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Managing Change and Transition

Introduction

Pick any industry and chances are that it looked very different in the 1970s than it did in the 1980s. Likewise, the industries of the 1980s had changed drastically by the succeeding decade. Agribusiness. Air Travel. Auto manufacturing. Banking. Biotech. Computers.  Electronics.  Pharmaceuticals. Steel. Software. Telecommunications. Each of These established industries has passed through one or more wringers over the past several decades. Quality improvement. Adoption of new Methods. Adaptation to new technologies. Response to regulatory Change. Facing up to new competitors. And most will be forced through a new set of changes in the years ahead.

If the industries themselves have changed so drastically, clearly the companies within them have experienced their own unique upheavals. IBM was adrift and slowly sinking before it was rescued and refitted under new leadership and a core of energetic and determined Employees. Microsoft has transformed itself from Software Company to an integrator of computer-Internet solutions. General Electric has gone through several successive waves of change over the past twenty-something years. Enron rose like a rocket on its innovative approach to energy trading before overreaching management blew it to bits. These companies represent simply a few episodes in the saga of corporate transformation. Even enterprises as small as your local independent bookstore is changing how they operate. Those that don’t change are bound to stagnate or fail.

Although it’s impossible to anticipate the when, what, and where of change, it is something businesses can count on—and should plan for. Accepting the necessity and inevitability of change enables them to see times of transition not as threats but as opportunities—opportunities for reinventing the company and its culture. Indicators that life at work is about to change includes:

A merger, acquisition, or divestiture.Mergers and acquisitions are often the means by which organizations grow. Divestitures are strategic attempts to redirect assets or to focus the organization in some particular direction. Such “restructuring” changes almost always result in duplications of functions, which must be corrected through painful layoffs.

The launch of a new product or service.These connect a company with new customer markets and, often, new competitors. In these cases, adaptation and learning are essential.

A new leader.Change should be expected with the arrival of any new leader. Like a new owner of an old house, a new leader will be tempted to alter or remodel existing business processes. In many cases, this means a substantial turnover among senior executives. The new leader generally doesn’t feel comfortable until he is comfortable with all the people around him. Change will cascade down from these new executives.

A new technology.Technology is transforming the world of work. Information technology in particular is changing not just how we work, but when we work and from which locations. Close to 23 percent of the U.S.workforce now does some amount of “telework” from home, from a client location, or from a satellite office? In addition so-called “disruptive” technologies can render a company’s products or services obsolete in a very short time. Where are all the “supercomputers” we used to hear about? And who needs travelers’ checks in an age of credit cards and ATMs? These are being displaced.

The fact that organizations must undergo continual change does not mean that people enjoy the process, or that the experience of change is pleasant. On the contrary, change is often disheartening and frustrating, and generally leaves a number of casualties in its wake. Managers often complain that change takes too long or that it’s too costly. Alternately, some worry that it doesn’t last long enough or cost enough to get the job done. People at the bottom claim that the “top” doesn’t practice what it preaches. The people at the top grouse that the folks at the bottom are dragging their feet. People in the middle blame everyone else.

Change is almost always disruptive and, at times, traumatic. Because of this, many people avoid it if they can. Nevertheless, change is part of organizational life and essential for progress. Those who know how to anticipate it, catalyze it, and manage it will find their careers, and their companies, more satisfying and successful.

What’s Ahead?

In this book you will learn how to manage change constructively, and how to help your company, division, and people deal with the upheavals of change. You’ll also learn practical things you can do to make change initiatives more successful and less painful for the people You manage.

The literature on change management is large and growing constantly, with dozens of books and case studies published every year. This book compiles the best information on this subject in a manageable, practical format. It provides essential information on the management of change in organizations, with many examples from the contemporary business scene, and with numerous practical tips to make your efforts more effective.

The first chapter offers an overview of the dimensions of change used by organizations. These include structural, cultural, and process change, as well as change that aims strictly to cut costs. It also examines the different ways that these programs can be applied.

BY: HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL

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