can we successfully implement our increasingly aggressive strategies?

* How can we accelerate improvements and innovation?

* How can we spread learning faster?

* How can we overcome resistance to new strategies and ways of doing things?

* How can we accelerate the development and introduction of new products and services?

* How can we do more with less?"

Those questions express a desire to manage change. But the complexity of our world makes such control impossible. We can and do, however, influence change. Our actions matter and shape outcomes; there's no doubt about that. But too often, our actions work against success or we pursue goals that aren't in the long-term best interests of the organizations and purposes we serve.

Is it possible to do better?

Thanks to recent change research and insights from the social and physical sciences, we know that we can be more successful with planned change. We also know it's possible to design our organizations to be more adaptive over the long haul. But that requires special thought, action, and investment. The larger question: Are leaders willing to do and fund the work necessary to successfully implement and sustain the changes that ensure excellence for all stakeholders? The payoffs are huge, but behavior changes are necessary to realize them.

In this series on change, I'll review where we as training professionals are relative to making change work for us. I'll summarize insights from the world's research on change leadership and talk about specific implications for action by leaders and everyone with a stake in organizational success.

A changing view of change

Change is inherent in life and nature. Yet, we have only recently begun to study change in our institutions with the intent of influencing its impact. Organization development, the discipline of focusing on organizational change, is still an emerging science despite how long the term has been around. Fads and trial-and-error seem to dominate our efforts to deal with the important and pervasive phenomenon of OD.

We're probably more aware of organizational change now than in the past because many of our benchmarks show an accelerating rate of change. Take organizational longevity. An organization listed by Srandard&Poor's in 1920 could expect to still be listed 65 years later. Today, a company will be on the list an average of 10 years. A young person entering the workforce today can expect to have an average of 12 different jobs by the time he or she is 40 years old.

The scope of change is also broadening. Many deliberate changes go across organizational boundaries and affect more people. That is, changes are now more often systemic. The largest global study to date of organizational changes occurring during the 1990s in more than 2000 organizations in Europe, Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom found

* 82 percent had implemented far-reaching information systems

* 74 percent created horizontal sharing of services and information

* 65 percent implemented flexible human resource practices across the organization, redistributed work by outsourcing, and created alliances

* 62 percent decentralized operational decisions

* 50 percent took out or added layers of management

* 42 percent adopted project structures

* 41 percent decentralized strategic decisions. …