• Larry W Dyer

Organizational Change Management

One of the most difficult parts of leadership is fostering and managing change. Only a small proportion of change efforts actually succeed, a fact which has led to an entire industry of fad change models and, for that matter, to the more productive practice of organizational development.

Kaiser Permanente interviewed staff after a major implementation. the IT staff stated:

"the project went like clockwork, we had all the conversions completed on time, training done and the cut-over was flawless," while front-line users said, "on day one, after the conversion, I did not know how to do my job using the new system." Organizational Changes include:

  • Change in mission

  • Restructuring operations

  • New technologies

  • Mergers

  • Major collaborations

Typical Items that provoke organizational change are:

  • Change done for the sake of change

  • Some major outside force

  • To evolve

  • A new CEO

Why is organizational change so difficult? Resistance can take many forms but can usually be classified as:

  • Afraid of the unknown

  • Things are just fine as is

  • Don’t understand need for change

  • Inherently cynical about change

In these situations, staff

  • Doubt the means are effective to accomplish change

  • May have goals that conflict with the proposed change

  • Believe the changes go against how things should be done

Change is best carried out when:

  • Top management including the board and CEO support the change

  • You have a visionary corporate champion (think Steve Jobs)

  • You have change agents who can translate the vision to a realistic plan

  • You have a team-wide effort

  • You provide frequent communications with all employees

  • You have a plan to sustain the change. In most cases, the structure of the organization must change (i.e., strategic plans and procedures)

Some general guidelines for change are:

  • Leadership must be committed to the change process

  • The change strategy is developed by stakeholders early with top management and consultants

  • The change links to a business issue

  • Stakeholders understand why the change is important and participate in creating the vision and strategy

  • In every communication, work to create a culture of trust

  • The change will be chaotic and messy, accept this and embrace the chaos

You can build buy-in by using surveys. Involving people in the design and feedback/action planning shows your intent more than words. Also, surveys provide a way to get everyone, including nay-sayers, involved. The survey data usually provides the impetus for change. The feedback meetings may break the resistance of individuals who are afraid to speak as others chime in

After your surveys, you are ready to jump in. You can’t do anything from the outside. Next you want a clear sense of the mission and purpose. The simpler the mission statement the better. “Kick ass in the marketplace” is a whole lot more meaningful than “Respond to market needs with a range of products and services that have been carefully designed and developed to compare so favorably in our customers’ eyes with the products and services offered by our competitors that the majority of buying decisions will be made in our favor.”


Build a team. “Lone wolves” have their uses, but managing change isn’t one of them. On the other hand, the right kind of lone wolf makes an excellent temporary team leader. Maintain a flat organizational team structure and rely on minimal and informal reporting requirements. Pick people with relevant skills and high energy levels. You’ll need both. Toss out the rulebook. Change, by definition, calls for a configured response, not adherence to prefigured routines. Shift to an action-feedback model. Plan and act in short intervals. Do your analysis on the fly. No lengthy up-front studies, please. Remember the hare and the tortoise. Set flexible priorities. You must have the ability to drop what you’re doing and tend to something more important. Treat everything as a temporary measure. Don’t “lock in” until the last minute, and then insist on the right to change your mind.


We tend to look for reliable, stable, process-oriented people to lead our changes. That is a mistake! Reliable/dependable/steady/habitual/process-oriented types find change unsettling. These traits are opposite of what you need to foster change. In health services we tend to look for people with these traits, hence we have a difficult time with change.

You are looking for people who will embrace change. If these people are also respected in the organization, great, you have the right one.

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