Change is all but inevitable in modern business, with ever-evolving technological, societal, and even legal situations that allow for opportunistic and savvy organizations to get a leg up in any field. From adopting new technologies to enhance the efficiency of your employees and infrastructure to learning how to make the best of a bad situation, understanding change management theory models will show you how to go about institutional change in a meaningful and semi-painless way.
Knowing When to Change
Before anyone can begin to engage with Change Management Theory, they must come to the all-important executive decision to enact change in their business. A common misconception associated with Change Management Theory is that it is only used to enact sweeping reforms when it is more than capable of being scaled to suit the needs of organizations with a wide variety of situations. To understand the scale of the required change, one must also consider whether or not the change that is being enacted is voluntary or involuntary.
Voluntary change is by far the most common type of change and is the result of identifying some kind of dysfunction in your business. There is always something that can be improved, be it a technological step up or a rebranding for public image.
To enact this type of change, an organization must identify an area for improvement and act upon it. Voluntary change also comes with a safety net in that it is possible to fail in changing and fall back on the old status quo before trying again in most situations.
Involuntary change is the more pressing and theoretically dangerous type of change, as it often exists without the option of returning to previous methodologies in the face of failure. Be it switching educational functions to an online platform due to a global pandemic, or a merger leading to a large body of new employees learning new corporate etiquette, involuntary change is often fairly sudden and more difficult to deal with on the whole.
Taking your First Steps Towards Change
Once the decision to enact change has been made, voluntarily or involuntarily, one must actually set about conceptualizing what change is going to look like. Identify what goals your organization will be setting during the process of change, what the benefits of the changes you intend to make are going to be, and most importantly, what difficulties you might encounter along the way.
At the forefront of these problems will almost always be getting the people in your organization on board with the very idea of change, as the majority of people are not interested in structural changes to how they operate. Other complications to consider are how change may result in short-term technical difficulties and a change in the opinion of an organization’s consumer base.
Yet another difficulty encountered with change is the time-frame. Understandably, change is something that can be implemented at various speeds and with varying levels of success depending entirely on the problems at hand.
Identifying your needed changes and the ideal speed at which your organization can implement them can be paramount in succeeding with a relatively smooth transition. Keep this at the forefront of your mind going forward.
The Different Types of Change
Change can be divided into three fundamental categories. Developmental change, Transitional change, and Transformational Change. Understanding which of these your company is undergoing is of the utmost importance when it comes to picking the change management theory models you’ll be using to ensure success.
It is also worth noting that sometimes change can be duplicitous, involving more than one type of change, and thus may require a greater period of planning and understanding. Oftentimes, one model will not be enough to cover the scope of change.
Developmental change can be surmised as any organizational change with a focus on updating and revitalizing previous processes, methodologies, and protocol. It is enacted to update an existing system, revitalize a process and otherwise improve your organization in a traditionally voluntary way to gain a leg up on the competition and solidify your place in a market.
Transitional change hones in on changing the processes of an organization on a structural level and changing the organization on the whole. Shifting to introduce a new product line? Merging with another company while looking to merge the best parts of both businesses? Seeking to introduce large-scale automation to a previously manual operation? This is transitional change.
Transformational change is easily the most extreme example of change, often involving sweeping reforms to a business on a fundamental level. It is more likely to include cultural changes to a company’s workforce, major shifts in both production methodologies and products, and full-on rebranding efforts.
Transformational change is widely considered the most difficult type of change to implement on any scale but poses a particular challenge to large-scale businesses.
Simple Change Management Theory Models for Successful Change
The name is on the tin when it comes to simple change management theory models, for these are both easy to understand and easy to apply outlines for making meaningful change happen without getting overly convoluted or dynamic.
Rarely will a simple management theory be enough to fully succeed in anything beyond small-scale change, but it does allow a business to develop and plan a simple path to success that can be easily communicated to employees and managers.
In no case is this concept of a simplified and perceivable process more apparent than the Lewnis’ change management theory models. This simple three-step model focuses on a cycle of freezing, changing, and refreezing your processes and methodologies to analyze, change and restart your business protocols. Advantages to this model include easy upper management communication and a highly flexible timeframe.
In contrast to the Lewins model, the Deming Cycle makes use of a four-step program designed to help identify problems in an evolving and repeating cycle. Its four steps:(plan, do, check, and act) serve to allow for a series of rapid small-scale changes over time, being a rare example of a model that asks users to deliberately stop and assess the progress they have been making a larger commitment. This easy and simple methodology allows it to be applied to almost any situation, usually being implemented on a micro-scale in a testing phase before wider adoption of changes are made.
Complicated Models for Complicated Situations
These change management theory models offer a more in-depth and often far less linear path to success in organizational restructuring and change, outclassing the simple models in their overall structure and application.
However, this comes with an obvious tradeoff, as they are far harder to explain to employees and often require more extensive micromanagement on the part of senior staff and business leadership. Because these models are likely to confuse and alienate employees, they are almost always meant to be used in conjunction with one of the many supplemental models that will be outlined later.
The McKinsey 7-S Model is the most complicated model we’re going to outline here, sporting a seven-part program of the following, interlocking S’s. (Strategy, structure, systems, shared values, style, staff, and skills.) Each of these S’s represents an important aspect of a general business, alongside clear indications of how they relate to the other S’s.
These can be boiled down to the three hard elements, (strategy, structure, and systems) which are easiest to identify and serve as the roots for change. The other four S’s are considered soft elements, and are harder to identify in a given organization but are more easily identified through their connections to the hard elements.
Above all else, the McKinsey 7-S Model is ideal for identifying what is wrong with a company before making meaningful changes.
The second of our more complicated change management theory models is Kotter’s theory. Developed by Harvard Professor John P. Kotter, this model makes use of eight steps that are designed to implement sweeping change.
Tailored near exclusively for corporate-level change, the Kotter Model focused on developing a sense of urgency in an organization, from which change will root, grow, and be implemented. While clear in communicating with employees and management the need for change, it at no point allows for feedback or communication from the people being asked to change.
This can easily lead to alienation in a workforce and slow or damage the process of change. To combat this, Kotter’s Theory should almost always be used in conjunction with a supplemental model that focuses on employee wellbeing and opinions.
Supplemental Models for Change
The majority of the change management theory models we’ve shed a light on thus far have focused on how to find, identify, and enact change. However, none of these models come with built-in plans for dealing with the wide struggles that can arise during change, from chaotic implementation to employee pushback or resistance.
To confront these challenges, most pushes for change will come with one of the numerous supplemental models we shall now go over. Much like the previous models, these are often tailor-made for specific situations and should almost always be implemented inside of their personal niches.
Nudge Theory focuses on the idea of enacting micro changes that will cascade into greater changes through the use of subtle suggestions, employee feedback, and other indirect actions.
The end goal of Nudge Theory is simply to bring about change without making it apparent that that is the organization’s goal, favoring many small and careful touches to bring about the desired end goal.
Unlike many other models that seek to mitigate emotional distress among employees, the Nudge Model seeks to eliminate it by bringing the workforce into the process and convincing them that change was their idea in the first place.
The less subtle but highly similar ADKAR model forgoes the manipulative subtly of the Nudge Theory in favor of a more direct intervention that still has the core focus of bringing employees into the fold when it comes to change.
By communicating clearly with and receiving feedback from employees on what they want to be changed, this model focuses on building healthy internal communication that can stimulate and lead to change. Like most models that function in this way, ADKAR is ideal for small organizations, due to the ease of filtering and reacting to feedback on a smaller scale.
While the previous supplemental models focused on how to get a hand on damage before it has begun, the following models focus on dealing with emotional duress and problems that can arise after a change has begun. The Kübler-Ross Change Curve is modeled after the five stages of grief and exists to help identify what is causing problems in individual employees and departments to begin working to mitigate and reduce their duress during change.
The Bridges’ Transition Model functions on a similar idea, helping employees to overcome anger, denial, and fears of change so that the process of change can carry forward without major issues.
Acting more like damage control than it does as a process of avoiding damage itself, this model can be viewed as something to be implemented with large-scale organizations where getting everyone on board simply isn’t realistic during cycles of change.
This specialized model shouldn’t be viewed as something to fall back on only once things have gone wrong, however, and does include several methods for informing employees of and helping them to avoid the emotional grief of change.
Management is Key
In all of our reference models, a key feature is always a level-headed management team working to meticulously implement the necessary changes. On all levels, success or failure in leadership will lead to success or failure in change.
Poor communication can lead to and then exacerbate the ever-present threat of employee discontent, while poor timekeeping and management can lead to the lackluster rollout of new ideas and processes. Before embarking on any attempt at meaningful change using these models, be certain that the people who will be rolling it out are ready for the task.
A Closing Note on Change
Change can often be a scary prospect, we’re naturally inclined against it as human beings and can acknowledge the inherent risks associated with it.
However, change is all but inevitable in modern markets, and to choose to refuse it is to refuse to progress and in turn, to choose to be left behind by those who are willing to enact change.
By making good use of change management theory models, we can approach change with layers of plans that may just turn this uncertain process into an easy and smooth path to success.
Come learn to understand and recognize which change management theory models are ideal for you and your organization in this new enlightening article.