The reality of change is that it is likely to occur in personal life and business. In order for an organization to confront the realities of change, effective leadership is essential. Leadership is critical to the success of any change initiative. There are many forms of leadership that each come with a variety of personality traits, this paper will discuss leadership characteristics believed to be necessary to successfully manage change in organizations for the next decade and how to use Kotter’s change model to implement successful change management.
Change in simply defined as “to make something different”, according to Mr. Neryl East, the author of “Change –What it is and what it isn’t” (East, 2007). Change management is the process that an organization uses to respond and adapt to change in order to improve its effectiveness and ensure continued success (Leban & Saban, 2008). Leadership is critical to the success of any change initiative in an organization. Quality leadership characteristics are equally important to the success of an organization. When good leadership is in place in an organization, it can be felt throughout the entire organization. When good leadership exists, positive corporate culture is not forced, it is developed (Mills, 2005). Leadership is defined as a process by which one person influences the thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors of others (Leban & Stone, 2008).
Leaders set a direction for everyone else and they help the people around them see what lies ahead; they help their followers to visualize what might be achieved and they encourage and inspire. Without leadership it is likely that a group of individuals would quickly collapse into argument and conflict. Leadership helps to point people in the same direction and works towards joint efforts. Leadership is the ability to get other people to do something significant that they might not otherwise do. It’s energizing people toward a goal (Mills, 2005). In order for a leader to affect change in others he/she should possess many positive characteristics such as the ability to be a good communicator, be proactive versus being reactive and be flexible and adaptable among many possible characteristics to name a few (Group, 2009).
As a leader, it is equally important to deliver clear, concise and consistent messages as it is to listen. Leaders should demonstrate a willingness to work to understand the needs of others. Leaders who are able to be successful at listening are able to ask meaningful questions, consider all options and provide leadership in the right direction. Secondly, is the ability to always think ahead, being proactive instead of reactive. Leaders who possess this characteristic are able to master their work environment with the goal of avoiding potential problems before they occur. And lastly, an effective leader will adapt to new surroundings and situations, doing their best to adjust in unexpected or uncomfortable situations (Val & Kemp, 2012).
Change strategies that are believed to generally be effective for leading fundamental change are first the need for close and constant communication, it is also important to communicate regularly on the important, significant issues and topics. Also, it is important that all members of the company think and act purposefully and then communicate the assignment and required parts to each member of the department, positioning the foundation for a good fit with the company’s mission and plan. The leadership style of a manager during the change process can be either cooperative and consultative or commanding and coercive (Leban & Stone, 2008).
According to Neryl East, the author of “Implementing an Effective Change Management Strategy”, when staff members are working jointly with management in a cooperative style, it can be expected that there will be both long and short term success to the company since the team will address issues and concerns and makes decisions in the general best interest of the organization. In the same way, when the decision is made by management to force the change, the staff may not be allowed to participate in the decision making process. (East, 2007).
Following this further, the Kotter’s process of leading change model has good framework to allow the manager to work in a collaborative style with staff. Kotter’s model was established after studying more than one hundred organizations (Leban & Stone, 2008). Mr. Kotter was perplexed about the fact that the majority of change efforts were unsuccessful, and he sought out to identify the common error made in the change process. Kotters’s eight stage model offers a process to successfully manage change and avoid the common mistakes that occur during change in an organization (Leban &Stone, 2008).
Furthermore, the Kotter’s model for change is effective because it provided two lessons, first that the change process goes through a series of phases, each could last a considerable period of time and second that critical mistakes in any phase can have a devastating impact on the momentum of the change process. Kotter’s process of change focuses on the strategic, not tactical level of the change management process (Leban & Stone, 2008). In retrospect, the use of the Kotter’s change model during the implementation of electronic health records at my current employer, Clayton Eye Center could have yielded a better transition and fostered a more positive work environment.
In the Kotter’s change model, the first four stages deal with “unfreezing” the organization. These steps involve reducing those forces that are allowing the organization to continue its current behavior. The next three stages introduce new practices, “changing/moving”. This step shifts the behavior of the organization to a new level. The last stage is required to ground the changes in the corporate culture “refreezing” and make them stick. This step steadies the organization at a new state of balance (Leban & Stone, 2008).
The first step in the Kotter’s model of change is to establish a great sense of urgency, identify crisis, potential crises and major opportunities (Leban & Stone, 2008). The passing of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act) in 2009 by President Obama was the driver of change for The Eye Center (CEC) (Secretary, 2013). The system had to be in place by deadlines set forth by the government, therefore the urgency for change was created.
The second step in the Kotter’s model of change is creating the guiding coalition, by putting together a group of people with enough power to lead the change (Leban & Stone, 2008). The Eye Center was successful in organizing a core team, composed of managers from each department to provide various perspectives to the change process. The appointed core team had previously worked together on various change issues and working as a cohesive unit was of no concern.
The third step of the Kotter’s model of change is developing a transformational vision and strategy. Create a vision that will help direct the change and develop strategies for achieving that vision ( Leban & Stone, 2008). During this step, The Eye Center missed the opportunity to develop a positive need for the change. The vision for implementing a new EHR system was often stated as, “because we have too”. This was an opportunity for upper management to frame the view of the change before anyone formed a negative opinion about the change.
The fourth step of Kotter’s model of change is communicating the change vision, using all possible avenues to constantly communicate the new vision and strategies (Leban & Stone, 2008). In this step, The Eye Center was reluctant to communicate the change because they held hope that ultimately the change would not be needed. Once it was clear that the bill signed into law by the President would be upheld, there was very little time to effectively communicate the change vision and receive positive buy in from the staff.
The fifth step of Kotter’s model of change is empowering a broad base of people to take action, getting rid of blockers, changing systems or structures that did not line up with the change vision (Leban & Stone, 2008). Empowering the staff, whether real or perceived could have been a very important step to achieving staff support towards the change. However, in the case of The Eye Center, only the managers appointed for the core team were empowered as they were the only members of the staff who had knowledge about the upcoming change. Keeping the majority of the staff members in the dark about the change and not providing a platform for them to feel a part of the change was instrumental in the outcome for the possibility of successful change.
The sixth step of Kotter’s model of change is generating short term wins, visibly recognizing and rewarding people who made the wins possible (Leban & Stone, 2008). Generating short-term wins is necessary to prevent the loss of momentum and keep the organization engaged. The Eye Center was not as successful as it could have been in this step. Approximately 2 months after implementation, upper management decided to reward the front desk staff for what had been considered reasonably successful implementation of the system thus far. However, the other 4 departments that were largely affected by EHR implementation and played a role in its success, although only 2 months in were not offered rewards for their efforts. This flaw in judgment created negative vibes between departments that needed to work together for continued success of the change implementation.
The seventh step of Kotter’s model of change is consolidating gains and producing even more change by hiring, promoting and developing people who can implement the change vision (Leban & Stone, 2008). In this step, The Eye Center could make strides to correct past change errors by focusing on the continued development of staff with the new EHR system. The company should also consider utilizing previously purchased unused project management hours to aid them in this step to ensure that moving forward the change vision process is revitalized. And finally in this step, the company could build on polices and structures that have worked during the change process and remove all polices and structures that don’t fit the change vision.
The eighth and final step of the Kotter’s model of change is institutionalizing new approaches in the culture by articulating the connections between new behaviors and company success while developing means to ensure leadership development and succession (Leban & Stone, 2008). This step again creates an opportunity for The Eye Center to build a foundation for successful change moving forward. The company could use this step to make successful change a part of its culture by communicating to the staff how current behaviors do or do not line up with the change vision of the organization. The implementation of continued leadership development through ongoing training would also fulfill this step while preparing the company for successful change behavior in the future.
A clear description of the characteristics of a healthy organization prepared to address the issues of change in the 21st century is upper management support and involvement, considering the needs of employees and an effective project manager. Change is almost impossible without the support and involvement of top leaders. Leadership must set the direction, pace and tone while providing a clear vision that brings everyone together (Leban & Stone, 2008). In order for any change initiative to be successful, the company must create a positive culture and motivate the staff, this allows them to visualize and buy in to the change project (Leban & Stone, 2008). Effective project management involves planning and coordinating all aspects of the change program, this allows the organization to place necessary focus on the values, attitudes and behavior of everyone involved to guarantee an effective outcome ( Leban & Stone, 2008). Without these characteristics, change programs risk failure.
In final consideration, there are many change models available to organizations; the Kotter’s eight-stage model dictates that each stage be worked through in order to obtain successful change. Skipping even one step or moving too far ahead with a concrete foundation can create problems according to Mr. Kotter (Leban & Stone, 2008). In the case of The Eye Center, we see this to be the case; as complete follow through of each step could have yielded better results for the organization. The need for change is almost guaranteed for every organization if they want to remain relevant. Organizations that will succeed in the 21st century and beyond are those who are aware of what is changing in their perspective industries and are willing to take into account how those changes are most likely to affect its current success.
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