Academic journal article Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship

Leaders and Change: Attend to the Uniqueness of Individuals

Academic journal article Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship

Leaders and Change: Attend to the Uniqueness of Individuals

Article excerpt


An ever-changing market landscape driven by globalization, government regulations and deregulation, and economic uncertainty is pushing companies to be agile and responsive. Consequently, "change or die" is the reality facing many firms. However, the inability to cope with change driven by external market forces or internal mandates has been a factor in the demise of many organizations (Dutschman, 2007). The list of failed companies is almost endless and is not industry biased (e.g., Enron, HealthSouth, Wachovia, Nationwide Airlines, Olan Mills, Lehman Brothers, Bethlehem Steel, Napster, etc.), although banks and airlines have seemingly been hit the hardest. Despite the need to adapt and evolve, attempts to implement poorly designed change often fail or make the situation worse (Mourier & Smith, 2001; Muehrcke, 1999, Schaffer, 2010). This study seeks to better understand leaders' success rates with change and, specifically, how they can improve.

Theoretical Background

Change in the workplace has been a frequent topic of research for decades (Beer, Eisenstat, & Spector, 1990; Kotier & Schlesinger, 1979; Walinga, 2008; Zell, 2003). Early change models involved diagnosing and preparing an organization for change, engaging in change, and anchoring new ways into the culture (Beer et al, 1990; Kanter, 1983; Lewin, 1951). Recent models have expanded prior research via more extensive, multi-step frameworks that include leadership, employee involvement and commitment, mentoring, rewards, and more (Kotier, 1996; Ulrich, 1998; Gilley, 2005).

Janssen (1996) was one of the first to look at the psychological impact of change in his Four Room Model of Change, which he explained as comfort, denial, confusion, and renewal. Rogers (2003) later defined a five stage adoption process of change, which included awareness, interest in the change, trial, the decision to continue or quit, and adoption of the change into one's lifestyle. Walinga (2008) agreed with the emphasis on the human reaction and argued that the process of preparing individuals for change requires examination of the physical, psychological, and emotional factors one faces when confronted with any change.

Much research has examined the organization-level rather than the individual level of change (Vakola, Tsaousis, & Nikolaou, 2003). Individual change, however, is the antecedent of organizational change, and failure to recognize employees' psychological processes and reactions to change may doom the initiative. Research conducted by LaClair and Rao (A McKinsey Report, 2002) and Prosci (Best Practices in Change Management Report, 2007) has demonstrated a direct correlation between achieving the business objectives of a change and effectively managing the people side ofthat change. Hence, the importance of the leader's role as a change agent is clear. Cameron (2008) emphasized the importance of the leader in bringing about positive change and remarked, "Many things must work in harmony for success to occur in most living systems, but failure can be singular" (p. 16).

Whelan-Berry, Gordon, and Hinings (2003) agreed that organizational change does not occur without change on the part of individuals and specific groups. Not surprisingly, one of the most common explanations for organizational failure to effect change involves human resistance; those not ready for change will resist (Prochaska, Redding, & Evers, 1997). Resistance to change has been blamed on fear of the unknown, one's predisposition toward change, disruption of routine, conflict with current culture, breaking routines, fear of failure, lack of reward for change, lack of commitment, loss of identity, status, control, power, or security, and more (Clark, Gioia, Ketchen, & Thomas, 2010; Marquis & Lounsbury, 2007; Meyer & Hammerschmid, 2006; Trader-Leigh, 2002).

Prior investigations suggest that many factors lessen resistance to change, including effective leadership, employee involvement, autonomy, appropriate communications, and motivation by management, to name a few (Denning, 2005; Gill, 2003; Hornung & Rousseau, 2007; Sims, 2002). …

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