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Managing and Leading Change

Today, all organizations are faced with the challenge of managing and leading change. The past 20 years have been characterized as the age of mergers, restructuring, and downsizing. The manager as a leader of change has become increasingly important to the organization.

Types of Change

Change has become such an important part of organizations that we are using terms to describe different levels of change. The first type of change is called first order change. First order change refers to an action taken to adapt an observation to fit the existing pattern of thinking. In other words, first order change is a linear or incremental type of change where the fundamental structure of thinking stays the same. It’s what we commonly think of as continuous improvement or improving upon an existing paradigm.

The second type of change is called second order change. In second order change, there is purposeful change in the pattern of thinking to better fit the observation. This is what we commonly refer to as “out of the box” thinking. In second order change, there is a paradigm shift and a new order emerges. It is radical or transformational change.

In most organizations, first order changes are the most common. Recently, however, some organizations are engaging in second order changes with the introduction of new leadership models and lean operating principles. Resistance to change is an important consideration in both first order and second order changes. In second order changes, the manager should expect greater resistance.

Organizational Readiness

If an organization attempts to introduce a change initiative before readiness has been created, it typically fails and makes re-introducing the change initiative at a later date more difficult. For example, many organizations attempt to implement a team environment without developing the requirements and boundaries that guide the process. This usually results in failure. Workers begin with no direction, there is too much autonomy without accountability, and productivity and quality suffer. When management begins to provide the needed direction, it is rejected by workers who view it as a new restriction. Consequently, it is much more difficult – and there is much more resistance – to implement teams correctly a second time.

With rapidly emerging technology and a new global economy, leadership’s ability to manage change can make the difference between success or failure of an organization. The need for adaptation and continuous improvement has never been greater. Regardless of the organization’s purpose or mission, change touches all functions.

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