BUS 801 Wk 15 National Open University Social Systems Discussion

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Why is it important to remember the influence of social systems within the context of organization change management?  

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Social and Human Factors:
Reactions to Change
E xc e r p t e d fro m
Managing Change and Transition
Harvard Business School Press
Boston, Massachusetts
ISBN-10: 1-4221-0715-9
ISBN-13: 978-1-4221-0715-7
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Copyright 2006 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America
This chapter was originally published as chapter 5 of Managing Change and Transition,
copyright 2003 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation.
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Social and Human Factors
Reactions to Change
Key Topics Covered in This Chapter
• The rank and ?le, and how they respond to
• Change resisters, and how to deal with them
• Change agents—the people who can make
things happen
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r g a n i z at i o n s are inherently social systems. The
people in these systems have identities, relationships,
communities, attitudes, emotions, and differentiated
powers. So when you try to change any part of the system, all of
these factors come into play, adding many layers of complexity to a
change process. Successful management of change requires that you
recognize the primacy of people factors and the social systems in
which they operate.
The rank and ?le, the resisters, and the change agents are the
three sets of players typically encountered in a change initiative.
Each has unique characteristics, and each requires a different style
of management.
The Rank and File
If you’ve spent much time observing life in the forest, you’ve probably noticed how animals establish routines. Deer, for example, create
paths between their daytime sleeping areas and the streams, ?elds,
and meadows where they look for food and water after dark.They
stick to those paths as long as they are safe and offer few impediments
to movement.
People also develop routines.Think about your own routine on a
typical Saturday morning. Sleep until 8. Start a load of laundry. Cook
the nice breakfast you never have time to make during the week. Pay
the week’s bills.Take the dog for a walk to the park. Chances are that
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Social and Human Factors
you have routines at work as well. Like the woodland deer, people
follow trails that are familiar, comfortable, safe, and satisfying. And
they aren’t eager to change unless given compelling reasons to do
so. People also have “social routines” at work—associations with
coworkers that satisfy their needs as social animals—and changes
that impinge on those routines are equally unwelcome.
Occasional diversions from routines and existing social patterns
add variety and interest—which please us. But diversions may also
create tension, anxiety, discomfort, and even fear. As the late longshoreman-philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote in The Ordeal of Change:“It
is my impression that no one really likes the new. We are afraid of it.”
He notes that even small changes from the routine can be upsetting.
Back in 1936 I spent a good part of the year picking peas. I started out
early in January in the Imperial Valley [of California] and drifted northward, picking peas as they ripened, until I picked the last peas of the
season in June, around Tracy.Then I shifted all the way to Lake County,
where for the ?rst time I was going to pick string beans.And I still remember how hesitant I was that ?rst morning as I was about to address
myself to the string bean vines.Would I be able to pick string beans?
Even the change from peas to string beans had in it elements of fear.
In the case of drastic change the uneasiness is of course deeper and
more lasting.We can never be really prepared for that which is wholly
new.We have to adjust ourselves and every radical adjustment is a crisis
in self-esteem: we undergo a test, we have to prove ourselves. It needs inordinate self-con?dence to face drastic change without inner trembling.1
Certainly no two people feel the same “trembling” described by
Hoffer. And some individuals are absolutely energized by change.
The Myers-Briggs personality framework addresses this broad spectrum. At one end of the spectrum, for example, it describes a person
who likes a planned and organized approach to life (a “judging” person). He or she likes things settled.At the other end of the spectrum
is the “perceiving” person who prefers open options and a ?exible
and spontaneous approach to life.2 You probably have people representing both types in your organization, and as a manager, you need
to learn to deal with the full range of personalities. In particular:
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Managing Change and Transition
• Think about the people who will participate in your change
initiative.Who will react negatively to having their routines
disrupted, and who will positively enjoy the experience?
Make a list.
• Once you’ve identi?ed people likely to be uncomfortable with
change, think about their roles in the change initiative.They
probably aren’t the ones you’ll want in key positions where initiative and enthusiasm are needed.Think, too, about how these
individuals can be helped through the process.
• For individuals with pro-change dispositions, consider ways to
optimize the energy they bring to the program, and how they
can work with others.
And don’t forget about yourself. Like everyone else you have a
unique disposition to change. You either love it, hate it, or (more
likely) you’re somewhere between those extremes.
Discovery Learning, Inc. of Greensboro, North Carolina, has developed a helpful methodology for measuring an individual’s disposition to change, indicating where that person is likely to fall on a
“preferred style” continuum.3 In their model, “Conservers” occupy
one end of the continuum.Conservers are people who prefer current
circumstances over the unknown—people who are more comfortable with gradual change than with anything radical. Occupying the
opposite end of the spectrum are the “Originators,” who prefer more
rapid and radical change.“Originators are representative of the reengineering approach to change,” according to Discovery Learning.“The
goal of an Originator is to challenge existing structure, resulting in
fast, fundamentally different, even systemic changes.” 4 Occupying a
middle position between these two extremes are the “Pragmatists”
who support change when it clearly addresses current challenges.
Pragmatists are less wedded to the existing structure than to structures
that are likely to be successful.(See “Change Style Characteristics”for
more on how Discovery Learning generalizes the characteristics of
people who represent these three change style preferences.)
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Social and Human Factors
Change Style Characteristics
When Facing Change, Conservers:
• Generally appear deliberate, disciplined, and organized
• Prefer change that maintains current structure
• May operate from conventional assumptions
• Enjoy predictability
• May appear cautious and in?exible
• May focus on details and the routine
• Honor tradition and established practice
When Facing Change, Pragmatists:
• May appear practical, agreeable, ?exible
• Prefer change that emphasizes workable outcomes
• Are more focused on results than structure
• Operate as mediators and catalysts for understanding
• Are open to both sides of an argument
• May take more of a middle-of-the-road approach
• Appear more team-oriented
When Facing Change, Originators:
• May appear unorganized, undisciplined, unconventional,
and spontaneous
• Prefer change that challenges current structure
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Managing Change and Transition
• Will likely challenge accepted assumptions
• Enjoy risk and uncertainty
• May be impractical and miss important details
• May appear as visionary and systemic in their thinking
• Can treat accepted policies and procedures with little regard
source:–W. Christopher Musselwhite and Robyn Ingram, Change Style Indicator (Greensboro, NC:The
Discovery Learning Press, 1999), 5–7. Used with permission.
Knowing where your coworkers stand—and where you stand—
in a change preference continuum such as this one can help you be
more effective in managing the people side of a change initiative.
The Resisters
“The reformer has enemies in all those who pro?t by the old order,”
Machiavelli warned his readers. And what held true in sixteenthcentury Italy remains true today. Some people clearly enjoy advantages that—rightly or wrongly—they view as threatened by change.
They may perceive change as endangering their livelihoods, their
perks, their workplace social arrangements, or their status in the organization. Others know that their specialized skills will be rendered
less valuable. For example, when a supplier of automotive hydraulic
steering systems switched in the late 1990s to electronic steering
technology, employees with expertise in hoses, valves, and ?uid pressure were suddenly less important.The know-how they had developed over long careers was suddenly less valuable for the company.
Any time people perceive themselves as losers in a change initiative, expect resistance. Resistance may be passive, in the form of noncommitment to the goals and the process for reaching them, or
active, in the form of direct opposition or subversion. How will you
deal with that resistance?
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Social and Human Factors
Change masters have dealt with resisters in different ways over
the years. French revolutionaries used the guillotine.The Bolsheviks
had resisters shot or packed off to the gulags. Mao and his communist followers sent them to “reeducation” camps. Employment laws
have removed these proven techniques from the corporate change
master’s tool kit, but there are other things you can do.You can begin
by identifying potential resisters and try to redirect them. Here’s
where you can start:
• Always try to answer the question,“Where and how will
change create pain or loss in the organization?”
• Identify people who have something to lose, and try to anticipate how they will respond.
• Communicate the “why” of change to potential resisters. Explain the urgency of moving away from established routines
or arrangements.
• Emphasize the bene?ts of change to potential resisters.Those
bene?ts might be greater future job security, higher pay, and so
forth.There’s no guarantee that the bene?ts of change will exceed the losses for these individuals. However, explaining the
bene?ts will help shift their focus from negatives to positives.
• Help resisters ?nd new roles—roles that represent genuine contributions and mitigate their losses.
• Remember that many people resist change because it represents
a loss of control over their daily lives.You can return some of that
control by making them active partners in the change program.
If these interventions fail, move resisters out of your unit.You cannot afford to let a few disgruntled individuals subvert the progress
of the entire group. But don’t make them “walk the plank.” Do what
you can to relocate them to positions where their particular skills
can be better used.That’s what the innovator of electronic steering
systems did.That company still had plenty of business supplying hydraulic systems to car and truck manufacturers, so it employed its
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Managing Change and Transition
hydraulic specialists in those units even as it hired electronic engineers for its expanding new business.
As you consider resisters, don’t forget that your own approach to
initiating or managing change may be contributing to the problem.
We noted in the previous chapter that “technical” solutions imposed
from the outside often breed resistance because they fail to recognize
the social dimension of work. Paul Lawrence made this point many
years ago in his classic Harvard Business Review article “How to Deal
With Resistance to Change.” 5 In looking at interrelationships among
employees Lawrence found that change originating among employees who work closely together is usually implemented smoothly. But
change imposed by outsiders threatens powerful social bonds, generating resentment and resistance. So be sure to evaluate what part you
may be playing in the resistance problem.
Dealing with Passive Resisters
Earlier, we described passive resistance to change as noncommitment
to goals and the process for reaching them. Passive resisters frustrate
managers. While they don’t sabotage the program, they certainly
don’t help the initiative move forward.
The reason that a person won’t change, explain psychologists
Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, is that he or she has a “competing commitment”—a subconscious, hidden goal that con?icts with
the stated commitment.6 For example, a project leader who is dragging
his feet may have an unrecognized competing commitment to avoid
tougher assignments that may come his way if he’s too successful with
the current project. A supervisor who cannot seem to get on board
with the new team-based approach to problem-solving may be worried
that she will be seen as incompetent if she cannot solve problems herself.
Though competing commitments are likely to be lodged deep
in an employee’s psyche, some serious probing on your part can
sometimes get them to the surface, where you and the employee can
deal with them.The most practical advice here is to engage in oneon-one communication with the passive resister.You need to ?nd
out what’s keeping this person from participating in an active way.
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Social and Human Factors
The Change Agents
Think for a moment about the big, big changes in the world over the
centuries. Chances are that you can associate individuals with each of
those changes. Copernicus and Galileo ultimately changed our view
of where we stand relative to our neighbors in the solar system. Martin Luther split Christendom in two and contributed indirectly to the
rise of nation states in Europe. Charles Darwin’s theory on natural selection torpedoed the accepted wisdom on humankind’s history.Karl
Marx,a thinker, and Vladimir Lenin,a doer,created a communist movement that, at its apex, held sway over almost half the world. Henry
Ford and his engineers developed a new approach to manufacturing—the assembly line—that fundamentally altered the auto industry and many other industries. In each of these cases, someone who
thought differently had a major impact on human history.None began
with serious resources or backing, all were outsiders, and all faced
substantial opposition.All were what we call change agents.
Change agents are catalysts who get the ball rolling, even if they
do not necessarily do most of the pushing. Everett Rogers described
them as ?gures with one foot in the old world and one in the new—
creators of a bridge across which others can travel.7 They help others
to see what the problems are, and convince them to grapple with
them. Change agents, in his view, ful?ll critical roles.They:
• articulate the need for change;
• are accepted by others as trustworthy and competent (people
must accept the messenger before they accept the message);
• see and diagnose problems from the perspective of their audience;
• motivate people to change;
• work through others in translating intent into action;
• stabilize the adoption of innovation; and
• foster self-renewing behavior in others so that they can “go out
of business” as change agents.
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Managing Change and Transition
Who in your organization has these characteristics? Are you
one of them? It is important to identify the change agents so that
you can place them in key positions during a change effort. In a
self-regenerating company, you’ll ?nd change agents in many different operating units and at all different levels. (See “Tips for Identifying Change Agents” for more information.)
Can change agents be created? Perhaps. One German electronics
?rm did so in the 1990s when it faced poor ?nancial performance,
sagging morale, and weak competitiveness.The company was overconsulted and under-managed.Many of its best young employees were
unhappy with consecutive years of losses and dimming prospects.The
company’s rigid corporate hierarchy was partly to blame.Management
recognized that it had to distribute authority and decision making
more broadly. To accomplish this it created a change agent program
that sent two dozen hand-picked employees to the United States for
special training, which included abundant exposure to entrepreneurial
American ?rms. Once the training program was completed, the newly
minted change agents were transferred back to their units, where they
worked to break the mold of the old hierarchical system.
General Motors attempted something very similar in its joint
venture with Toyota: the NUMMI small car assembly plant in California. That plant was run according to Toyota’s world-beating
production methods, and GM rotated manufacturing managers
through the plant to learn Toyota’s methods and, hopefully, bring a
working knowledge of those methods back to Detroit.As described
earlier, furniture maker Herman Miller sought the same result when
it moved managers from its SQA unit into its traditional operating
units; it ?gured that these individuals would infect others with their
faster, more accurate approach to manufacturing and ful?llment.
Your search for change agents shouldn’t necessarily be limited
to company personnel. Every so often it’s wise to look outside for
people who have the skills and attitudes required to stir things up
and get the organization moving in a new and more promising direction. This approach is not without risk, since the outsider’s lack
of familiarity with the company’s culture may result in unforeseen
turmoil. For a discussion of this issue, see “The Insider-Outsider as
Change Agent” and its Harvard Business Review excerpt.
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Social and Human Factors
Tips for Identifying Change Agents
• Find out who people listen to. Change agents lead with the
power of their ideas. But be warned:These may not be employees with formal authority to lead.
• Be alert to people who “think otherwise.” Change agents are
not satis?ed with things as they are—a fact that may not endear them to management.
• Take a close look at new employees who have come from
outside the circle of traditional competitors.They may not
be infected with the same mind-set as everyone else.
• Look for people with unusual training or experience. For example, if all your marketing people have business degrees and
heavy quantitative research backgrounds, look for the oddball
liberal arts major who has a degree in social anthropology.
Chances are she sees the world through a different lens.
The Insider-Outsider as Change Agent
Many companies feel that the only way to create change and
make it stick is to bring in outsiders with no ties to the status
quo. Others fear that outsiders who don’t understand the business, its culture, and its values will simply create disruption.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Donald Sull recommends that leadership for change be invested in individuals who
represent both sides of the coin: a fresh perspective on the business and a solid appreciation for the company’s culture.
Guiding a company through big changes requires a dif?cult balancing
act.The company’s heritage has to be respected even as it’s being resisted. It’s often assumed that outsider managers are best suited to lead
such an effort since they’re not bound by the company’s historical
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Managing Change and Transition
formula. . . .Typically, outsiders are so quick to throw out all the old
ways of working that they end up doing more harm than good.
The approach I recommend is to look for new leaders from within
the company but from outside the core business. These managers,
whom I call inside-outsiders,can be drawn from the company’s smaller
divisions, from international operations, or from staff functions. . . .
Insider-outsiders have led many of the most dramatic corporate
transformations in recent times. Jack Welch spent most of his career
in GE’s plastics business; Jürgen Schrempp was posted in South
Africa before returning to run [DaimlerChrysler]; and Domenico
De Sole served as the Gucci Group’s legal counsel before leading
that company’s dramatic rejuvenation.
Another alternative is to assemble management teams that leverage the strengths of both insiders and outsiders.When [Lou] Gerstner took over at IBM, he didn’t force out all the old guard. Most
operating positions continued to be staffed by IBM veterans with
decades of experience, but they were supported by outsiders in key
staff slots and marketing roles.The combination of perspectives has
allowed IBM to use old strengths to fuel its passage down an entirely new course.
Finally, inside managers can break free of their old formulas by
imagining themselves as outsiders, as Intel’s executives did in deciding to abandon the memory business. Intel had pioneered the market
for memory chips, and for most of its executives, employees, and customers,Intel meant memory. As new competitors entered the market,
however, Intel saw its share of the memory business dwindle. . . .
Although Intel had built an attractive microprocessor business
during this time, it clung to the memory business until its chairman,
Gordon Moore, and its president, Andy Grove, sat down and deliberately imagined what would happen if they were replaced with
outsiders.They agreed that outsiders would get out of the memory
business—and that’s exactly what Moore and Grove did.While a
company’s competitive formula exerts a tremendous gravitational
pull, thinking like outsiders can help insiders to break free.a
a –Donald N. Sull, “Why Good Companies Go Bad,” Harvard Business Review 77, no. 4 ( July–August
1999): 50.
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Social and Human Factors
Summing Up
Change is complicated by the fact that organizations are social systems whose participants have identities, relationships, communities,
routines, emotions, and differentiated powers. Thus managers must
be alert to how a change will con?ict with existing social systems
and individual routines.
This chapter explored the three identity categories that employees typically fall into:
• The rank and ?le is likely to include people who exhibit a spectrum
of reactions to change. This chapter adopted the terms “conservers,”“pragmatists,” and “originators” to describe how different people respond to change. Knowing where your coworkers
stand—and where you stand—in a change preference continuum
such as this one can help you be more effective in managing the
people side of a change initiative.
• Change resisters will either drag their feet or actively attempt to
undermine your efforts. You can identify potential resisters by
determining where and how change will create pain or loss in the
organization. Once you’ve identi?ed them, there are several things
you can do to neutralize their resistance or make them active participants.These include: explaining the urgent need to change, describing how change will produce bene?ts for them, and ?nding
new ways in which they can contribute. People who do not respond to these efforts should be moved out of your unit.
• Change agents see the need for change and articulate it effectively
to others. They are critical catalysts for a change initiative and
should be placed in key positions.This chapter has provided tips
for identifying change agents.
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Chapter 5
1.–Eric Hoffer,The Ordeal of Change (Cutchogue,NY:Buccaneer Books,
1976), 3.
2.–See the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®, Consulting Psychologists
Press, Inc.
3.–See W. Christopher Musselwhite and Robyn Ingram, Change Style
Indicator (Greensboro, NC:The Discovery Learning Press, 1999).
4.–Ibid., 4.
5.–Paul R. Lawrence,“How to Deal With Resistance to Change,” Harvard Business Review XLVII ( January–February 1969): 4–12, 166–176.
6.–Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, “The Real Reason People
Won’t Change,” Harvard Business Review 79, no. 10 (November 2001):
7.–Everett M. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovation, 3rd ed. (New York: The
Free Press, 1983) 315–316.
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