Change Management

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Change is inevitable, it seems. But not every change is or can be controlled or predicted. Nor does every change make a difference (which is how some women feel about men's mustaches, and how many voters feel about new administrations). The art/science of change management works with these realities, against them or works around them. It is an enlargement of the commonsense understanding that if we don't deal with change, change may deal us a hand we aren't going to like.

Because time and change are past, present and future, much change management efforts relate to coping with past changes, however recent; current changes in progress; and future changes-whether foreseeable, manageable, preventable or utterly unpredictable.

Ideally change management experts and programs will address all three dimensions of change, while ensuring that changes implemented in response to or in anticipation of change actually make a difference-a positive difference, rather than exacerbate or accelerate the effects of undesirable changes addressed (or diminish or delay the effects of desirable changes).

Change management refers to the process through which an organization prepares for and manages change by implementing or anticipating necessary corrective measures. In addition, it is not a stand-alone process, but rather part of an entire organizational improvement process.

A key factor that determines the success of change management is communication. Given the unsettling nature of change, it is important for managers to explain to employees the rationale behind the change and how it is going to take place. The following is a list of guiding principles that can help an organization implement effective change management.

Firstly, plan your communication strategy. Work with the key leaders and stakeholders early in the process, as they will play an instrumental role in determining the success of implementing the change. Not only will they be the ones who will help to explain the change process to the rest of the employees, but also they can provide valuable feedback at crucial intervals of the process.

Secondly, ensure the participation of each and every employee. To achieve effective change throughout the organization, all employees at every level have to play their parts. Only when everyone has a stake in and believes in the common vision can true organizational change take place. Thirdly, prepare for contingencies. No change management strategy goes according to plan. Given the fluid nature of change itself and human dynamics, it is better to be flexible and adjust to ground conditions accordingly. At times, some give and take might be necessary to achieve the bigger objectives.

One commonly overlooked issue in change management is the problem of change initiated merely for the sake of change. One of the likeliest scenarios in which this can happen is that of the new manager, supervisor, etc., making his or her "debut" as the "new sheriff in town" or new "bull in the china shop". The temptation to demonstrate decisiveness, wisdom, authoritativeness, superiority to a predecessor and indispensability may be irresistible, with the result that things are "fixed" even though they aren't broken, or worse, are broken, just for the sake of demonstrating hands-on, go-getter one-upmanship.

Another failure of change management is the implementation of changes that don't make a difference, e.g., deciding to respond to requests for longer lunch breaks by repainting the cafeteria walls. More subtly, this misstep can take the form of changing criteria instead of changing key circumstances, redefining eligibility conditions for overtime pay more strictly, after increasing overtime pay rates in response to employee pressure.
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