Figure 1. Summary of three perspectives on change management by M. Sharpe.
A recent conversation with three colleagues from higher education, health care and business about successful change management practices revealed shared beliefs that leading change begins with a ‘people first’ mindset. Two of the three leaders interviewed had led change efforts while the third colleague had experienced multiple change initiatives in her career. Although they did not identify any specific change management models, all three noted the importance of people-focused leadership and identified elements they believed are important to leading change and which support a ‘people first’ approach (see Figure 1). None of the interviewees had experience leading change in a digital learning environment; nevertheless, they agreed that regardless of the environment, change initiatives are more likely to fail when leaders or change agents do not take the human factor into consideration. All three colleagues took the position that organizational readiness, and employee buy-in and involvement in change efforts are more likely to support successful planning and management of change initiatives.
Organizational readiness is often an overlooked factor in leading change, yet plays a critical role in determining how prepared an organization is to implement change (Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015; Biech, 2007; Weiner, 2009). Weiner (2009) suggested that if change is highly valued by change recipients, there is a higher likelihood employees will exhibit the necessary behaviors and collective actions to embrace change. One of the interviewees, who oversaw human resources in a health care setting, reinforced Weiner’s (2009) notion that organizational readiness must consider people’s psychological and behavioral readiness for change. She pointed out that leaders who assessed organizational readiness from a cultural and structural standpoint were often able to identify gaps in readiness and address these gaps proactively by fostering an environment in which employees could voice their concerns. In turn, this two-way communication and inclusivity helped to create trust and support for change initiatives, or at least determine whether or not the organization was ready to move forward in change implementation. To this point, Biech (2007) advised that higher levels of successful change efforts are achieved as a result of employee investment and capacity, and indicated that assessing organizational readiness is key to this process. By assessing organizational readiness, resistance to change can be better understood and managed when change recipients are included and valued for their contributions in not only the planning stages of change but in implementation efforts as well.
Building trust and confidence in support of change efforts can be achieved through employee involvement, buy-in and transparency in communication. All three colleagues supported this perspective (see Figure 1) with the acknowledgement that it takes time to develop trust and requires leadership commitment to not only listen but also value diverse input from a wide range of employees. To increase employee involvement and input in which decision making is not only top-down, Antwi and Kale (2014) proposed emergent change management models that favor bottom-up approaches. Given accelerated pace and complexity of change, Antwi and Kale (2014) argued that senior management may be better positioned to deal with such change by involving employees in decision-making around change efforts. Both leaders who have led change were supportive of a bottom-up approach to also foster employee in-put and trust. Depending upon change type and size, these leaders suggested that using employees as change agents or liaisons could help to ensure multiple organizational interests and concerns were represented. A perspective also shared by my business colleague who expressed value in considering feedback from a range of stakeholders so as not to bias decisions. Such views align with Theory O, Beer, Eisenhardt and Spector’s (1990) Six-Step Method, and Galpin’s (1996) Wheel Method which consider employee involvement and input as essential to change management (as cited in Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015). Although the consensus from my colleagues advocated employee buy-in and involvement, it was clear they all agreed that such efforts can only arise from leadership that values people.
What stands out from these three perspectives and the change management literature is that leading change with a ‘people first’ mindset conveys a message that people matter. When people feel valued they are more likely to support change. Therefore for change leadership to be successful, whether for a digital learning environment or not, organizational member engagement and involvement in change efforts needs to be factored into the planning and implementation of change initiatives. One of my colleagues wisely shared that if we recognize organizations as a living entity, then we cannot afford to ignore the human factor as part of leading change.
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.
Antwi, M., & Kale, M. (2014). Change Management in Healthcare: Literature Review, (January), 1–35.
Biech, E. (2007). Models for Change. In Thriving Through Change: A Leader’s Practical Guide to Change Mastery. Alexandria, VA: ASTD [Books24x7 database].
Weiner, B. J. (2009). A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Science, 4(67).