Adapt to Organizational Change
OLB 7006, Assignment 1
DuBose, Justin Z.
Dr. Marie Bakari
16 September 2018
A common colloquial expression explains the concept of change well: the only thing that stays the same is change. Scholars are discovering this to be true and applicable for organizations of all sizes across all industries. Researchers have described change as the “new normal” for organizations and employees (Jorgensen, Owen, and Neus, 2008). This “new normal” is true not only of organizations but of employees as well. Huevel et al. (2013) noted that the increasing demand for organizational change correlates to an increasing demand for adaptable, flexible employees. This paper will explore the concept of organizational change and provide an assessment of how Columbus Christian Academy implemented changes that resulted in improvements.
Columbus Christian Academy
Columbus Christian Academy is a private, Christian educational institution which serves approximately 175 students from grades pre-k through 12th grade with a full-time staff of approximately 15. The current operating budget of the organization is approximately $500,000 which is managed by an appointed school board of 6 individuals. The campus encompasses 30 acres of land which includes an education building, a gymnasium, and several athletic ballfields. Our staff-to-student ratio is 1:12 and our current campus allows us plenty of room to grow. The past five years have been times of constant organizational change which have brought about positive improvements. Awareness of changes which resulted in improvements will hopefully allow these changes to continue so that Columbus Christian Academy continues a path of improvement.
Identifying Internal Threats
The first step in implementing organizational changes that will result in improvement is recognizing the existing threats to change. This can be both internal and external, but internal threats can often be both the hardest to identify and the most difficult to overcome. Existing organizational culture, control mechanisms, and infrastructure can all sabotage change and limit change capacity (Edmondson, 2008). Edmondson (2008) called these obstacles “self-sabotaging traps” (p. 63). Lerner (2014) noted that John Kotter, who serves as the director of research for Kotter International, concurred with Edmondson’s findings. Kotter noted that potential hurdles to organizational change include the compensation structure, appraisal process, and even existing management (Lerner, 2014). These can all be used to “reinforce the status quo” (Lerner, 2014, p. 70).
In the case of Columbus Christian Academy, it took a two-to-three year process to identify, address, and remove these internal threats. The existing “self-sabotaging traps” included the personnel in positions of leadership and a toxic organizational culture. This undesirable culture was consistently reinforced by a lack of a stable coalition of organizational leaders working together to bring about positive and desired change. The toxic culture, and those who reinforced the status quo, constantly sabotaged change efforts initiated by leadership. Neutralizing these internal threats provided the first step to increasing the change capacity of the organization.
Increasing Change Capacity
Identifying and addressing internal threats is one of the first steps in bringing about positive change and increasing the ability of an organization to change effectively. Researchers have coined the term “change capacity” in identifying the ability of organizations to change effectively (Buono and Kerber, 2010). Lerner (2014) noted that while change is essential for organizations, changing effectively and adapting to change is the battleground for organizational leaders. Change capacity has been defined as “the ability of an organization to change not just once, but as a normal course of events in response to and in anticipation of internal and external shifts, constantly adapting to and anticipating changes in its environment” (Buono and Kerber, 2010, p. 10).
In my experience with Columbus Christian Academy, I discovered that the organization and its employees were incredibly inflexible. Coupled with the internal self-sabotage, this lack of flexibility made adapting to change even more difficult. This experience is consistent with the current research which is uncovering the importance of flexibility in increasing change capacity. Meyer and Stensaker (2006) discovered that change environments demand “experimentation, improvisation, and the ability to cope with unanticipated occurrences and unintended repercussions” (p. 220). Columbus Christian Academy did not possess the ability to cope with the attributes of a change environment. To increase flexibility, the leadership team and I communicated early and often about the changes we sought to make and how we planned to bring them about. This communication included speaking as well as listening to others speak who would be impacted by these changes.
Buono and Kerber (2010) suggested that communication during times of organizational change should be honest and transparent. This allows for all voices and viewpoints to be expressed, increases organizational learning, and creates opportunities to express a shared purpose and common change language. In addition to these benefits, communication initiates the process of “meaning-making” for employees effected by change (Huevel et al., 2013, p. 15). The process of meaning-making facilitates “integrating challenging/ambiguous events into a framework of personal meaning using value-based reflection” (Park, 2010, p. 265). This allows meaning-making to increase an individual’s willingness to adapt to change (Huevel et al., 2013). Huevel et al. (2013) concluded that the process of meaning-making also translates to successful adaptation for employees when it allows them to reflect on organizational changes and link or align their own personal values to the changes.
During and following the period of addressing and removing internal threats and increasing change capacity by creating more flexible employees and an adaptive culture, the leadership team saturated Columbus Christian Academy with communication throughout all levels of the organization. We accomplished this in the form of individual conversations, group question/answer forums, and increasing lines of communication from organizational leadership to employees. This translated not only to increasing trust and credibility throughout the period of change, but also to creating a more adaptive workforce and fluid organization. As the employees grew more adaptable and flexible, so did the structure of the organization. As we hired new employees, we placed a value on flexibility. Similarly, we incentivized existing employees based upon their ability to adapt in a changing environment. This was a key turning point for our organization and one which is consistent with recommendations from scholars. Buono and Kerber (2010) suggest that one of the most effective ways for organizations to increase change capacity is to make the ability to change one of the criteria for employee selection, hiring, evaluation, reward, and promotion. They also suggest that a fluid organizational structure is helpful as it allows for groups to be assembled or disassembled as necessary with minimal turmoil.
Conclusions & Recommendations
Columbus Christian Academy has endured a period of significant change over the past five years. Consequently, the organization has seen growth and experienced success in a potentially turbulent time. When this season of change began in 2013, there were eighty-five students enrolled in the school. Presently, that number has more than doubled in a period of just five years. Similarly, we have experienced positive growth in the morale of the employees and the overall culture of the organization. By identifying and addressing internal threats and taking active steps to remove those obstacles to change, an expected wave of resistance and hostility initially arose from employees. This resistance was not only welcomed by organizational leadership, but its expression was encouraged and facilitated by constant opportunities for communication. This communication re-built trust, increased flexibility, and, most importantly, started the process of meaning-making for our employees. This development allowed them to process the changes impacting them, connect these changes to their own values and goals, and integrate the challenges of change into their own personal framework using reflection and self-assessment.
Based upon personal experience at Columbus Christian Academy and synthesizing current literature regarding organizational change and its challenges, the following recommendations are provided. Firstly, internal threats must be identified and decisively dissolved. Until this step occurs, every change initiative is virtually guaranteed to fail due to the infertile and hostile environment into which change ideas are planted. Secondly, the change capacity of an organization must be increased by increasing the flexibility of the organization and its employees. The longer an organization goes without being forced to be flexible, the greater will be the difficulty in injecting flexibility by the leadership. As employees become more flexible, so will the structure and processes of the organization itself. This process may be facilitated by rewarding existing employees based on their adaptation to and encouragement of new cultural standards as well as hiring employees who value flexibility and already possess a more flexible nature. Finally, communication must be intentional and ever-present throughout the season of change. Without pro-active communication on the part of the leadership, resistance to change will persist and grow, ambiguity will turn to distrust and, ultimately, hostility will develop toward the leader. Communication will not only positively impact the employees, but other stakeholders (students, families, surrounding community, etc.) who can also contribute to healthy growth through change.
Buono, A. F., & Kerber, K. W. (2010). Intervention and organizational change: Building organizational change capacity. EBS Review, (27), 9-21. Accessed at http://ebsjournal.com/ on September 15, 2018.
Edmondson, A. C. (2008). The competitive imperative of learning. Harvard Business Review 86(4), 60-67.
Heuvel, M. V., Demerouti, E., Bakker, A. B., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2013). Adapting to change: The value of change information and meaning-making. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 83(1), 11-21. doi:10.1016/j.jvb.2013.02.004
Jorgensen, H. H., Owen, L. and Neus, A. (2008). Making change work. IBM Corporation. Accessed at http://www.ibm.com/gbs/makingchangework on September 15, 2018.
Lerner, M. (2014). Successfully adapting to change. Independent Banker, 64(3), 68-72. Accessed at http://independentbanker.org/ on September 15, 2018.
Meyer, C. B. and Stensaker, I. G. (2006). Developing capacity for change. Journal of Change Management, 6(2), 217-231. Accessed at http://independentbanker.org/ on September 15, 2018.
Park, C. (2010). Making sense of the meaning literature: An integrative review of meaning making and its effects on adjustment to stressful life events. Psychological Bulletin, 136, 257-301.
NG, LR, NCU, USAR
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