“Employee attitudes and behaviors have occupied the attention of organizational scholars and practitioners for decades” (Shore, Sy, & Strauss, 2006, p. 227). “The acceptance of, and support for, organizational changes on the part of organizational members is generally viewed as critical for the success of planned organizational changes” (Herold, Fedor, & Caldwell, 2007, p. 942). Aspects of the change process such as personnel management and leadership have been linked to change-specific attitudes. As managers gain greater understanding of how employee disposition and organizational commitment relate to the successful implementation of change, further education about these forces and their influence is needed. “[M]ost of the organizational change literature has focused on the role of change implementation processes” (p. 944); this paper explores the less obvious solution to implementing change in the present as being made less complicated when managers plan for that change beforehand by getting the right (and organizationally committed) people in place before the call for change happens.
Quality People and Leadership = Effective Change
Communication. There is more than ample amount of literature available extolling the virtues of effective communication from leader to subordinate in order to affect positive change. Van Vuuren, Menno, de Jong, & Seydel (2006) put forward that effectual communication will influence the job-fit perceptions of employees.
Through communication, information is shared to provide a fundamental understanding of the tasks that are to be performed as well as the goals to which the organization is striving. Corporate communication provides opportunities to enact complex environments of an organization and shapes images of stakeholders, politics, opportunities, and threats. Given the super-ordinate nature of organizational goals, members have to interact to be able to achieve the goals that are the reason for existence to the organization, and they define the organization accordingly (p. 116-117).
Researchers and practitioners appear to agree that a sturdy structure of socialization of newcomers, and constant re-alignment into the in-group of current employees increases the sense of ownership of the company and its endeavors; this is often called organizational commitment.
Communicate well to improve organizational commitment - this is the easy solution. Forests of papers and gigabytes of power points have been presented about simply communicating better to work better. Nowhere is this truer than in the US Navy where I have endured hundreds of man-hours of horribly written and even shoddier presented training sessions on change management. Almost as if he were living in the Navy too, fitness writer Timothy Ferriss calls this approach parking lot science. In this method management looks for the simplest solution because it is the simplest (read: cheapest, most politically expedient, fastest, least painful, effortless). Ferriss writes:
... “parking lot” science, so-called after a joke about a poor drunk man who loses his keys during a night on the town.
His friends find him on his hands and knees looking for his keys under a streetlight, even though he knows he lost them somewhere else. “Why are you looking for your keys under the streetlight?” they ask. He responds confidently, “Because there’s more light over here. I can see better.” For the researcher seeking tenure, grant money, or lucrative corporate consulting contracts, the maxim “publish or perish” applies (p. 41).
For the fledgling leader seeking sycophantic gains, touting the desirable qualities of improved communication is as predictable as the seasons. The shifting of focus from actual (hard) solution to the simpler effort is the same sort of fixation Herold, et al., (2007) were writing about when they wrote, “[u]nfortunately, it appears that a lot of current training seminars and popular writings have shifted this burden to the individual organizational member, in essence blaming the victim for poor organizational and personal outcomes” (p. 949).
That is, if the organization was being managed well, and the personalities and extraneous circumstances (the context within which the change is taking place, not just the change) were being taken into account during change, the entire process would be more effectual. Currently, there is a prevailing attitude that when something goes wrong, that someone specifically did something wrong – not, that is, that the plan was ill-conceived, misinformed, poorly timed, or outright ridiculous. For those who wish to sound like the future leaders, without upsetting the current stock, talking about improving communication is a sure bet; for those who pine for the gallows need only speak about whether or not the proposed change is the right one, in the correct place, effective enough to warrant doing, cost-effective, timed well, or needed at all.
This must have been true of government in 1865 as well when English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, penned “Alice in Wonderland.” Therein the Queen of Hearts belts, “Off with their heads!” to anyone who disagrees.
To truly solve (the unsolvable) problem of affecting effective change, leadership has to know its people and pay deeper attention to getting the right people in the right place (and listening to them) before trying to move them along a path of change.
Setting up an Environment Ready for Change
Industry has known for some time that getting the right people in place is critical to implementing successful change (Shore, et al. 2006). Industrial and Organizational (I/O) Psychologists struck one of their first successful chords in the marketplace during World War I, and again during World War II, when the Army asked I/O Psychologists for help designing and giving service members task and intelligence testing for career path selection (Landy, Shankster, & Kohler, 2004). The success of these programs led industry leaders to take a more serious look at exactly which people they were hiring for which positions. These innovative leaders sought more interaction with (prospective and current) employees through testing and assessment as a proven means to save time and training on people who were not the right fit for the assignment(s). The die was cast; new attention to job-fit increased production efficiency, decreased cost, and lowered attrition for the companies that did it well (Herold, et al., 2007; Landy, et al., 1994; Muchinsky, 2006; Pervin, Cervone, & John, 2005).
One of the easily recognizable early advances in the field was the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (and again in 1991), which added to the already growing sensitivity about human resourcing in regard to pre-employment examinations (Landy, et al., 1994). The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) “aroused substantial interest in the human resource community” (p. 264) and set some healthy boundaries for how far industry leaders could go in their pursuit of the perfect job-fit employees. Landy, et al. (1994) wrote that the ADA protected employees from unjust treatment based on unreasonable preconceived notions about their abilities. ADA also complicated the tasks of I/O Psychologists in their task to massage industry demands, public awareness (and attitudes) of hiring practices, and the law’s growing attention and requirements. Further study was spawned from this complication and it quickly became obvious that the retention of quality personnel saved money and increased efficiency and productive quality (Shore, et al., 2006). Fitting people and attitudes with the right job eased the tension between management and laborers during change efforts due to the increased organizational commitment that comes from good job-fit (Herold, et al., 2007; Landy, et al., 1994; Muchinsky, 2006). Efforts to fit the right people in the correct fields (or positions) have made the entire task of leadership during change easier.
They’re here. Newcomers are quickly socialized into the organization and its general dogma (or way of thinking about and conducting business). During this organizational socialization, new and current employees are indoctrinated into acquiring the organizational culture of other successful organization members. The in-group mentality that good mentoring and socialization conveys, foster positive organizational attitudes like correct job-fit, overall self-efficacy, and organizational commitment (Payne & Huffman, 2005). “Individuals who share organizational goals and values tend to have high levels of affective commitment” (p. 158) which increases the propensity to handle and support impending change (Herold, et al., 2007). In short, if people feel that they belong to an organization, and are committed it its success, then imposing (unwanted or misunderstood) change upon them becomes an easier task.
Who’s here? “[A]lthough organizations hesitate to focus too much on individual differences for fear of making managerial decision-making too idiosyncratic and difficult to manage, given the importance of successful change management, an increased emphasis on the role of such differences may be appropriate” (Herold, et al., 2007, p. 949). Shore, et al. (2006) proposed that in order for leadership to best understand their workforce, and therefore make the most constructive efforts toward implementing change, that they need to understand how different people perceive equity. According to Huseman, Hatfield, & Miles, (1985 and 1987; as cited by Shore, et al., 2006) there are three types of individuals management must consider when planning for effective communication.
Benevolent individuals. These employees are described as the givers of the in-group who “dislike being on the receiving end of a social exchange” (Shore, et al., 2006, p. 230); they are intrinsically motivated. Benevolents receive higher ratings on job performance, will work harder for less, have greater organizational commitment, higher job satisfaction, and have, therefore, the highest retention rates. Here for example, managers who know the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation will be well positioned to define the benefits of the needed change to their employees in ways each employee can appreciate. Benevolents are more tolerant of change and uncertainty than the next archetypical employees, but that does not mean management should discount the importance of framing the discussion that will promote understanding.
Entitled individuals. Contrary to Benevolents, Entitled individuals actually prefer to be on the receiving end of a social exchange. These employees will focus mainly on maximizing their personal gain (even at the expense of others). The Entitled are described as the getters who “have a sense of entitlement and a high threshold for feeling indebted” (Greenberg & Westcott, 1983; as cited in Shore, et al., 2006); they are known to concentrate mainly on extrinsic outcomes of change. For this group, change management may be more difficult than the first. Here, employees may wish to know what’s in it for them and leadership should structure the explanation of the needed change in a way that involves the Entitled individuals’ sense of need. This is not the case for the US military where people like this are simply fired, re-assigned to harder (or humiliating) tasks, or refused promotions and the benefits of drinking the kool-aid. Of course, if one was to agree for the extrinsic motivational value in avoiding banishment or punishment or a reward, then this archetype is also provided for in the Navy’s do it or else change management précis.
Equity Sensitive individuals. Here are leaderships’ allies in change management. Equity Sensitive employees “fall between these two extremes and are believed to adhere to traditional equity theory tenets, having a preference for equality between their outcome/input ratios and that of others” (Shore, et al., 2006, p. 230). It is this group that will help maneuver the relationship between leader demands and employee perceptions of equity or inequity. Understanding a manager’s request for change will positively “affect the employees’ sense of fairness and subsequent attitudes and behaviors” (Folger & Greenberg, 1985; as cited in Shore, et al., 2006, p. 228). Identifying and allying this group to the cause is the best technique for aligning the group to the task at hand. Peer alignment is a powerful force when young Sailors are trying to make decisions about whether or not they are going to buy into a new idea (or effort).
Every employee matters. It remains a salient point that managers should adapt their approach to change communication to each person’s needs, even, I would argue, if that means individualizing the communication technique down to a one-on-one with each member. More important than reactive communication during change is, if possible, getting people aligned to support the team before the change so that each member wants to see the team (or organization) succeed and has a vested interest (intrinsic or extrinsic) in seeing (and helping) success happen.
“The centrality of [a manager’s role] in the [change] process suggests that there is a link between managerial communication and attitudes about the organization. When a manager fails to provide this bigger picture, for instance, due to continuous physical absence or lack of skills, subordinates may loose sight [of the organization’s precepts] and the goals may not be motivating” (van Vuuren, et al., 2006, p. 117). Change does not happen in a vacuum; managers must take into account the broader context of the proposed change, its timing, its impact on the organizational environment, and the personalities it requires attention from. “[T]he practice of change management would do well to focus not only on aspects of the particular change but also on the context in which the change occurs and the individuals undergoing the change” (Herold, et al., 2007, p. 949).
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