The nature of contemporary society, the prominence of technology and the flow of information dictate the importance of embracing change in any business or organization. Today, if you coast, you roast. We all will witness large-scale, ongoing change on a regular basis such that, as near as three years from today, all businesses and organizations will operate differently.
Different Than What Came Before
Change refers to a significant difference in what was before. This could mean doing things a new way, following a new path, adopting new technology, installing a new system, following new management procedures, merging, reorganizing or overcoming any other highly significant, disruptive event.
The change to which I refer, however, does not represent smooth progression, a highly anticipated development or an incremental approach for getting from point A to point B. The kind of change we are discussing cannot be handled by some existing formula or an off-the-shelf fix. If doing what you have done before or doing some variation of what you've done before will alleviate a problem, that's fine, but that isn't change management as defined and discussed in this text.
The kinds of change campaigns you will encounter will be far reaching. They will impact people and resources and represent something unprecedented in the organization, department or division's, operating procedures.
Significant, Prolonged, and Disruptive – Change as referred to here is significant, prolonged and often disruptive. It represents a departure in whole or in part from what came before it. It may include venturing into completely new territory, facing something unexpected, making a major course redirection or getting up to speed in record time with insufficient resources. This change is the kind that you don't necessarily seek, but recognize as a possible element of your career journey.
A Continuous Process of Alignment
In Industrial Management (May/June 1997), authors Lisa Kudray and Brian Kleiner defined change management as the "continuous process of aligning an organization with its marketplace – and doing it more responsibly and effectively than competitors."
For an organization to be aligned, said the authors, "the key management levers – strategy, operations, culture and reward – must be synchronized continuously. Since change is an inevitable, ongoing process, these management levers must be constantly altered also." They observed that "managers need to remember that they are changing, manipulating, and rearranging a variety of both human and non-human elements."
Concurrently, human beings by nature, tens of thousands of years in formation, seek out stability, balance and predictability. Sure, we want thrills at the amusement park and entertainment that titillates, but, in general, we crave homeostasis: stability.
Longitudinal studies of human physiology have confirmed that people are at their best when they get regular amounts of sleep, sufficient amounts of exercise, and balanced and nutritious diets. Married people tend to live longer than single people, have fewer illnesses and spend less time in long-term care facilities. Likewise, those with supportive families and friends, and a predictable social structure, tend to be happier and healthier and have greater longevity. So, whether or not they realize it, human beings are pre-disposed to seek order and stability.
Our Inherent Inclinations
Human beings are predisposed to bring their inherent inclinations into the workplace. Hence all businesses and organizations are dramatically affected by the tens of thousands of years of human psychology and physiology. It is human nature to resist change, even though for particular individuals at particular times this might not seem to be the case.
Curiously, in the early years of the 21st century, growing numbers of people recognized that constant change was starting to become the norm, particularly in business and organizational environments. From CEOs to front-line workers, and virtually everyone in-between, more and more people are now recognizing that in spite of a multi-century predisposition to resisting change, we are now in an era in which constant change is the norm. Even wilder, this might continue to be so for the duration of the existence of the human species.
So, to everyone in the work-a-day world: there has never been a more crucial time to develop change management skills. The fact that you're reading this article signifies that you comprehend the need to develop a skill that is the antithesis to the human organism. Or, maybe you find yourself in trouble at work and recognize that you need to do something about it – fast – or the situation might become hopeless.
The Name of the Game
Here is a realization worth considering as you proceed in your career; today, you are essentially hired, paid and retained for managing change. Whether or not you have considered it, you manage change all the time, be it through people, technology, information or other resources. Indeed, in a large measure, you have earned your living thus far, and certainly most recently, as being a change manager. What's more, everyone with the title of "manager," in one form or another, needs to be a change manager.
Maybe you manage change effectively, but it's likely that there is room for improvement. In the future, most, if not all, of what you do will involve managing change. In essence, 100 percent of your future income could come as a result of your ability to effectively manage change.
Viewed from this perspective, it makes sense to learn as much as you can about being an effective change manager. This includes reading not only this article, but other books and articles after it. It also includes taking courses, becoming a keen observer, practicing new behaviors, adopting new techniques and being more open to the input of others than you have been in the past.
Jeff Davidson, MBA, CMC, is the internationally recognized expert on work-life balance and holds the registered trademark from the USPTO as the "Work-Life Balance Expert"®. Delivered with passion, Jeff has offered his cutting edge, hands-on strategies for a balanced career and a balanced life to audiences worldwide. He is a five-time state winner of the U.S. Small Business Administration's "media advocate of the year" award. Jeff's breakthrough books and articles have made him a favorite, repeat interview subject of USA Today, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, and the Career Weekly of the Wall Street Journal. Jeff can be reached via his web site at www.BreathingSpace.com
For practical help with your change program, check out our resource kit, Managing Change in the Workplace. Its tools, exercises, techniques and tips cover every aspect of managing change. Visit the Managing Change in the Workplace information portal to find out how to download the free Introductory Chapter and start using this practical change management guide and workbook today.