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Resolving to change: Fostering transformation at the organizational level

Welcoming a New Year can also mean welcoming change.  Many individuals have resolved to make changes in their lives.  Companies also often kick-off change initiatives or begin to implement talked about transformation in the New Year.

Sometimes change happens as a result of external circumstances but this article will offer theory, examples and tips for planned changes.

Planned changes might be related to company vision and values, implementation of new technology, changing organizational structure, changing employee policies, changing job tasks, changing up teams, creating new strategies, designing new product lines or setting new performance targets.

If you have uncovered a need for change, one of the organizational development approaches to managing change is the classic three step model by Lewin, as explained by Nancy Langton and her co-authors in the fifth edition of Organizational Behaviour: concepts, controversies, applications. The process involves first unfreezing the status quo, moving to the new desired state and then refreezing so that the changed state becomes the new status quo.

Unfreezing the status quo

This first step involves removing obstacles or barriers to change or increasing forces that increase the drive to change. Both options can also be combined to unfreeze the status quo if one on its own is not enough to start the change.

Removing restraining forces

Let’s take an example from healthcare. Let’s say that company X has decided that it wants its front-line staff to demonstrate more compassionate and empathetic behaviours.  Perhaps a restraining force to the compassionate care is a lack of resources such as low staff to client ratios or  time management based reward system or a lack of knowledge about compassionate care.  Whatever the barrier is discovered to be, one way to foster change is to decrease or remove some or all of the barriers.

Increasing driving forces

Driving change toward compassionate care could involve increased education opportunities, rewarding performance based on quality rather than quantity assessments, using positive incentives such as spot rewards or promoting leaders who demonstrate a compassionate care ethic. Increasing the factors that drive toward change can be combined with removing restraining forces.

Re-Freezing in a changed state

According to organizational change research in the Langton book, a fast change process has a greater chance of success. There is also always the chance that the change can be short-lived and the organization can boomerang back to its pre-changed state. Old habits die hard and it requires a lot of effort to reach and maintain a new changed state. To refreeze into the new changed state, the driving and the restraining forces have to come to a new equilibrium.  For example, your compensation system, staffing, scheduling or job descriptions may have to be permanently altered to solidify the changes.

Best human resources practices regarding changes that impact employees

If you are changing employee policies, ensure that you do this fairly and provide notice and good communication. As an employer you can change job descriptions, scheduling and compensation and reward systems, but to avoid claims of constructive dismissal you may need to offer an adequate amount of notice for the upcoming changes. Another good practice when making significant changes, especially if it involves an updated job description or significant schedule or work task change, is to have the employee agree to the changes in exchange for a raise, promotion or even a desired lateral transfer.

As an employer you have the ability to make changes to an employee’s job without employee agreement, however this is balanced with an employee’s right to treat fundamental changes to their jobs as constructive dismissal. Consulting a lawyer or going to court is always an option for either party, but a proactive human resources approach will hopefully enable an organization to avoid legal pitfalls while implementing significant organizational change.

Why change?

It is hard to unfreeze the status quo.  Should organizations or individuals even try to change?  Are those New Year’s Resolutions worth making?  In our fast-paced globally connected world, here is a brief word of advice to end on.  I think it applies both personally and at the organizational level:

Change, before you have to.”–Jack Welch, Former CEO, General Electric

Marcia Scheffler
M.A., CHRP Candidate

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Marcia Scheffler

Human Resources Generalist at Wawel Villa
Marcia Scheffler, M.A., CHRP Candidate is a Human Resources Generalist with M.A. working full-time as a Senior HR Officer. She is interested in the intersection of human resources theory and current best practices in HR. Read more
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