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photo by Carmencita T. Abella, Immediate past President of the Development Academy of the Philippines and APO Alternate Director for the Philippines, is one of Philippines' pioneers in the area of applied behavioral science. She is also recognized as a leading specialist and consultant in organizational change management in the public sector, as well as in HRD and strategic management. Ms. Abella was a major contributor in the conceptualization and implementation of the Philippine Quality Awards. She is currently the Chairman of the Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation, which bestows the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

The Factors for Successfully Managing Organizational Change

Nowadays there is little dispute that change is a permanent aspect of our lives. Over the past three years, the number of books and articles that have been published about change-at the personal, organizational, societal, even global, level-has mushroomed at phenomenal rate, indicating the increased awareness of and interest in this topic. In an article earlier published in the APO News, Dr. Casper Shih argued convincingly that organizations which seek to succeed in the coming years must have the courage to actually embrace change.

Embracing change is, indeed, a key step in dealing squarely with the reality of constant change. But we must recognize that this is only the first step in successfully transforming an organization. Having embraced the need for change, the next step is to make sure that the change we have identified will actually produce the results it has promised.. Making change work-this is the tougher challenge in ensuring that we truly control change.

There are many encouraging stories of organizational change efforts that have worked; unfortunately, there are even more horror stories of failed or aborted organizational changes. All these real-life cases point to the same secret for successful organizational change: systematic (more or less) management of the change process. Change must be managed, to ensure that it really works for you. Any change effort is, in fact, an important investment in building a better future for the organization, whether the investment is in the form of a shift in corporate directions, strategy, ownership, technology, structure, operations, competencies, culture, or any combination of these. Like any investment, therefore, change needs to be managed properly, in order to get optimal benefits from it.

Managing change is essentially about getting all the stakeholders in a change effort to participate in, support and commit to implementing the change(s) on time and within the planned resources/costs. Thus, the challenge of making change work is this: how to bring about the planned improvements in the organization with minimal disruptions and maximum benefits to all those involved in the change.

Based on different studies of organizational change, there are five key success factors that effective change managers focus their attention on: a sustained sense of urgency; a strong power coalition; a clear and attractive change vision; a well-designed process management architecture; and a vigorous internal marketing program that effectively communicates the four other factors within the organization and mobilizes broad-based support for the change effort.

A sense of urgency. The Chinese character for change depicts both "danger" and "hidden opportunity" and, therefore, suggests why the first important factor in making organizational change work is building the compelling argument on why the status quo can no longer be maintained, and why change must be initiated now. Regardless of how bad or problematic a situation is, people are usually ambivalent about initiating change themselves, hoping that somehow the situation will correct itself, or that someone else can/will resolve the problem.

Even when they do appreciate the need for change, unless the people concerned feel a real sense of urgency to address a perceived threat or exploit a perceived opportunity, they usually do not take the needed positive action that will lead to genuine change. Thus, the first task of a change leader is usually to convince others that (1) something very important to them and to the organization is at stake, and (2) this important concern can be addressed only by initiating some changes in themselves and the organization immediately. A created and sustained sense of urgency triggers the desire for and willingness to change.

A power coalition. Successful organizational change is always a guided process, because it involves not only convincing people about the need for change, but also providing the direction and support for the actual change-related action programs. Who guides the change process, is, therefore, another key concern in making change really work for an organization. The evidence from experience strongly indicates that change succeeds when it is guided by people who have the power or authority needed for the change, and who are able to harness their power collaboratively to support the change. Without power-which includes legal mandates, technical expertise, organizational authority, interpersonal influence, leadership credibility, personal networks-a change effort will not move.

"It is axiomatic to say that change must be led from the top, and that political will is essential in sustaining change. Mobilizing support from the top of the organization is, truly, a necessary condition for successful change; change is hardly possible if it is not supported by the CEO. But top-level political will is not a sufficient condition for successful change, especially when the change involved is large-scale, complex or pervasive. An effective coalition or alliance of power-wherever in the organization this power resides-needs to be formed and nurtured throughout the life of the change program, so that the necessary resources, time and legitimacy can be provided to the many and difficult change activities. People with the appropriate power need to be willing and able to work with each other, applying their resources with a shared determination to make the change effort deliver what it promises.

A change vision. If change involves moving an organization from where it is today to a future condition that is better than the present, then that vision of change is a very important consideration for all members of the organization. What does the change effort really promise? In what way does the promised result constitute "greater success" for the organization? What will it look like when the changes have been completed? What exactly is the change strategy? What will change, and what will remain the same?

These are questions that must be answered clearly and attractively by statements of the change vision, especially as this vision is clarified (and, when necessary, even modified) during the course of the change program. Aside from unifying the energies of people because they have a shared goal, a clear, attractive change vision helps immensely in keeping the diverse change-related activities well-focused, and provides the basis for measuring the impact of the entire change program.

Process management architecture. Change, for people and organization, is obviously both a destination (a desired better future) and a journey (a movement from the present situation to that desired future situation). Thus, managing change successfully requires attention to both destination concerns, that is, issues around the content and focus of the change, as well as to journey concerns, that is, issues around the process by which the change is to be implemented. Content and process issues need to be given balanced attention.

Until recently, much of the conventional planning of organizational change programs has focused more on detailing the specifications of the desired change destination (for example, automation, information systems, reengineered processes, restructuring, globalized operations) and less on mapping out the requirements of the change journey especially with respect to the needs and concerns of those whose cooperation is essential to making the change work (for example, building new capabilities/reskilling, reworking the rewards/incentives practices, changing the organizational culture, redistributing organizational power). Success stories of organizational change, however, all reflect considerable attention to planning the people side of the change effort.

What does this process management architecture involve? Among others, it means designing how to "sell" the problem/opportunity to which the change is an appropriate response, how to identify and deal with the inevitable resistance to change, how to mobilize and encourage good sponsors and advocates for the change at all levels of the organization, how to surface and deal with problems and conflicts during the implementation of the change. Anticipating, planning for and addressing issues around the process of change implementation ensures realistic handling of the all-important human factors in making change work.

An internal marketing program. It is fairly obvious that all the four factors earlier discussed require considerable communication efforts within the organization and between the organization and its external stakeholders. Making change work, however, requires more than just the usual IEC (information, education, communication) approach of conventional corporate communication and PR programs. Communicating for change, as evidenced by success stories that have been documented, involves more social marketing approaches that focus on persuading people to change their mindsets, modify their behaviors, and actively support new practices.

The many stories of organizational change, both victorious and disappointing, provide us with a common pattern of instructive insights about how to succeed in making change work for our organizations and ourselves. These stories, however, do not suggest any uniform, fool-proof, mechanistic formula that will work in all situations, organizations or cultures. But they do speak to us with hope and challenge. Hope in the reassuring conclusion that embracing change does not necessarily mean embracing chaos, because change can be managed systematically (more or less). And challenge in the call that the basic and most important management task in organizations of the 21st century is that of successfully managing continuous change.

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