In today’s global world, changes within organisations are inevitable. Some drivers of change include: mergers and acquisitions, globalisation, changing demographics, or changes in policy (Millar et al. 2004). For change to be successfully implemented, it is critical for leaders to know how to properly handle change management.
The first step of implementation is to efficiently and effectively communicate that the change is coming. Certain individuals act differently when facing significant change. According to Mullins (2010: 753), some individuals “actively thrive on new challenges and constant change, while others prefer the comfort of the status quo and strongly resist any change.” It is important for leaders to understand the reasons why employees may resist change. Some reasons are: fear of the unknown, trust issues, lack of communication, set in old ways and security factors (Mullins 2013: 716-717). Apart from individual opposition, organisational resistance can also result from a strong sense of culture, “maintaining stability, past contracts or agreements, threats to power or influence” (Mullins 2013: 717-718).
“The concept of change management is familiar in most organisations today but how they manage change (and how successful they are at it) varies enormously depending on the nature of the business, the change and the people involved,” (NHS North West n.d.).
Communication and understanding are key factors when motivating people to change and leaders in an organisation must be completely committed in helping and effectively communicating to their employees to understand why change is necessary.
Kurt Lewin, a social scientist and physicist, presented his Change Management Model in 1951. This model is still used in understanding and handling change processes in organisations today, mostly due to French and Bell’s addition to the model in 1985 (Connelly 2014).
Lewin describes three stages to managing change: unfreeze, change and refreeze. Unfreezing is the process of identifying and understanding the need for change. Changing is the method of encouraging behaviours that are necessary in order for change to ensue and alleviating any uncertainty that may still be present in employees. Refreezing occurs by stabilizing and supporting the changes that have occurred. While this model is rational and goal oriented, many have criticised it for “transforming from an initial state to a final stage. Today, change is widely recognised as being a constant and continuing phenomena for all organisations, albeit at a faster rate for some compared to others,” (Rees and Hall 2013).
French and Bell took Lewin’s model a step further when they introduced eight factors to help the process of Lewin’s original three stages. The following image explains which key factors fall under which stage.
(French et al. 1985)
If there is any ambiguity or confusion, employees will resist change and inevitably, it will not be successfully implemented.
In 1992, IBM, a once thriving global company, was in crisis mode. They had a corporate loss of $4.9 billion, a significant drop in their share price, and layoffs of 107,000 employees (Weeks 2004: 1). In 1993, Lou Gerstner stepped in as Chairman and CEO and through successful change management and leadership revived the company. Applying Lewin’s Change Management Model to Gerstner’s style of management, the three stages are evident in IBM’s recovery.
Unfreeze: When Gerstner, who was not a technologist, initially arrived at IBM, he immediately sensed an urgency to change IBM’s “cult-like” culture. “Gerstner learned the culture only by living in it, experiencing what it meant and seeing the reaction when he imposed his will on it” (Weeks 2004: 10). This is how he obtained his data and initially identified the numerous problems within the organisation.
Movement: Through leading by example, Gerstner changed and implemented new policies within the organization. For example, he abolished the rigid dress code of only wearing blue suits and white shirts; he motivated employees to boost performance by showing them pictures of rival business leaders and relayed the disparaging comments that they said about IBM; he implemented eight principles that “he thought should be the underpinnings of the new culture at IBM” (Weeks 2004:13); and he encouraged employees to have open communication by promoting debate and individual creativity and eliminating the extensive use of transparencies during meetings. These are just a few examples of the many changes Gerstner implemented throughout his time in office.
Re-freeze: Gerstner initially thought that implementing a total culture change within IBM would take roughly 5 years. In the end, it actually took Gerstner 10 years to successfully implement change within IBM. Throughout these years, he reconditioned IBMers to the new changes within the company and reversed the company’s decline.
The following is a video that might provide some insight regarding change management mistakes to avoid:
In conclusion, change is not an easy process and it can’t be done quickly or taken lightly. While some employees thrive on innovation and change, others openly resist it. Leaders need to carefully plan which method of change management to use, such as Gerstner did in accordance with Lewin’s model. Leaders also must understand the company as well as the employees, be flexible and accepting of change themselves, and clearly communicate, motivate and encourage employees throughout the change process to achieve a successful outcome.
Connelly, M. (2014) The Kurt Lewin Change Management Model [online] available from <http://www.change-management-coach.com/kurt_lewin.html> [9 June 2014]
French, W. L., Kast, F. E. and Rosenzweig, J. E. (1985) Understanding Human Behaviour In Organizations, Harper and Row
Millar, C., Choi, C. and Chen, S. (2004) Global Strategic Partnerships between MNEs and NGOs: Drivers of Change and Ethical Issues. Business and Society Review, 109 (4), 395-414.
Mullins, L. (2010) Management and Organisational Behaviour, 9th Edition. Harlow: Pearson Higher Education
Mullins L. and Christy G. (2013) Management and Organisational Behaviour. 10th edition, Harlow: Pearson
NHS North West Leadership Academy (n.d.) Lewin’s Change Management Model [online] available from <http://www.nwacademy.nhs.uk/sites/default/files/86_1722011_lewin_s_change_management_model.pdf> [9 June 2014]
Rees, G. and Hall, D. (2013) Managing Change [online] available from <http://www.cipd.co.uk/NR/rdonlyres/CF271BA5-49C7-4627-9D37-AC54AA158F3E/0/9781843983187_sc.pdf> [10 June 2014]
Rick, T. (2012) Top 20 change management mistake to avoid [online] available from <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pTMJml3dW8> [3 July 2014]
Weeks, J. (2004) Culture And Leadership At IBM [online] available from <http://www.insead.edu/facultyresearch/research/details_cases.cfm?id=14244> [15 June 2014]