As I think back about what I’ve learned about organizational change this semester I was drawn to look back to my personal credo to see if any I still felt the same about the areas I identified as most important. What I found to be really neat was the quote I referenced in my credo by Charles A. Garfield, “A mission could be defined as an image of a desired state that you want to get to. Once fully seen, it will inspire you to act, fuel your imagination and determine your behavior,” coincides directly with a key underlying assumption of the three large group facilitations we studied this semester – Open Space Technology, Future Search and Appreciative Inquiry. After being a participant of two of these strategies and helping facilitate one of these large group strategies I learned about the value of bringing a diverse group of people together to establish common ground, build commitment and create ideas on how to achieve a desired future state. As a facilitator with the help of my group members, I was also taught the delicate art of keeping the facilitation process moving without conveying our own ideas to influence the direction of the collective thinking. A facilitator’s duty is to provide a group/organization/community the framework and resources to create an atmosphere receptive to change. The major themes I found to be consistent and significant throughout the semester include commitment, open/whole systems, culture, dialogue and imagery.
This semester I have learned that organizational change is a thorough, well-planned effort to move people in the desired direction of the organization through concrete actions and adjustments in behavior. Since many people’s initial reaction to the idea of change is fear, discomfort, and uneasiness it is pertinent for organizations to generate commitment from people in all levels of the organization. As emphasized by Kotter, a reason that organizational change efforts often fail is the absence of a powerful coalition to lead the change efforts and keep the fuel for change going in an organization (Gallos). My interview with a change agent helped me see how important this is for successful change to occur. Unfortunately the change agent was working for an organization that started out with strong support from top leaders, but the lack of a strong coalition was one of the factors that contributed to the lack of organizational change. The process of change is a long-term effort, making it all the more important to have a group of people strategically focused on carrying out the change.
In addition to a strong coalition, organizations must have the commitment of top leadership. Organizational change is bound for disaster when the actions of leaders do not match their communications. Members of organizations are more likely to take change efforts seriously when they believe leaders are also taking it seriously. Learning about the three large group facilitation strategies helped emphasize this point, as all three strategies advise organizations to receive commitment from top management before diving into the planning and facilitation. Although all three strategies need this commitment, it seems incredibly important for Open Space Technology (OST) as this is the most ambiguous of the three strategies and creates the most intentional chaos. Owen provides an example of a Fortune 25 company that considered using OST but received negative feedback from senior leaders because they were so uncomfortable with the loss of control. Leaders may also feel this way when approached with the idea of a Future Search or Appreciative Inquiry facilitation, which is why receiving their commitment is crucial. APT’s change credo provided a great perspective on the importance of leadership in change efforts, as she pointed out that well managed change may go unnoticed, but change that is poorly managed rarely goes unnoticed.
Whole System/Open Systems
My thinking about organizational change developed significantly this semester in regards to viewing organizational change as a whole, open system process. The Burke chapter on organization change provided great insight on how organizations operate, take in energy and expend energy. I have found an understanding of systems theory is vital to understanding how to successfully implement organizational change. Viewing change as a holistic, integrated process creates a clear foundation for change agents to construct effective strategies. The movie we watched this semester, Mindwalk, also articulated the overwhelming presence of how interconnected our world really is, emphasizing the fact that fixing a broken “part” will only provide temporary relief to systemic challenges.
Our readings and large group facilitations this semester stress the importance of approaching organizations as an open system. As organizations have evolved from top-down management to participative management, perspectives on organization dynamics have evolved from a micro perspective to a macro perspective. Reading about Dr. Farmer’s work in Haiti provided a great example of the thorough, systemic approach he took to addressing the issues facing the people of Haiti. Dr. Farmer took the effort to first work in a hospital system to understand the country’s healthcare system and surveyed the Haiti population to develop an understanding of the challenges they faced that went beyond healthcare. Based on the information he gathered he understood the need to build schools, build homes, provide health education, improve the water systems and increase women’s literacy rates. Dr. Farmer knew he had to address various aspects of the Haitian economic and social systems if he wanted to promote long-term change and improvement to the country’s health epidemic. Dr. Farmer’s knowledge of the systems perspective to change was also displayed when he said “But white liberals think all the world’s problems can be fixed without any cost to themselves.” (Kidder).
The significance of the “whole system” approach to organizational change was also evident in the three large group intervention strategies. Each strategy has its own nuances but each one is based on the foundation of gathering people from across departments and from all levels to address organizational change. Bringing together this diverse group of people brings all perspectives to the forefront and helps people see the big picture of what is going on in the organization. The synergy created from this process is remarkable. It was great to be able to see this in all of the large group facilitations this semester.
Dialogue & Communication
Another critical factor success I learned is needed for effective organizational change is open dialogue and clear, consistent communication. Communication is essential to help people understand the basis for the changes desired, the process that will be utilized, and the commitment needed from each person involved. Chapter 22 of the Gallos text provided a great example of using dialogue to clarify the reasons for change and also get people on board with the change efforts. This chapter discussed how one of Kodak’s divisions approached changes to their structure by providing a safe place for people to communicate their concerns. The leaders of the division had several town hall meetings to give people the opportunity to voice their fears, frustrations and work through the conflicts at hand. Eventually people were able to understand why the changes were occurring and got on board with helping create the change. Communication is also essential in the change process because unexpected problems are bound to arise throughout the process. When these problems come up, people should be able to rely on effective communication to address issues and create solutions.
We also learned about the benefits of open dialogue when reading Chapter 35 of Gallos’ text which discussed an approach to creating a community of leaders. Various examples were provided of top leaders coming together to help communities in need while also engaging in open dialogue with each other about their backgrounds and their experiences that make them the leaders they are today. APT’s personal credo blog post also touched on this when she talked about how “change requires individual authenticity.” Organizations are made of individuals, and each individual’s mindset and behaviors are influenced from a diverse array of experiences. When leaders are able to understand themselves, they become more effective leaders and change agents.
The value of dialogue was also seen in the large group facilitations. OST facilitations thrive on dialogue as there little structure to this process and participants create their own agendas. Appreciative Inquiry and Future Search have more structured processes to use, but each of these is also fueled by the dialogue among small groups and then with the large group coming together. Future Search emphasizes the importance of discussing the organization’s past and present before talking about how to get to a desired future state. Appreciative Inquiry focuses on reframing dialogue in a positive, affirming way to promote sustainable change. Dr. Farmer spent a large portion of his time interviewing residents of Haiti to understand their struggles and the things that motivate them.
I learned much of the importance of imagery throughout the large group intervention strategies. A key underlying assumption of these is that images create action. Whitney & Trosten-Bloom identify the theoretical roots of image theory are derived from the work of Elis and Kenneth Boulding and Frederik Polak. Appreciative Inquiry and Future Search provided great examples of the power of our imagination. Future Search approaches the creation of images by provoking people to think use knowledge of the past and present to create images for the future. Appreciative Inquiry focuses on combing the power of creating desirable images with affirming dialogue as a method of achieving successful change.
The significance of understanding an organization or community’s culture prevailed in so many ways throughout the semester. We began the semester learning about the theoretical reasons by reading about Lewin’s work on group dynamics and field theory. Lewin’s research showed that, “As long as group standards are unchanged, the individual will resist change more strongly the further he’s expected to depart from group standards. If the group standard itself is changed, the resistance which is due to the relation between the individual and group standard is eliminated.” Burke states that this dynamic present in groups means that change efforts should focus on the norms related to an organization’s culture. We also learned about an important equation: behavior = person x environment. This equation is a simple way to identify the impact of the environment on a person’s behaviors.
This was reiterated when I interviewed a change agent who worked for an organization that struggled with implementing successful change. Her experience taught her the value in learning about an organization’s culture before diving into the planning and implementation of change as it provides insight into why people may or may not be interested in participating in the process.
I also learned about the importance of culture when Tom Epperson from Luck Stone visited our class to discuss his organization’s transformation to become a values based organization. He emphasized lengthy process the organization took to impact the various aspects of the organization’s culture to create a more innovative and effective organization. As discussed in one of Laura’s blog posts, Luck Stone took measures to adjust their physical work spaces to create an atmosphere that matched the culture and values they were working to create.
This semester I gained a lot of knowledge on the theory behind organizational change, and the “must haves” of achieving successful change. My career change to human resource management is based on my passion to help both individuals and organizations work productively together to build a successful organization. Organizations are only facing tougher competition from the global market and people are needed to create innovative ideas to keep up. I have learned this semester the importance of creating a culture that promotes open and honest communication across all levels and functions of an organization. I have worked for organizations that had extremely low levels of morale and have seen first hand management’s struggle on how to “fix the problem.” This class has taught me the systems mindset that is needed to accomplish an organization’s desired goals. I know now that helping management see this is one of the first steps to the long-term project of organizational change. The interview with a change agent combined with the experience of facilitating a large group intervention taught me the essential qualities and resources needed to implement change. The readings, projects and interview from this semester have opened my mind and created a refined sense of how to be an effective change agent and methods for approaching the challenges faced by organizations working to attain a desired state. As I gain experience in the human resource field I plan to utilize the knowledge gained in this class to help organizations build a quality workforce readily adaptable for the world’s challenges.
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Gallos, Joan V. (2006). Organization Development: A Jossey-Bass Reader. San
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Kidder, Tracy. (2004). Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A
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Owen, H. (2008). Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide. Third Edition. San
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Whitney, D. & Trosten-Bloom, A. (2010). The Power of Appreciative Inquiry: A
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