Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

The Emotions and Cognitions during Organizational Change: The Importance of the Emotional Work for Leaders

Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

The Emotions and Cognitions during Organizational Change: The Importance of the Emotional Work for Leaders

Article excerpt


In many arenas change is becoming a constant. McKinsey and Company reported that approximately 70% of organizational change initiatives fail (Maurer, 2010). This suggests that due to the myriad of very public changes in the field of healthcare it provides a fertile setting for studying change efforts.

Changes in healthcare are occurring both externally in the form of broad sweeping laws such as the Affordable Health Care Act, payment structures and focused public debate while internal pressures include budget constraints, new technologies, changing ownership and staffing issues. As one healthcare executive involved in this study stated, "Turbulence has been the norm rather than the exception over the years". Hospital leaders today are in a unique predicament, responsible for designing, implementing, as well as, leading their employees through organizational change initiatives. The hospital industry has been struggling to keep up with the rapid-fire changes (CPP, Inc., 2004). It has been very difficult to lead a hospital and pressures on hospitals have worsened over time with no light at the end of the tunnel (2004). Legislative, demographic, and economic pressures have changed the way hospitals do business (2004). Altman and Gurvis (2006) of the Center for Creative Leadership suggested in the case of healthcare:

...leadership is the process by which groups, communities, and organizations accomplish three tasks: setting direction, creating alignment, and gaining commitment. The processes by which these leadership tasks are accomplished take many forms, ranging from individuals stepping into traditional leadership roles to leadership arising as a collective, (p- 21).

William Bridges (1980), author of Managing Transitions, says, "It isn't the changes that do you in, it's the transitions" (p. 3). While change is an event (a death, birth, merger, reorganization, new job, or downsizing), the human response to change is a process. Human reactions to change may include excitement, heightened emotions such as anxiety, fear and anger, as well as psychological trauma and confusion. The psychological response is a process of transition over time. People do not typically change their attitudes, beliefs, feelings and allegiances overnight; it happens gradually (Bridges, 1991).

For successful change management, emotions associated with organizational life during times of change must be emphasized rather that the "overly rational portrayal of both change management and managerial activity" (Clarke, Hope-Hailey, & Kelliher, 207, p. 92). The consequence of ignoring the emotions during change is a "one size fits all" management style that really does not facilitate effective change. Understanding the relationship between emotions and the transition can improve leadership during times of transition which translates into less resistance, quicker engagement, and higher commitment. "Implications for successful change management depend as much on the management of the transition period as its strategic formulation" (Clarke et al, 2007, p. 92).

The setting of this study is a hospital that has won many awards during this time period despite the fact that much of this time they were involved in a major change initiative while dealing with a turbulent external environment. This setting identifies the cognitions and emotions of the leaders throughout the change initiatives. Cognitions and emotions are studied through two levels of leaders, executives and directors. Their emotional perspectives during the change initiatives are very important to understand in terms of the impact on the change process and outcomes (Klamer, By, & Diefenbach, 2011). The study captures leader reactions and reflections regarding the organizational change process: beginning, midpoint, and at the twelve year point in time. This longitudinal view of data frames the change as a process "that unfolds repeatedly over time" (Klamer et al, 2011, p. …

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