Four types of change

'Change management' is one of those phrases that is bandied about without much consensus on what it is, why you need to manage it, and how you would manage it if you could. In an attempt to clarify this for myself I started to look around for usable information. There is a lot of information. One academic article written by Street and Gallupe, A Proposal for Operationalizing the Pace and Scope of Organizational Change in Management Studies, is helpful. The abstract reads as follows:

Organizational change is an important construct for management theorists, yet organizational research is being hampered by inconsistent and incompatible operationalizations of the construct. This article presents a proposal for improving clarity about how the types and characteristics of organizational change can be operationalized and measured. In particular, the scope and pace of organizational change are examined and a common approach is developed to measure the impacts of these two factors on patterns of organizational change.

In brief, the authors present four types of organizational change:

• Ongoing adaptations and increments to work processes and social practices that are consistent with or support an existing frame of reference.

• Ongoing changes to work processes and social practices that are radical i.e. they become new frames of reference and are reinforced by emergent rules that replace an existing frame of reference.

• Sudden or planned time-bound specific changes that are consistent with or support an existing frame of reference.

• Sudden or planned time-bound specific changes that are radical i.e. they become new frames of reference and are reinforced by emergent rules that replace an existing frame of reference.

And describe how they validated these categories through their research. What they don't discuss is how they would then use this typology in organizations and what tools to 'manage' the types of changes would be helpful.

Nevertheless in a piece of work I am doing I used the four categories as a starting point for discussion. The people I interviewed on the changes going on in their organizations thought the categories helpful. They recognized the first category as 'business as usual'. Making the point that 'ongoing adaptations' to the way work is done are part of every line manager's responsibility. They felt managers should always be on the look out for ways of cost cutting and with this adding value. They conceded that this wasn't always done. For example, the common reaction when someone leaves is to find a replacement rather than thinking through ways of doing the work differently. But in organizations using six-sigma methodologies, DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) was used.

One of the people I spoke with gave a very clear example of the second category of change. She was engaged in changing the mindsets and ways of working of a well established long-service workforce from one of reactive responses to customer requests to proactive working with customers to meet their needs. She had initiated the process two years ago, not with any announcement of a change but with gradual, but planned, increments to things, starting with changes to the pay and reward systems, introducing messages and reinforcements to these about working with customers, coaching managers in ways of valuing customer feedback as a method for improving service, and so on.

A good example of the third category was given by someone in an organization where the manufacture of product lines was moved from two locations to one. It was a radical change but in the same 'frame of reference' the goal was to integrate the manufacturing process without radically altering existing infrastructures and ways of doing things.

Where people felt they needed the most help was in the fourth category of 'sudden or planned time-bound specific changes that are radical'. They made the point that it was the most disruptive, the workforce found it the most difficult to deal with, and it wasn't part of the day to day, so in that sense merited special treatment. This type of change usually impacted all elements of the organization (structures, processes, and people) and also required new knowledge/skills and technologies.

So that gave me a lead in to where to focus my energies in the toolkit I am working on. (Which will be available in the autumn/fall).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s