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Lessons on Managing Change: Principles and Practical Steps
Lessons About Upheaval Organizational Changes

Ever since computers hit the business horizon, organizations have started to concretize the reality of system changes in their workplace.  From changes in culture and mindsets, to installing new technologies and systems, people have been in a constant flux of change -- some of them slow and gradual, while others take on a more high-velocity whirlwind-like nature.

For all of  change gurus advocating new models on how to  manage change more efficiently with less employee resistance or system breakdowns and crashes, the laws of nature take over whenever changes are done or instituted, haphazardly -- particularly if they are not well planned, and synchronized with people’s mindsets, pace and processes and current external stakeholder realities.

Consulting  experience about changes in organizations have provided insight  about what it is like to be “a part of those who will implement the change”, those who will simply be innocent bystanders watching the world go by as companies subject their workforce to these changes, and those who are actually “in the flux on the changes -- unable to make decisions but somehow are compelled to comply because” as wisely put by change guiding teams, the change will help the organization and its people reach world-class standards.  Or perhaps, the dream of taking over the market by quantum-leap bounds, or making work so seamlessly efficient with “the great paperless promise”, lesser bureaucracies and red tape also get everyone’s hopes up.  Then of course,  there is also the expectation that with a new system, every bit of information and report at real-time, and at your fingertips, with just a send-receive push-button a few seconds away will make worklife less hectic.


Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,  advocated an important foundation principle to create powerful personal changes.  We now know it as PARADIGM SHIFT.  In the FranklinCovey workshops run worldwide, paradigm shifts were described as “all breakthroughs are achieved with significant break-withs”.

Covey lifted this from the original work of Thomas Kuhn, author of  “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions where Kuhn showed “how almost every significant breakthroughs in the field of scientific endeavors first a break with tradition, with old ways of thinking, with old paradigms”. This simply suggests that one can now exercise the freedom to choose to challenge current mindsets that may no longer be relevant or helpful to a person.  One can now choose to  question these mindsets, be open to the possibility that one could have wrong assumptions about situations, people and about oneself, and in the process of enhancing a sincere desire to keep an open mind, to learn and to be humble. One can actively play a major role in shifting one’s paradigms or perspectives, so that situations may work for the better in the long-run. 

The only difficult catch here is this -- how open are leaders to accept they could be wrong with their assumptions?  How humble are people to face the reality that they don’t have all the right answers, and that it would be all right to ask for help?  How willing are individuals to take risks and make the first move to ask people if the changes they desire would also sit well with them? And if they resist, how ready are they to really dialogue with them so that making the changes work can be engaging?

Ultimately, Stephen Covey acknowledges the power of paradigm shifts when he wrote, “...whether they shift us in positive or negative directions, whether they are instantaneous or developmental, paradigm shifts move us from one way of seeing the world to another.  And those shifts create powerful change.  Our paradigms, correct of incorrect, are the sources of our attitudes and behaviors,  and ultimately our relationships with others.”


Aside from the principle of paradigm shifting, there is also the context of “paradox” which people and organizations need to live with while undergoing changes.  In dictionary terms, a paradox is described as “a seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true”.  In philosophy, Hegel’s dialectic throws in two opposites pushing and pulling against each other -- the famous concept of thesis and antithesis -- two extreme views necessary to develop a synthesis that is not pure compromise but an actual solution, or as Stephen Covey termed it “the Third Alternative”.    But why learn about paradoxes in the world of upheaval changes? 
The answer is simple yet complex:  the very nature of change implemented in organizations as observed often take on a paradoxical nature.  While changes are planned and road maps are created from start to finish to minimize resistance, and avoid large-scale hitches, somewhere in the midst of journey, the precise opposite does happen.  People do resist, and hitches do take on chaotic proportions. 

Sometimes, the very people who have supposedly championed the cause of the change itself are the very root cause of resistance.  For instance, a particular organization opted to computerize its entire system in order to streamline its collection processes.  Strongly advocated by management, the change started to take place.  In the midst of learning the technology, top officers themselves resisted having to learn how to operate computers.  Supervisors, who were threatened with having to use computers feared implications of  re-engineering and downsizing, resisted by slowing down the work.  There were reported  instances of people pouring coffee “accidentally” on keyboards, or cutting the wire of the mouse so as to slow down work.  The very problem companies try to avoid are the very problems that occur.

Charles Handy, in his book “The Age of Paradox” advised managers to deal with the business paradoxes in a more proactive way.  He emphasized that “managers can, and should, reduce the starkness of some of the contradictions, minimize the inconsistencies, understand the puzzles in paradox but they cannot make them disappear, solve them completely or escape from them”.  If one were to infer some wisdom from Handy’s advise, it simply means that organizations should accept the reality that there are many situations changes may bring about which individuals cannot control.  No matter how well planned a change is, there is always the potential for chaos stemming from the unknown.  No matter how trained or how ready your people are to embrace the change, one should reserve room for the possibility of anger, discord, and turbulence, and  that in these moments, it may not be the strength of the intellect that would solve the most complex  problems.  Rather, it may be the gentleness of the heart that may somehow sooth people’s frantic nerves as they battle their way through the heavy armaments hurled by the unpredictable. 

Charles Handy’s viewpoint gained further support when the Price Waterhouse Change Integration Team  identified five key paradoxical principles which companies can use to guide them through monumental changes.  In their book on “The Paradox Principles”,  the  team interviewed over 200 senior-level executives from the manufacturing and service industries.  Combining their information with their own experiences in serving as consultants to icon organizations worldwide, the team drew up these principles: 

Positive Change requires Significant Stability, which advocates the need for companies to “identify the critical sources of stability such as culture, community, a stable vision, mission, strategy and core competencies”.

To Build an Enterprise, Focus on the Individual.  Like it or not, the very source of a foundation still lies at the core of the individual employee’s own mindsets, values and attitudes and how these  aspirations are aligned with those of the organization.

Focus Directly on Culture, Indirectly.  It is important to recognize the “powerful leverage gained when behaviors  and decisions firmly reinforce an organization’s strategy.  As the team wisely puts it, “t0 reshape culture, managers must focus on the six important levers that create and shape culture, namely: leadership actions, vision purpose and strategy; performance measures; structure; people practices, and competitive context”.

True Empowerment Requires Forceful Leadership.  For all of the fanfare about letting employees “run the show”,  studies have shown that employees still expect leaders to play a willful and purposive role when running organizations.  This is the age wherein leaders need to seek a balance between command and control versus latitude and participation.  The Price Waterhouse team put it as “basing this on mutual respect, reinforced by effective communication skills.  Its aim is to balance an increasing need for bold leadership with each person’s instinct for freedom and initiative. “

In Order to Build, You Must Tear Down”.  Very often, companies have been built with the expressed desire to make them flourish and last.  Unfortunately (or fortunately), this adage may no longer be applicable or relevant.  The motherhood cliche that “change is the only constant in the world” does hold true.  And therefore,  if companies would like to persevere in being competitive they should be ready to “dismantle in order to start anew”. 


In making changes happen, it is important to believe that the sincerity of management is really present -- that they do desire what is best for their company and for their people,  as well as for their customers.  Sometimes, however,  even the noblest of intentions fade away once the implementation cracks show up. 

These are usually experienced by organizations when the  company changes lack five major elements: 

A clear visual picture of the actual results or landscape change people will see once the change has been implemented;  a sincere and strong commitment to make the changes happen -- not by sheer force and use of fear, but more by engagement with clear views on both positive and negative implications if  the changes do or do not work as planned.  In one visioning workshop, members of the management team were asked what exactly did they expect to see once the changes in systems were fully operational.  Using their imagination and concretizing their images, this is what they wrote:  “corridors with lesser customers because they would now utilize our machines in our branches nationwide;  customer satisfaction surveys that indicate a close to 90% satisfaction; employees no longer frantically looking for papers in the filing cabinets because reports are stored and immediately accessible by branches and head office through the system a few clicks away.  Lesser manual clerical work done by our people and this will be replaced by them doing more strategic and analytical type of jobs.”

Sharp and well-thought of metrics from top-level mandated change goals to team and individual goals.  Very often, metrics simply involve deadlines which are important but not necessarily the only gauge for change progress and success.  The adage “What gets measured gets done” is basic wisdom here.  Tying this up to the Pricewaterhouse principle of “In Order to build, one must tear down”  -- people need to be very clear on what will be torn down so that the vision for the change can take fold.  If we are talking a a culture change which will involve a change in people (rather than of people), we need to identify exactly the behaviors and the attitudes we would like to re-direct. 

In one public sector institution, their corporate planning unit had to go through long-hour discussions in defining the actual measures they needed to consider to know what would be their main radar for success or failure.  These measures were built into a nationwide plan which was meant to map out 13 years of developmental work necessary for the country to sustain its resources.  After mapping out the 13 years, the team also identified the targets each of their departments needed to meet within a 6-year time frame, and finally, realistic achievable targets within one year.  The process was worked out not only by the corporate planning group but also by the different departments to ensure proper cascade, feedback, exchange and robust dialogues and debates until full commitment with crystal-clear targets were achieved.  With period reviews and evaluation of progress within the year, the institution managed to accomplish almost 90% of its targets.

A crisp and tightly-knitted communication plan which should consist of clear vertical and horizontal communication linkages -- how will the information trickle down fast enough for people to get the latest updates, and how it will ripple sideways to give time for cross-functional groups to react and align themselves and their moves in sync,  how will feedback on whether there are symptoms starting to emerge reach decision makers with laser-speed so that problems and explosions (system crashes, threats of strikes and work stoppage due to resistance. external stakeholder adverse reactions, etc) are proactively anticipated and acted upon before a simple “cystic-like dilemma” becomes a “malignant tumor” if we were to use this analogy. 

A vigilant and agile problem solving team.  How will the change be executed?  Together with the synergistic problem-solvers, adhoc guiding teams may be created to ensure that whatever immediate training needs are required on the spot, immediate search for information updates, skills-training or enhancers are conducted with clear-cut guidelines on helping management and change guiding teams decide which are the best options for support which are needed and immediately reinforced either through coaching or training, communication programs or self-help mechanisms (online training, etc) are provided so that people keep themselves updated, and agile enough to manage the challenges.

Finally, the fifth and most important element -- although this should be the first one mentioned -- people preparedness and readiness to undergo the changes.  Very often, this preparation for change is addressed through typical change management training programs which may normally take 3 days to 2 weeks depending on timelines dictated by management and circumstance.  Experience  teaches us however that this is not enough.  While training is definitely an important imperative and all companies who are going to go through the changes should actually brace up for what lies ahead, there should be a sustaining mechanism that will constantly provide “training” on-the-go as the workforce start to implement their changes from one phase to another. 

Tidbit “suggestions” for those in the journey to change:

Be mindful that there are some changes you can choose to create (it starts within oneself first and through this, you can help others transform);

Recognize that within the journey, it helps to sometimes allow nature to take its course but you have to also be able to discern the factors within your control and those not within your control.

Take note of the pace of change -- are you aiming for a “revolutionary” shift - radical, dynamic, abrupt merged with speed, or would you prefer to take on a more “evolutionary” approach -- gradual, slower but steadier.  This will be influenced by  the clarity of your purpose for the change you want to make, as well as the energies of your people to match the goals you set. 

Finally, balance your perspective about the consequences and outcomes -- what you are aiming for, versus what will actually be the result of your efforts during and after you have instituted the changes. 

Give people a chance to breath, to have some space for awhile ... and to at least, cling to the ever-helpful paradigm -- This, too shall pass.\


Covey, S. R. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 1989, Simon and Schuster
Handy, Charles, The Age of Paradox,  1993, Harvard Business School Press
Price Waterhouse LLP, (Sep 1, 1995) The Paradox Principles: How High Performance Companies Manage Chaos Complexity and Contradiction to Achieve Superior Results,  McGraw-Hill Trade

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