Change affects every aspect of life. Taking a proactive approach to change is the only way to take charge of the future, either as an individual or as an organization. Approaching change with an open mind allows positive learning to occur. For organizations, change is the way to stay competitive and to grow. For individuals, the opportunities created by change enrich careers and personal lives. Seeking to anticipate and lead change is thus, paradoxically, safer as well as more adventurous than remaining static or taking a passive approach. However change appears, it is important to approach change positively as potential opportunity rather than dangerously as a perceived threat.
People live with change constantly. In a lifetime, personal transformation happens with each major life transition; infancy, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, and finally old age. Careers and organization also mature and evolve, with major changes on many levels in policy and practice at an astonishingly quickening speed. For personal satisfaction, as well as career progress, increasing your capacity to change can be quite beneficial.
Four Levels of Change in People
There are four levels of change in people:
1 Knowledge changes
2 Attitudinal changes
3 Behavior changes
4 Group or organizational performance changes
Changes in knowledge tend to be easiest to make because they only require reading something or telling someone something new. Attitude structures differ from knowledge structures in that they are emotionally charged in a positive or negative way. The addition of emotion often makes attitudes more difficult to change than knowledge. Changes in individual behavior seem to be significantly more difficult and time-consuming than either of the two previous levels. Changes in behavior require a change in patterns or habits over a long period of time. This study will focus on change on the fourth level, keeping in mind that change of an organization requires change of the individuals within it.
While individual behavior is difficult enough to change, when we get to the implementation of group or organizational performance, it is compounded because at this level we are concerned with changing customs, mores and traditions. Being a group, it tends to be a self-reinforcing unit and therefore a person’s behavior as a member of a group is more difficult to modify without first changing the group norms.
Change Is Inevitable
Change is inevitable; it is a natural process and can be seen in the incessant flux of aging and evolution in all living systems. It need not, however, be seen as so troublesome, stressful, and, indeed, catastrophic as some regard it. Change must rightfully be regarded as the vital, creative, exciting, and energizing force that it really is. Planned organizational change is one way that this magnificent energy can be harnessed for the good of persons everywhere.
Examination of Relationships
Establishing how to approach an organizational change depends on examination of the relationships among the project’s key sponsors (top managers who are supporting the change), targets (those employees who are being changed), agents (those mid-level managers who bring the change about), and advocates (those visionaries who most broadly see the need for the change). These relationships can be viewed as self-destructive, static, or synergistic. Self-destructive relationships consume more resources than they produce and the result of their joint effort is a net loss. Static relationships involve an even mix of unproductive, back-stabbing behavior and productive, team-oriented behavior. What is desirable is synergistic relationships where individuals work together to produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of their separate efforts.
By Shirley J. Caruso, M.A., Human Resource Development