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A Multidimensional Study of Organizational Change

Essay by   •  December 9, 2012  •  Research Paper  •  2,791 Words (12 Pages)  •  1,210 Views

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The last decade has been a period of rapid and dramatic change. New technologies, globalization, and increased competition have forced organizations to alter the manner in which they respond to market demands. Companies have to continuously reinvent themselves in order to maintain high performance in today's ever-changing business environment. This has led to an explosion of literature regarding organizational change. In addition, widespread research has produced various theories and models that address contributing factors such as types of change, organizational "readiness" for change, leading change, implementing change, communicating change and so forth. However, despite the enormous about of research addressing this topic, studies reveal more than half of organizational change efforts end in failure (Szabla, 2007). Burnes, who reviewed an extensive amount of literature, suggested the statistics were even higher with more than two-thirds of change initiatives failing to produce effective organizational change (Burnes, 2004).

Although there are numerous challenges to achieving effective change, the majority of studies indicate human resistance as the primary cause of unsuccessful change initiatives. Despite the overwhelming amount of literature surrounding human resistance to organizational change, researchers have yet to provide a sophisticated and comprehensive understanding of human responses that would increase the success rate of organizational change efforts. Perhaps the largest contributing factor to this deficiency is researchers' focus on a single dimension of attitudes that shape human responses towards organizational change (Szabla, 2007; Devos, 2007; Piderit, 2000). For instance, Labiance, Gray, and Brass (2000) took a cognitive approach, Vince and Broussine (1996) focused on the emotional aspect, and Brower and Abolafia (1995) studied behaviors of resistance; however a study of the three dimensions of attitudes simultaneously in a multidimensional view is nearly impossible to come by. In addition, researchers have failed to investigate the cognitive, emotional, and conative dimensions of attitudes that form an individual's response to organizational change, across the three elements of change: content, context, and strategy. Considering the complexity of environments in today's organizations, it is imperative that change leaders gain an inclusive understanding of organizational change, including human responses to change along multiple dimensions and across multiple elements of change. Both concepts are far too intricate and vital to the success of organizational change initiatives to study incompletely. This study addressed the relationship between the three components of change- content, context, and strategy- and the response to change along the cognitive, emotional, and conative dimensions. To fully examine this relationship, the concepts have to be alienated first. A discussion of the elements of organizational change and their individual impact on change efforts must occur separately for the review of the three dimensions of attitudes that directly influence human responses. Once there is a better understanding of these concepts independently, an investigation of them collectively can be utilized to determine their relationship. First, let us consider the elements of organizational change: content, context, and strategy, and their role in change initiatives.

Organizational change is effected, positively and negatively by an array a factors. For the most part, each of these factors will fall under one of three components: content, referring to the "what" of change; context, meaning "the environment" or "company culture" in which the change is occurring; and strategy, addressing the "how" of change (Devos, 2007). The content, or "what", factor simply refers to the specific type of change. For instance, is the change economic-driven or a change to support organizational capabilities (Beer and Nohria, 2000)? Reorganization, downsizing and reengineering are examples of economic-driven changes; while culture changes, introduction of new technologies or total quality management are forms of changes in support of organizational capabilities. Economic changes are generally implemented in efforts to reduce cost. Generally speaking, the reduction of cost is typically associated with the reduction of staff and therefore, they have a greater negative impact on human responses than changes in which employee jobs are not at stake. "What" the change is can set the stage for the change initiative and the responses an organization receives.

Next, the context, or "environment" of the change has to be taken into account. The environment in which the change is to take place will weigh heavily on the responses to the entire change effort. If the change content was favorable, yet the environment it's presented within is not, the reactions could still be negative and resistant. Imagine an organization with a heavy risk avert culture, whether it's intentional or not, it's the "feel" of the organization. This particular company would, more likely than not, experience negative responses and resistance to an innovation initiative despite the fact it's considered a favorable change in regards to the content component. The reason they are likely to encounter a negative response is the environment in which they are attempting to implement such change is not tolerant of that change. How do you effectively promote innovation, which requires risks and failures for success, within a culture against risk taking and intolerant failures? You cannot. Ensuring the environment is aligned with the change is vital.

Lastly, the strategy, or "how", component of change is equally critical to any change effort. There is nothing worse than allowing a genius concept to be ruined by poor implementation; unfortunately however, it happens all too often. The process utilized to implement a change effort can alter the responses generated by the content and context, for better or worse. Research has offered an assortment of change implementation strategies and models. However, the problem is in understanding when one approach is more constructive over another. For instance, Chin and Benne's (1961) taxonomy of leadership strategies of planned change offers three fundamental strategies: rational-empirical, normative-reeducative, and power-coercive. Rational-Empirical change strategy is based on utilizing human reason. In this strategy, it is assumed that individuals will adopt an organizational change if the change is logical and if change leaders effectively communicate its benefits. Normative-reeducative strategy is based on its public process of change efforts. This strategy assumes individuals should participate in their own

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