Leading Through a Macro Change
by Matthew W. Hurtienne, Ph.D
In his book Leading Change (1996), John Kotter mentions that leaders help transform old practices and build new systems that will help an organization be more productive. He goes on to stay that "transformation is a process and not an event." However, sometimes an event or events (similar to what we have experienced) can trigger an organization to relook at itself and force the initiation of the transformation process.
For many of us, we are used to change that is triggered by events within our organization, but for most of us, we probably are less comfortable and familiar with change that is invoked from outside our organization. This year, 2020, we have had many environmental, outside triggers that have affected how our organizations think and operate. These events have caused a sustainable and massive shift in the way we think and act.
Levels of Change
Change is common but not always welcomed. However, we know there is nothing more consistent than some sort of change occurring in our life. Often when change is discussed, we look at change from an individual, team, or internal organizational level. Usually we do not discuss change that can impact our values and beliefs forever. Connor (1992) helps us to review and reflect on the three main levels of change.
- Mico-changes – These are typically small and manageable changes
- Organizational Changes – These are large changes that impact the operational practices of the entire organization
- Macro -Changes - These include a massive transition that alters assumptions, values, or beliefs
When we discuss organization culture, we look at the "interrelationship of shared beliefs, behaviors, and assumptions that are acquired over time by members of an institution" (Connor, 1992, 164). It is the organizational culture that will impact the success or failure of change. It is also the same culture that can force an organization to discuss what beliefs, values, and assumptions are essential. If the value systems do not align with the employees, you will likely see a decrease in employee engagement, production, and higher employee attrition rates.
"Nothing undermines change more than behavior by important individuals that is inconsistent with verbal communication" (Kotter, 1996). No matter if you are leading through a micro-level change or a macro-level change, the core change initiatives are the same. According to Dyer (1989), there are a few items to consider for a change process to be successful:
- Organizations need to be ready for the change.
- Leaders need to be committed to the change and be visible.
- Stakeholders need to understand information to help make decisions to help install lasting change.
- Cross-disciplined department communication and planning are important (System Theory).
- The change process needs to be consistent with cultural and operational conditions.
- Employees need to see the relationship between the change process, organizational success, and personal growth.
- Leaders and change agents need to be competent and trusted.
- The evaluation must be viewed with quantitative and qualitative data.
You are probably finding yourself asking more questions than you are able to answer, and that is ok. We are operating under an environment that we have not experienced before, and as professionals, we will find a way to meet our strategic goals. Our effectiveness will depend on the ability to tolerate ambiguity (Burk, 1992) but rely on foundational practices to pave the way to form new organizational norms.
Burke, W.W. (1992). Organizational development: A process of learning and changing. Addison-Wesley.
Connor, D. (1992). Managing at the speed of change. Villard Books.
Dyer, W.G. (1989). Team building: A microcosm of the Past, Present, and Future of OD. Academy of Management OD Newsletter, 4, 7-8
Kotter, J.P (1996). Leading Change. Harvard Business School Press