what needs to be managed during a change process?

In response to my entry from last week about guiding change to a destination that is still below the horizon, Bill Harris (who blogs at Making Sense with Facilitated Systems) wrote me a comment with a link to an article by Dale Emery entitled "Managing yourself during change" (PDF).

The article by Dale Emery explains how we experience change, in a way that may allow managers to empathize with what happens to employees' lives when a dramatic change (such as a plant shutdown) is proposed. Emery draws on the Satir Change Model, which describes stages of behavior after a change is announced. The first stage in Satir's model, post-announcement, is chaos. This is why managers dislike change so much -- because it provokes strong emotional reactions in employees, and those emotions are often framed as "messes" that the managers have to "clean up".

But don't clean up too fast! Click to

Emery makes a very important point -- out of chaos come transforming ideas. If managers clean up the chaos too quickly, they may not find any really new ideas about how to make the organization work better. If they can tolerate the messy initial reactions to change, though, and really listen.... then they can polish the transforming ideas that emerge, and integrate those ideas into the new and improved organization.

Too many managers assume that they need to suppress any reactions from their employees other than wholehearted support for a proposed change -- but in fact, this kind of emotional squelching is unhealthy. The key to managing organizational change is for managers to worry less about managing others' resistance to the change they propose, and to worry more about managing their own process, staying open to the new ideas that will emerge during a healthy change process and finding ways to incorporate the ideas developed by others into the change as it is being implemented.

Managers need to manage themselves during organizational changes, so that they do not create distance between themselves and their employees. If a manager conveys the subtle message that he or she doesn't have time to listen to the employee's perspective on the change proposal, then the relationship between the manager and that employee will be irreversibly damaged. Even though the organizational process that has been updated may seem more efficient on paper, in reality, the relationship damage that occurred during the change implementation has weakened the organization.

Thanks, Bill, for pointing out the Emery article for me! (And if you haven't stopped by Bill's blog yet, I encourage you to do so. He writes about interesting business topics like innovation, intrapreneuring, and meeting global expectations.)


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Thanks for this! Someone recently mentioned the Satir change model to me, so it was great to read Emery's treatment of it.


Posted by Terrence Seamon on July 2, 2007 09:30 AM

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