It is an unfortunate fact that despite all the researches, books, and resources devoted to making successful change possible, a majority of change efforts fail. In a research study conducted by leading companies including Arthur and McKinsey, it was discovered that several firms had engaged in Total Quality Management programs, but were surprised to find out that an enormous number of them failed to implement the TQM program successfully and failed miserably in their attempts to produce the target results (Hiatt & Creasey, 2003). However, change efforts targeted at Business Process Reengineering failed even more poorly with a 70% failure rate (Hiatt & Creasey, 2003). According to a study conducted by Peter Senge, the change efforts fail again, and again despite enormous resources, skilled personnel, top management commitment, financial support, and research plowed into making change management successful (Senge, 1999). There is a high degree of risk involved in change management strategies. The fact that the majority of these efforts fail translates into enormous losses for the company initiating it. It is observed, according to Peter, that companies exhaust almost all of their energy and resources towards the end of the sustained change effort and are then left with minimum options (Senge, 1999). However, according to Peter, this does not undermine the importance of change efforts. They represent a challenge that the company must come to terms with, either immediately or sometime in the foreseeable future; although the sooner companies face it, the better (Senge, 1999).
John Kotter, a lecturer at Harvard Business School, has gone at length to research successful and failed change efforts. From his research and findings, he summarizes that one of the most important lessons to be learned from the successful change initiatives is that the development of change goes through a series of stages that require the devotion of significant time by companies initiating them (Kotter, 1996). In an attempt for fast results, managers often tend to become short-sighted and tend to jump between steps, missing important ones in their course (Kotter, 1996). This, of course, tends to expedite the change process but never leads to successful long term results (Kotter, 1996). Furthermore, according to John, making a severe mistake at any stage can have a disastrous impact on the entire change process. It can slow down the pace of change and destroy any milestones already achieved with hard work. He explained the eight phases of the change process, which are as follows (Kotter, 1996):
1) Establishing a Sense of Urgency
The change process is initiated only after individuals in the organization notice the need for change; that is, they see a process that can be improved and changed or a better way of executing an existing process is discovered. Hence, the problem with the current setup needs to be identified first. The need for change develops a sense of urgency amongst employees who quickly spread the word around to minimize the company’s risk from continuing existing inefficient/faulty processes. As noted by Kotter, the problem is that more than 50% of the companies fail to acknowledge the urgency for change and, hence, fail in the first step (Kotter, 1996). However, most successful companies do acknowledge their shortcomings by discussing their weaknesses and threats candidly with employees rather than hiding them. At this stage, the external/third party view and help are useful.
In the case of the U.S Department of Corrections, this could involve, for example, a change in prisoner detention facilities, which was identified by one of the personnel.
2) Creating a Leadership Group
Change often starts with one or two individuals noticing the need for change, but it usually does spread out to include many people who favor change. The size of the leadership group should ideally be between 3-5 people, and these people are the key drivers and motivators of change for others in an organization (Kotter, 1996). In the case of the U.S Department of Corrections, this could involve 2-5 principal field service officers noticing how inadequate the current prisoner detention facilities are.
3) Forming a Vision
To change successfully, companies need to formulate a clear big picture/vision that is easily understood and convincingly communicated to all the stakeholders of a company (Kotter, 1996). In the case of the U.S Department of Corrections, this would involve a vision set by the top management comprising the Secretary and the Personal Secretary.
4) Communicating the Vision
According to Kotter, estimation must be made about how much effort shall be needed to deliver the vision successfully, and that effort should be multiplied by 10 (Kotter, 1996). Indeed, actions speak much more effectively than words, and managers must walk their talk to demonstrate the vision effectively. In the case of the U.S Department of Corrections, this would involve a meeting hosted by the Secretary, addressing the Deputy Secretary and Assistant Secretaries as well as the employees.
Individuals must be empowered or authorized to change in their areas and must be allotted sufficient budget for doing so. The organization structure may require revisions (Kotter, 1996); that is, individuals need to be given the time and ‘space’ to change themselves since change does not happen overnight. In the case of the U.S Department of Corrections, this would involve altering the roles of key personnel, steering their efforts towards the change in prisoner detention facilities, offering them flexible work schedules and hiring other staff to perform ‘their’ tasks, thus, freeing them for their traditional responsibilities.
6) Create Short-Term Gains
Management and the organization must celebrate and reward short term gains to keep the people motivated (Kotter, 1996). In the case of the U.S Department of Corrections, this would involve giving monetary and non-monetary rewards to the high achievers (such as honoring the top achievers with titles at a state ceremony) to boost their morale.
7) Ensure that Change is Uninterrupted and Strengthen Improvements
The organization should not become overconfident and lose sight of its ultimate goal- that is to change. Victory should not be celebrated so soon (Kotter, 1996). In the case of the U.S Department of Corrections, this would involve regular meetings and monitoring individuals’ progress in their change management efforts.
8) Institutionalize the Change
The changes should be absorbed into the bloodstream of the organization and become a new way of doing things (Kotter, 1996). In the case of the U.S Department of Corrections, this would involve the adoption of altered prisoner detention facilities for existing and new prisoners.
Kotter, however, makes the change process appear too simplistic. In reality, the change process is never so smooth and predictable. Furthermore, the sequence in which these steps are followed is not always the same and not the same for each organization. Some companies may require moving back and forth between these steps depending on factors such as the existing organization culture, top management support, nature of the industry, and mindsets of employees. An important factor not considered here is the risk-averse and change-resistant attitude of most workers- workers are often always reluctant to change for fear of loss of position, status, employment, etc. This may complicate the process further. Also, unanticipated factors such as a change in the political, economic, legal environment can shift management’s focus to areas other than replacement, and the process may be delayed. Finally, it is not always the case that all companies will pass through these stages successfully; most companies’ change management process is aborted during the early stages, and few make it to the latter stages. Also, it is not just essential to change; what matters is whether or not the company can sustain that change. Although a successful transition, most companies often revert to old practices when they fail to maintain and integrate the difference in their business practices.
- Hiatt, J., & Creasey, T. J. (2003). Change management: the people side of change.Colorado: Prosci.
- Kotter, J. (1996). Leading Change. Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press.
- Senge, P. M. (1999). The dance of change: the challenges of sustaining momentum in learning organizations.Currency/Doubleday.