In this course, we read about and discussed several different theories and models of organizational change. We also read about and experienced three large group interventions. As I reflect now, I find that there are a few ideas and concepts which have helped to influence both my understanding and point-of-view about organizational change.
Two concepts that have helped me to structure the way I interpret organizational change are transactional change and transformational change. Beyond the definition of these are the related concepts which help to describe and identify the manifestations of these two distinct forms of change. Transactional change is evolutionary, planned, incremental change that is continuous in nature. It affects the climate of an organization rather than the culture. It usually involves changes in operational practices related to structure, systems, and task requirements. It is also usually management driven. It impacts individual needs and values, and motivation (Burke, 2008). Transformational change is revolutionary, strategic, and discontinuous in nature. It influences the culture of an organization, usually involving changes in mission and vision and is driven by leadership.
Armed with that information and having had the opportunity to examine an organizational change within my own company, I feel I am better equipped to recognize and interpret organizational changes around me. I will also be better able to offer a more informed opinion when I do have the opportunity to participate in planning and implementing change strategies at work.
The Burke-Litwin model of organizational change has helped me to understand the different dimensions that affect and are interrelated in the change process. This model also helped to impress on me the importance of the external environment as a catalyst for change in organizations. There is also a cyclical relationship between the output of an organization (products and services) and the external environment which in turn, informs change within organizations.
I have learned that just as a person’s basic assumptions influence their behavior, an organization’s culture is built on shared basic assumptions of the leadership and employees. These shared assumptions influence norms, values, and behaviors within an organization. This course has helped me understand the resistance that most often follows change, as it is the result of wanting to hold on to the familiar ways of doing things that employees have come to ‘own’ and to identify with. I found the way that Burke (2008) distinguishes between the three levels of organizational change helped to clarify my understanding of the complex and overlapping manifestations of organizational change. This will be especially useful as I learn to understand and identify different forms of resistance to change.
With all of the difficulty associated with implementing organizational change, it has been reassuring to learn that it can be thoughtfully planned and managed in ways that will benefit the organization and minimize resistance. To this point, an idea that was an ‘aha’ for me is the fact that, in order to change attitudes and values you must first begin with a behavior. A related idea that I learned is that you cannot change the culture of an organization by focusing on changing it. Rather, behavior will gradually influence culture. I know the leadership of my own organization has tripped over this point in their efforts to change the culture. Burke (2008) points out that it is important to establish links between the vision (the end point) and actions (behaviors) that will create that change. He also shares the ideas of Wegner & Wheatly which include the notion that behavior is followed by cognition.
In this course we reviewed Lewins’ ideas on organizational change that include ‘unfreezing, movement, and refreezing’, which has to do with moving from the current state, learning a new behavior, and reinforcing and maintaining the new behavior. Burke (2008) mentions that Schein, among others, has offered a more expanded version of this process. His version relates to creating motivation and readiness to change, cognitive restructuring and the need to act differently, as well as personal and interpersonal integration of the change by organizational members.
The three large group intervention strategies that we learned about and experienced in class were examples of creative ways for people to work together to prompt Schein’s ‘cognitive restructuring’ by involving whole systems. These strategies included Future Search, Open Space, and Appreciative Inquiry. All three use whole systems thinking, involving everyone in making meaning together. I know I will look at organizational change differently because of my exposure to these strategies. In my experience, only those who are directly involved or affected by a change are ever consulted and even then it has usually been a member of leadership that makes the decisions. These large group strategies are dependent on everyone having input and making decisions. I believe involving the whole group is the only way to bring about appropriate and meaningful change.
I especially like the purposeful removal of barriers that is inherent in these strategies. Because they all depend on people being self directed and pretty much self-organizing, everyone has equal footing and status during these events. I also like the way Appreciative Inquiry and Future Search are vision-oriented. Participants get to share what they believe would be a desirable future state and work on those things for which they personally have a passion. It would seem just common sense that if a person really cares about a topic or an issue they will be that much more dedicated to working towards a solution and then maintaining that desired condition. I am already thinking of ways to incorporate one or more of these large group change strategies in my own work place.
Another aspect of these large group interventions that I have found enlightening is the great forum they provide for people in an organization to ‘think together’. As opposed to the structured and time-bound meetings that usually surround ‘brainstorming’ sessions, these strategies provide people with options to address those things they have a passion for and to have real conversations about those topics. This allows people to share and learn from each other and to make meaning, address differences, and at the very least gain some insight into what others think. I think this last aspect and the diversity of idea sharing is what attracts me most to these whole group interventions.
I must also point out that what I have experienced in this course, as well as throughout the adult learning program, has taught me a great deal. However, this knowledge only takes on its greatest effect when I am able to place it in the context of what I experience in my career. It’s the work of application and synthesis of the learning from both that creates the most meaning for me and has the greatest promise of leading to the discovery of new connections and relevance.