Text Size:
Decrease font size
Increase font size

News

Organizational Change: Navigating a Complex System

July 13, 2017 | In Uncategorized

John F. Kennedy said, “Change is the law of life.” William Frey from the Office of Human Resources Organization & Professional Development team offers some tactics that will help you make the most of your change opportunities.

Organizational change is notoriously challenging. According to research, over 70% of change efforts fail. Because organizational change involves many factors and systems and is therefore inherently complex, we need to plan for both the human responses and the tasks to be done. The more systems (such as environment, culture, and leadership) are accounted for, the greater the chance of success.

John Kotter describes eight tasks for leading change, some of which are sequential and some overlapping:

  1. Establish a sense of urgency: identify organizational crises and opportunities.
  2. Form a powerful guiding coalition: assemble a team of influential people.
  3. Create a vision and strategies: clarify where you are heading and how you’ll get there.
  4. Communicate the change vision: share the vision and strategies influentially.
  5. Empower broad-based action: remove obstacles, change structures, and encourage relevant risk-taking.
  6. Plan and generate short-term wins: make visible the incremental performance improvements.
  7. Consolidate improvements and produce more change: change policies, tasks, and people to continuously implement the vision.
  8. Institutionalize new approaches: recognize and reward new behaviors and ensure leader development.

People are resistant to change when they perceive a threat to their current safety. Neuroscientist David Rock describes five factors (abbreviated as SCARF) which influence our perception of safety:

  • Status: our sense of worth and importance relative to others
  • Certainty: our sense of familiarity with what might happen
  • Autonomy: our sense of control, influence, and mastery over actions and events
  • Relatedness: our sense of connection, belonging, and trust
  • Fairness: our sense of equity and respect

Frequent, clear, and consistent communication is vitally important, especially when it addresses the SCARF factors of perception. According to William Bridges, most people naturally go through three transitional stages in response to change, different people transitioning at different rates:

  1. Active resistance and discomfort, including anger, frustration, and sadness
  2. Transition from the old ways, including uncertainty and confusion
  3. Beginning anew, including higher energy, openness, and commitment

We can’t quickly force people through the three stages, but with patience, persistence, and the wise use of these models, we can guide them through their experiences so that they are ready in the end to work with the change. Once again, communication will be key. Additionally, people will need to feel intrinsically motivated (tap into their sense of purpose) and to feel competent about the skills required in the new organization.

Because organizational change is complex and variable, you are wise to seek the help of professionals who are trained in leading change well before you begin your change process. Please contact Organization & Professional Development (919-962-2550, training_development@unc.edu) for more information.