What is Change Management Theory?

H. Terry

Change is more a part of business today than ever before, and it is constant. Change management theory is aimed at helping employees, managers — and by extension, the business itself — to adapt readily to beneficial changes. This can be a difficult task if staff members do not personally feel a change is worthwhile. Change management theory seeks to align an organization's interest in change with the interests of all its members.

Change management theory promotes consultations as a means to overcome staff doubts and fears.
Change management theory promotes consultations as a means to overcome staff doubts and fears.

In a given situation, change might relate more strongly to the structure, technology or strategy of an organization, or it might be focused on the attitudes and behaviors of staff. It is common that a major change in one of these areas will require the application of changes in most of the others as well. Change management theory looks at how to identify and synchronize such necessary changes. For example, if a new intranet is set-up to enhance a company's internal communications, employees will need to undergo training in using the system — structural change — and will also need to feel comfortable with the new technology — attitudes and behaviors.

Since it is easier to change technologies and, on paper, job roles and company objectives than it is to change people's minds, change management theory frequently deals with finding ways to counter staff resistance to change. Resistance occurs for many reasons. In some cases, people are simply intimidated by changes, fearing that they will not be able to keep up and that a new way of doing something might be more difficult. Sometimes it has nothing to do with difficulty; changes often make work easier, but there is still a reluctance to embrace change on an emotional level. An employee who has for years been writing, signing, stamping and hand-delivering memos to colleagues might feel upset by seeing this process — and by extension, an aspect of his or her work — rendered obsolete by a new system of emailing memos.

A human being might be the most adaptive creature on the planet, but he or she can still be stubborn. Statements such as "it just doesn't feel right" and "I can get it done twice as fast the old way" are common and indicative of this creature of habit's commitment to keeping things familiar. People accept change when they understand the value of it and do not feel that it devalues anything they hold to be important. They can feel an older way of doing things is important for a number of reasons, ranging from a sincere belief that the old way is better to a sense of loyalty to predecessors and tradition.

Change management theory promotes communication strategies, training programs and consultations as a means to overcome staff doubts and fears. One of the key change management principles is that all members of a staff be kept informed and made to feel a part of decisions regarding change. Managers of organizations can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the prospect of implementing large changes. Consultants specialized in change management methodologies are sometimes brought in to guide them through the process.

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