Understanding the Concept of Change in an Organizational Context

The famous American Quality Guru J.Edward Deming once stated, No one has to change, survival is optional.”

This statement and many other quotations by famous management gurus and thinkers provide us food for thought to discuss and understand the fundamental concept of change; for it lays the very foundation of the discipline of Organization Development.

In the following paragraphs, I would attempt to explain the philosophy of change and its underlying mechanics  in an organizational context.

The increasing pace of global, economic, social and technological development makes change an inevitable feature of organizational life. Keeping a pace with them in a fast changing environment is a daunting task for most of the organizations. Many firms are finding it difficult to adapt to these changes.

Now the question arises who is responsible in an organization to take this bull by the horns? The answer is simple: the managers of the organization. Today’s manager need a new mindset-one that values flexibility, speed, innovation and challenge that evolves from constantly changing conditions.

For a professional manager, change in essence is a moving target. For him, the fundamental nature of managerial success is changing according to the demand of organization’s external and internal environment. External forces include regulators, competitors, market forces, customers, technology, and the larger society. Internal factors include obsolescence of products and services, new market opportunities, new strategic directions, an increasingly diverse workforce, etc.

Characteristics of Change

Change has different facets; for example:

  • It can be deliberate (planned) or accidental (unplanned).
  • Its magnitude can be large or small.
  • It can be fast (abrupt, revolutionary) or slow (evolutionary)

The new state of things can have an entirely different nature from the old state if things (fundamental, quantum, or “second-order” change), or new state of things can have the same nature with some modifications (incremental, “first-order” change).

Early change management programs in many a organizations primarily addressed first-order change-making moderate adjustments to the organizations. However, today the demand on organizations are so great that second-order change is required in many instances.

James Champy and Micheal Hammer who introduced the concept of Reengineering, advocate dramatic or second-order change. Therefore, organizations are now being reinvented, work tasks reengineered, and rules of the marketplace rewritten.

The fundamental nature of work and organization is changing. Indeed, the new state of things is already vastly different from old state of things, and the changes are just beginning.

Therefore, it can easily be assumed that change will be one of the few constant in this century and perhaps in next as well.


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