Preparing organisations for change

By: Noel J. Pearse & Vicky van Heerden. This research gives insight into preparing organisations for change. Achieving success in organisational change initiatives is very difficult, with some research suggesting that up to seventy percent of change programmes fail.

Exploring the reasons for this failure, other research suggests that change management programmes tend to focus on the technical, procedural and operational aspects of change, with the impact on employees often being underestimated and unmanaged.

As a result, many employees emerge from a change process feeling disillusioned, betrayed and demoralised.

This is not only detrimental to the individual, but inevitably impacts on the performance of the organisation. Change readiness is therefore recognised as a crucial factor in a change initiative and the first step in implementing a change initiative, should be creating a state of readiness for the change (Self and Schraeder, 2009: 171).

Change readiness is defined as ‘…organisational members’ beliefs, attitudes and intentions regarding the extent to which changes are needed and the organization’s capacity to successfully make those changes’ (Armenakis et al., 1993: 681).

There are five dimensions of readiness for change – discrepancy, appropriateness, principal support, efficacy and valence:

  • In terms of discrepancy, employees need to understand the difference between the organisation’s current state and the organisation’s proposed change state and the reasons for the change and that the proposed change is necessary.
  • Appropriateness follows on from discrepancy, with employees believing that the specific selected change strategy is the appropriate solution.
  • Principal support reflects the employees need to know that both internal and external leaders fully support the proposed change. Support for the change should not only be seen from the formal leaders, but informal leaders as well.
  • Efficacy refers to the confidence to successfully change. This applies to employees having confidence in the ability of the organisation, as well as the confidence that they are personally able to successfully change.
  • Valence asks the question ‘What’s in it for me?’ Employees need to know that they will not be worse off as a result of the change, that they will be treated fairly, and that there will be personal benefits for them, in implementing the change.

Research focusing on employee readiness for change, was conducted within the Western Australia State Government’s local government reform programme, examining how this change was being communicated. The findings of the research provide practical insights for management practitioners.

  • Management should consciously plan to ‘ready’ employees for change.
  • A detailed motivation for the change should be provided, including detailing a compelling vision, and demonstrating why the proposed change is the right solution.
  • Employees take cues from the organisational leadership, who therefore need to clearly show their support for the change through practical action steps that promoted active participation and communicate key details of the change, and clarify expectations and time-frames. They also needed to free up time and resources to give the change the priority it deserved, including providing appropriate training
  • The potential personal benefits need to be highlighted, without making false promises. Simultaneously, employee fears and concerns should be acknowledged and addressed in a fair way, thereby providing employees with much needed reassurance.

Employees are central to the performance of the organisation. Giving attention to these softer aspects can translate into successful change and tangible improvements in results.

[This article is based on Vicky van Heerden’s mini-thesis entitled “Local government reform in Western Australia: A case study on change readiness”, and was supervised by Professor NJ Pearse).

Further Reading:

  1. ARMENAKIS, A.A., HARRIS, S.G. and MOSSHOLDER, K.W., 1993. Creating readiness for organizational change. Human Relations. 46, 6: 681-703.
  2. ARMENAKIS, A.A. and BEDEIAN, A.G., 1999. Organizational Change: A Review of Theory and Research in the 1990s. Journal of Management. 25, 3: 293-315.
  3. ARMENAKIS, A.A., HARRIS, S.G. and FIELD, H.S., 1999. Making change permanent: a model for institutionalizing change interventions. Research in Organizational Change and Development. 12: 97-128.
  4. ARMENAKIS, A.A. and HARRIS, S.G., 2002. Crafting a change message to create transformational readiness. Journal of Organizational Change Management. 15, 2: 169-183.
  5. AZZONE, G. and PALERMO, T., 2011. Adopting performance appraisal and reward systems a qualitative analysis of public sector organisational change. Journal of Organisational Change Management. 24, 1: 90-111.
  6. BAMFORD, D., and DANIEL, S., 2005. A case study of change management effectiveness within the NHS. Journal of Change Management. 5, 4: 391-406.
  7. BOUCKENOOGHE, D., 2010. Positioning change recipients’ attitudes toward change in the organizational change literature. The Journal of Applied Behavioural Science. 46, 4: 500-531.
  8. CINITE, I., DUXBURY, E. and HIGGINS, C., 2009. Measurement of Percieved Organizational Readiness for Change in the Public Sector. British Journal of Management. 20: 265-277.
  9. HARRIS, S.G. and COLE, M.S., 2007. A stages of change perspective on managers’ motivation to learn in a leadership development context. Journal of Organizational Change Management. 20, 6: 774-793.
  10. KARP, T. and HELGO, T.I., 2008. From change management to change leadership: embracing chaotic change in public service organizations. Journal of Change Management. 8, 1: 85-96.
  11. KAVANAGH, M.H. and ASHKANASY, N.M., 2006. The impact of leadership and change management strategy on organizational culture and individual acceptance of change during a merger. British Journal of Change Management. 17: 81-103.
  12. KOTTER, J.P., 1995. Leading change: why transformation efforts fail. Harvard Business Review. 73, 2: 59-67.
  13. KOTTER, J.P. and SCHLESINGER, L.A., 1979. Choosing strategies for change. Harvard Business Review. 57, 2: 106-114.
  14. LYONS, J.B., SWINDLER, S.D. and OFFNER, A., 2009. The impact of leadership on change readiness in the US military. Journal of Change Management. 9, 4: 459-475.
  15. NEVES, P., 2009. Readiness for change: contribution for employee’s level of individual change and turnover intentions. Journal of Change Management. 9, 2: 215-231.
  16. POCOCK, B., SEXTON, M. and WILSON, L., 2001. Doing More, With Less: Tension and Change at Work in South Australian Local Government. Adelaide: Centre for Labour Research, Adelaide University.
  17. SELF, D.R., 2007. Organizational change – overcoming resistance by creating readiness. Development and learning in organizations. 21, 5: 11-13.
  18. SELF, D.R. and SCHRAEDER, M., 2009. Enhancing the success of organizational change. Leadership & Organization Development Journal. 30, 2: 167-182.
  19. SMITH, I., 2005. Achieving readiness for organisation change. Library Management. 26, 67: 408-412.
  20. STRUCKMAN, C.K. and YAMMARINO, J., 2003. Organizational change: a categorization scheme and response model with readiness factors. Research in Organizational Change and Development. 14: 1-50.
  21. TERRY, D.J. and JIMMIESON, N.L., 2003. A stress and coping approach to organisational change: evidence from three field studies. Australian Psychologist. 38, 2: 92-101.
  22. TODNEM, R., 2007. Ready or not. Journal of Change Management. 7, 1: 3-11.
  23. TRADER-LEIGH, K.E., 2002. Case study: identifying resistance in managing change. Journal of Organizational Change Management. 15, 2: 138–155.
  24. WALKER, J. H., ARMENAKIS, A.A. and BERNERTH, J.B., 2007. Factors influencing organizational change efforts – an integrative investigation of change content, context, process and individual differences. Journal of Organizational Change Management. 20, 6: 761-773.

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