A thorough review of the history of change management research, as well as an exploration of many change-focused theories and models, shows a distinct shift in response to a transformed (and still transforming) macro environment. Let’s explore this shift and its impact on leadership using a few question prompts:
1. How have the theories/models for change adapted to take into consideration our current technological, economic and societal contexts?
The change management arena is littered with change processes intended to suit all organizations, regardless of change scope, organizational readiness for change, or any other factor. These “one fit” processes were the norm up until the early 1990s – and were, understandably, high-level and often comparable. For example, Lippet et al.’s Planning Method included seven, rather generic, steps: Scout, Enter, Diagnose, Plan, Act, Stabilize & Evaluate, and Terminate (Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015). Alas, the dismal change success rate of under 30% (Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015) suggest that “one fit” processes such as these were ill-advised – and researchers took notice.
As early as the 1990s, researchers in the change management arena proposed that no single change process could produce success in all cases; change strategies must suit the context of the change (Dunphy & Stace, 1993, as cited in Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015). However, it was not until the late 2000s that it became more widely accepted that many methods would be required to suit the wide variety of change contexts (Burnes & Jackson, 2011, as cited in Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015). This attitudinal shift prompted many researchers to consider factors like organizational context, readiness, and change type as important inputs to process design.
As we operate in an increasingly complex, competitive, and ever-shifting macro environment, it is no wonder that a multitude of factors determine change success, and that those factors are not constant across applications. Although there are many promising multi-factor theories and models emerging (e.g. Weiner, 2009, Weller & Anderson, 2013, Al-Haddad & Koutner, 2015), the field is too new yet to offer any well-supported guidance on change strategies that factor in multiple variables.
2. Which theories/models do you think best align with your own approach to leadership? Do these approaches align with your organizational context?
Weiner’s theory of organizational readiness for change, which “treats organizational readiness as a shared psychological state in which organizational members feel committed to implementing an organizational change and confident in their collective abilities to do so” (Weiner, “Summary,” 2009, para. 1), resonates with me because it places emphasis on the importance of employee beliefs and motivation to the success of organizational change. The ‘hearts and minds’ of employees as individuals and as a collective is particularly critical to change success in my organization because it is high-change environment and changes almost invariably require an alteration in collective behavior in order to be successful.
3. What role does leadership play in managing change?
Leadership plays a key role in managing change – both organizational leaders and change leaders. It is critical that our organizational leaders – from the Executive tier down – visibly support the change, and that we have strong change leaders who ensure a smooth, inclusive change process is outlined and followed. As Elaine Biech (2007) says, we “must plan the work and work the plan” in order to realize change success (“Models of Change,” 2007, para. 2).
4. What are the unique challenges in managing change for learning in digital environments?
There are many unique challenges in managing change in a digital learning context, with the dominant one arguably being ensuring that function and identity are retained through any change as these are “particularly relevant to scholarship” (Weller & Anderson, 2013). As I work in the Research department of a Research firm, this is also a dominant consideration for me as I design online experiences for our members: to deliver an exceptional online experience based on the same core functions as our in-person offerings where nothing is lost because of the change in form.
Al-Haddad, S., & Kotnour, T. (2015). Integrating the organizational change literature: a model for successful change. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 28(2), 234-262.
Biech, E. (2007). Models for Change. In Thriving Through Change: A Leader’s Practical Guide to Change Mastery. Available from https://library-books24x7-com.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/toc.aspx?bookid=22651
Weiner, B. J. (2009). A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Science, 4(67).
Weller, M., & Anderson, T., (2013). Digital Resilience in Higher Education. European Journal of Open Distance and E-Learning, 16(1), 53-66.