Appraise the Value of Change
OLB 7006, Assignment 6
DuBose, Justin Z.
Dr. Marie Bakari
21 October 2018
In this paper, planned organizational change within a small, rural community. in North Carolina is examined. A local school district executed a plan to close a small middle school in the community and relocate the children to other schools in the area. This paper examines the communication involved in the planned organizational change, and the ways in which the change impacted the local community. Furthermore, specific recommendations are provided on which elements of the change process should be sustained and why as well as recommendations on how the change process can be improved for future instances of planned organizational change in similar settings.
Planned School Closure
Beginning with the 2018-2019 school year, the local school board decided that it would close one of the local middle schools. The local community impacted by this decision is a small, rural agricultural community of about 1,500 people. This school served about sixty students from sixth grade through eighth grade. The justification for the decision is financial – it saves the county money to close the school and relocate the children and teachers to neighboring schools.
This conclusion was reached after a planning period of approximately two years. A cost/benefit analysis was conducted by the school board and educational consultants assessed the situation and provided recommendations. In the end, the board decided that the best decision for the county and its families was to close the school and relocate the students and teachers. This planned organizational change impacted approximately forty-five local families. The school board took a pro-active stance in communicating with these families as well as the community at large regarding their decision to close the school. As the school had served the community for forty-five years, the school board also realized the attachment the community would have to the school. This added another layer of complexity to the planning process for communicating this change.
Impact of Change on Community
While this change only directly impacted forty-five local families, this small community is comprised of large extended families. Furthermore, families who share no relation are extremely close-knit and often have deep relationships which have existed for decades. Therefore, this change, while perhaps seeming small, actually impacts the community greatly. The school board, aware of this reality, took careful and strategic steps during this planned organizational change.
Initially, communication from the school board took the form of informing residents of these discussions through local print media. Subsequent steps included a listening phase where residents were invited to actively participate in the change process by providing direct feedback. Research suggests that such a step in the planning process is beneficial. Mazzei and Quarantino (2013) noted that a listening, information-gathering phase at the outset of change enhances chances of success for organizations. This finding was supported by Erving (2006) who noted that a low level of support for change is a strong predictor for change success or failure. Gauging this level of support is often made possible by organizational leaders initiating a listening phase. Furthermore, Stroh (2007) noted that successful change depends greatly on employee involvement in the change process. Inviting and encouraging participation by all employees can be accomplished during this listening phase. This phase included hosting community forums and inviting residents to question and answer sessions with local school board members.
Following this listening phase, the school board decided that the decision had to be made to close the school and that local residents were informed of the justification for this decision. The school board then voted during the 2017-2018 school year to close the school beginning the following school year. This would provide residents one year to prepare for the impact of such a change. Once the decision was made to close the school, effected community members were informed by means of electronic and postal mail from the school board. These notifications were distributed periodically throughout the school year so that the change would be constantly in front of those most impacted by the closure.
Negative Consequences of Change
There were several negative consequences which resulted from the change. Before the decision was made to close the school, there was a fear that even the discussion of such a change would generate a negative response from residents even before the justification was clearly understood. This fear seems to be justified by current research on the subject. Vakola et al (2013) concluded that individuals are, in fact, predisposed to respond in certain ways to organizational change. In this case, one of the immediate negative consequences was the uproar created in the community by the publicizing of the possibility of closing the school. Residents and families of this small community typically do not respond well to change, and this case was no exception. Thus, the first and most immediate negative consequence was the firestorm generated by this discussion. This caused more work for the school board members following the initial announcement.
An additional negative consequence was the unwillingness of the community to adapt to changing situations. The dynamics of the community changed dramatically over a fifteen year period which brought about the need to re-evaluate the necessity of the school in this community. This entire planned organizational process highlighted the lack of capacity for change inherent within the community. Bess (2015) noted that successful change initiatives are largely pre-determined by the internal culture and change capacity within the organization. It was noted, for example, that organizations with a culture of “organizational learning and participatory design” possess more trust and collaboration and, consequently, change more successfully. The local culture had no practice of organizational learning, in this sense, and the capacity for change was limited.
Benefit of Change
While there were certain drawbacks which accompanied this change, certain benefits resulted for the community as well. After the listening phase initiated by local leadership, it was concluded that this step should be taken for all subsequent planned change initiatives. This listening phase not only allowed community members to express their concerns and opinions, but it also allowed the school board to assess the level of support or resistance to the initiative. Vakola (2014) noted that organizational leaders should investigate the readiness of individuals within the organization who will be impacted by change prior to implementing change. This listening phase provided a great opportunity for such an assessment and will continue for all future initiatives.
The second major benefit to the community was that the listening phase allowed the community to get to know and understand the members of the school board in a deeper, more meaningful way. While the community largely already knew these members, they were afforded the opportunity to get to know the individuals better, which resulted in a more favorable response to their initiatives. In a study conducted by Battilana and Casciaro (2012), they discovered that successful change initiatives are often preceded by the development of relationship with the change agent. Not only did this listening phase afford the opportunity to further develop these relationships, it also afforded the school board members to encourage and facilitate self-reflection by these families on the proposed change. This process has also proved to be beneficial to the planned change process. Vakola (2014) discovered that individuals who engage in regular self-evaluation respond more positively to organizational change. This response is due in part to their ability to see the positive aspects of change on their own initiative and as a part of their regular self-evaluative practices. The research of Bess (2015) agrees with this conclusion. In a case study of planned organizational change, the researcher discovered that members who see change as a personal and professional opportunity for growth and creativity respond positively. Conversely, members who resistance change due so in part because a lack of change is viewed as personal and professional stability and security.
Recommendations for Improvement
Several steps are recommended for future improvement in similar future circumstances. Firstly, knowing the inherent resistance to change in this community, local leaders should initiate the listening phase as the first element in the change process. This immediately communicates to the residents that you have not already decided on a change, but are inviting and encouraging their opinion on the change before a decision is made to initiate the change. This also provides the opportunity to assess the degree to which support or resistance is present in the community to the initiative.
Secondly, knowing that change capacity is limited within the existing community, steps should be taken to increase the capacity for future change initiatives. This could include hosting regular community forums even in the absence of proposed change. This would increase trust and cooperation between the residents and the local leadership. This could also include initiating smaller change initiatives which are largely supported by the local residents for the purpose of building a greater capacity for change in general from those who will be impacted by future changes.
Recommendations to Sustain
This community was a community which had not experienced significant change in an extended period of time. While this can create initial resistance, research has demonstrated that continuous innovation patterns are the most inherently unstable for organizations (Glor, 2014). Therefore, the community itself was more stable before and during the planned change process. Local leadership should continue the practice of less frequent change and innovation for the sake of community stability. Secondly, encouraging and inviting the input of the local populace proved to be significant in the success of the change initiative. Future planned organizational change initiatives should include and build upon such a phase.
Battilana, J. & Casciara, T. (2012). Change agents, networks, and institutions: A contingency theory of organizational change. Academy of Management Journal, 55(2), 381-398. doi: 10.5465/amj.2009.0891
Bess, K.D. (2015). The impact of everyday experiences on planned organizational change: Applying schematic change theory to the study of narratives in community-based organizations. Journal of Community Psychology, 43(6), 739-759. doi: 10.1002/jcop.21757
Elving, W. (2006). The role of communication in organizational change. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 10(2). Doi:10.1108/13563280510596943
Glor, E.D. (2014). Building theory about evolution of organizational change patterns. Emergence: Complexity & Organization, 30, 1-23. doi: 10.17357.f9e2f64daf515a2a63f6cb21541120
Mazzei, A., & Quaratino, L. (2013). Designing organizational change: Learning from a grounded research project. Journal of Management and Change, 30(1), 166-179. Accessed at http://emeraldinsight.com/journal/jocm
Stroh, U. (2007). Relationships and participation: A complexity science approach to change communication. International Journal of Strategic Communication, 1(2), 123-137. doi:10.1080/15531180701298916
Vakola, M., Oreg, S., & Armenakis, A. (2013). Reactions to organizational change from an individual-differences perspective: A review of empirical research. Psychology of Organizational Change, 14(1), 95-123.
Vakola, M. (2014). What’s in there for me? Individual readiness to change and the perceived impact of organizational change. Leadership & Organizational Development Journal, 35(3), 195-209. Retrieved from http://www.emeraldinsight.com/0143-7739.htm
NG, LR, NCU, USAR
My collection of personal papers written over the years