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Organizations around the world are constantly facing changes in terms of their business processes and their products or services. The increasing interest in the social and economic environment has seen the traditional views on organization development and change shifting focus to a more modernistic approach.
Managers have been faced with the prospect of redesigning their organizations so that they can survive the changing economic environment and also improve the effectiveness of the organizations business processes.
Organizations that have continued to rely on traditional structures and measures of effectiveness have not been able to respond to market demands that require them to change. Managers and their organizations today will be judged according to their ability to effectively and efficiently manage change within their business processes.
This task will be a difficult one given that the pace of change has continued to increase dramatically over recent times. The recent economic recession and general global changes have affected how businesses operate, requiring speedy changes to their business operations or processes.
Other examples of changes that have affected the performance of businesses today include the phenomenal growth of the Internet and the emergence of technologies that affect how work is performed within the organization, global climate change that has seen changes in social, political and economic environments, the emergence of stronger economic countries such as China and India and the increased activities that are directed towards corporate responsibility or green management.
Changes that take place within an organization can be categorised to be internal and external changes. Internal that take place within an organization’s structure include process changes, system changes, structural changes organizational design changes. The external changes are viewed to affect an organization more than the internal changes as the management of the company has no control over these changes (Pasmore et al, 2010)
Organizations will have to address external changes at both the present and future duration of their operation if they hope to survive the current economic environment. One external change that affects the business processes of an organization is the growing global market place that will be made small by new and improved technological advancements or innovations.
The growth of the European Union has changed the format of the global economy as well the emergence of new economies such as China and India that have experienced rapid growth when compared to the other economies in the world. Another change that might affect organizations is the worldwide recognition of the environment as a variable that can affect the economic growth of a company (Paton & McCalman, 2008).
Changes in lifestyle trends have also affected how organizations perform in the market place as people develop new perspectives and outlooks on their jobs. The changing workplace has also created the need for employees who do not have any traditionalist views on job performance and are more technologically savvy.
Organizations are now resorting to the use of core workers, employees with more than one skill and the outsourcing of the company’s services to other service providers. The knowledge base of the company has also faced change as this is an important component of the organizations survival.
The advances that have been made on technology and communication channels have ensured that the costs for performing business processes have been reduced considerably (Paton & McCalman, 2008).
Rapid and Continuous Change in Organizations
Managers need to recognise the fact that change occurs continuously in the lifespan of an organization. Organizations experience change through their business operations, their organizational structure and the design of the organization. Changes that are effected on an organization’s processes result in product or service innovations that ensure that business units continue to remain relevant in today’s tough economy.
Organizations that are characterised by rapid and continuous change have structures that have combined similar business processes within the organization. Products that are manufactured by rapidly changing organizations have processes that incorporate rhythmic transition from the present level of production to the future level creating a continuous and rapid pace for change (Senior & Fleming, 2010).
Companies that have continued to experience rapid and continuous change include Hewlett-Packard that has changed from being an instruments production company to a business entity that produces computer machinery, printers, faxes, scanners and other machinery.
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HP has been able to achieve this transformation through continuous and rapid product innovations rather than on and off punctuated or transformational changes to its business processes.
Product or service innovations are used as indicators of determining whether an organization is experiencing rapid and continuous change. However, research work has shown very little information on the underlying structures that are used to determine how companies achieve continuous innovations that eventually lead to change (Brown & Eisenhardt, 2010).
According to research work conducted by Eisenhardt in 1997, continuous change was related to the development of successful products based on the following criteria; products developed on time, time to market delivery of the products and on target to market product development.
Managers that had successful product development portfolios had a limited structure in the form of clearly outlined responsibilities and duties as well as a clear and extensive communication network. According to the results of the study, managers who run rapidly changing organizations linked the present projects that the company was undertaking to future outcomes by performing rhythmic transitions.
Organizations that experienced rapid and continuous change also had duties and responsibilities that were not structured in any particular way. The research conducted by Brown and Eisenhardt showed that there was no evidence that the actual design process had a structured approach.
Companies that were studied such as Titan and Cruising showed that there were well defined responsibilities and clear project priorities that would be used to initiate change within the organization.
The managerial roles for these two companies were defined in terms of project ownership where project schedules, product definitions and the success of these products in the market was used as a basis for measuring the rapid and continuous change of the organizations.
The managers of Titan used these project structures with extensive communication where frequent meetings were held to report on the status of the project. These meetings were meant to keep the managers informed on any business process activities that were taking place within the organization (Brown & Eisenhardt, 2010).
Companies that had product/ service portfolios that were not successful had duties and responsibilities that were not clearly defined. Managers in such companies found it difficult to deal with project priorities that would yield a profit as they were not clearly specified.
Despite the fact that these companies had extensive communication channels in the form of weekly and monthly meetings, communication across the projects was characterised to be low. Managers handled new product innovations in a way that was dissimilar to companies that had a limited structure of operation or production (Brown & Eisenhardt, 2010).
The research work also highlighted organizations that experienced rapid and continuous change had business processes and projects that had been broken down into smaller and manageable tasks. These tasks were arranged in a series of steps that went from concept specification to prototype development and testing of the new product innovation.
The objective of this process was identified to be efficiency and effectiveness. As each step was completed, the company underwent some form of change in return that was viewed to be both continuous and rapid. The whole change process was governed by a set of procedures, and specifications that ensured the project objective was achieved (Brown & Eisenhardt, 2010).
Hackman and Oldham in their 1975 studies (Cited by Brown & Eisenhardt, 2010) identified companies that had rapid and continuous change to be those that had clearly defined responsibilities and priorities that were accompanied by extensive communication within the organization.
These clear cut approaches ensured that the organization had a successful product or service portfolio that would see it continue to grow in the economic market. Extensive communication that was carried out within and outside the organization created feedback that would be used to redesign or reengineer the business processes of the company to achieve growth and profitability.
Limited organizational structures were seen to be important tools in helping organizational employees to understand the fast changing business environment in both the internal and external environment. Previous research has shown that organizational structures and designs help employees to understand the type of change that the organization is going through (Brown & Eisenhardt, 2010).
Structures make it easy to identify which business elements require some levels of improvement or change. The fewer organizational structures that a company has, the easier it is going to be for the organization to experience rapid and continuous change.
Fast decision makers incorporated the use of organizational structures to make decisions within a limited amount of time by having a clear understanding of their work environment. Companies that experienced rapid and continuous change had organizational visions that were focused on the future.
Managers that had a successful product portfolio had a good projection of the future and what to expect in terms of changes to the organizations processes. These projections of the future enabled managers to devise suitable reactions that would ensure that the project activities did not fail (Brown & Eisenhardt, 2010).
Painless Change in Organizations
Advocates of revolutionary change prescribe to the notion of having rapid and continuous change in an organization that will see the current organizational structures being eliminated for effective and efficient structures. This type of change has been viewed by some researcher to be detrimental and disastrous to an organization that lacks the appropriate mechanisms to implement the change in a proper way.
Advocates for evolutionary change prescribe to the notion that change should be a painless venture that leaves the organization’s structure with minimal or no damage. This type of change process invokes the use of slower; gradual changes that are categorised into smaller groups of change that slowly restructure the organizations design with new organizational structures (Abrahamson, 2004).
The revolutionary change process creates situations of downsizing, restructuring, organizational cultural change and financial turnarounds that in most cases end up being unsuccessful. According to Abrahamson (2004) many companies that have undergone rapid and continuous change have faced various issues with regards to their performance and business growth.
Abrahamson notes that there can be no change without some aspect of pain. In the current economic environment, excessive levels of destructive change can make the organization grow slower resulting in higher expense costs that will be used to manage the change.
Abrahamson highlights that companies can effect painless change in a world that is constantly facing disruptive change by engaging in change processes that will yield less pain to the organization, making the change more effective to manage.
For organizational change to be painless, it has to have a change system that is sustainable in nature. Every member of the organization has to be informed of the impending change and what is expected from them during the change process. There has however been a common perception that anyone within an organization can effect organizational change according to what they want the change to achieve within the organization.
The difficulty in this arises in finding the right approach in effecting the change. Planned change that has a layout of the procedures and approaches can be successfully achieved by the organization but not without any difficulty. It should be noted that change is an ongoing process and the end results of this process cannot be achieved in a programmed way.
The difficulty that most organizations face when effecting change is that they view the change process to be a highly programmed approach to change which incorporates various phases that have to be undertaken such as problem identification, analysis of the problem, identification of possible alternatives to the problem, the selection of the most preferred solution to the problem and application of the solution to solve the problem (Paton & McCalman, 2008).
According to Abrahamson (2004), organizational change should not be a painless process regardless of the outcome of the change process which could be a merger, an acquisition, downsizing, foreclosure or bankruptcy. For the change process to be painless, managers have to agree to some degree of impotency when it comes to the company’s business operations and product/service innovations.
Abrahamson urges managers to view organizations as open complex systems that can effect ‘painless change’ by helping organizational members to discover goals and objectives for change that are common and similar in nature. He also proposes that managers should help employees in the organization to become more connected with business processes and operations by creating a more diverse environment for inputs and interactions.
The actual changes that take place during the business process are not usually created by the process itself but by the stimuli that effect the change. Because all business organizations are open systems, the right stimulus for change will be initiated that will sooner or later initiate change within the organization.
Research work on whether change can be painless is limited and far between with most researchers who have performed studies on this particular topic offering speculative information. Research on whether change can be a painless venture has a long way to go from being modelled on human systems to more technological systems.
The best form of change that can take place in an organization is painless change as it reduces the impact of the change on the organizations business operations. Painless change is managed in a way that there will be less disruption in the organizations operations thereby achieving sustainable change.
Abrahamson, E., (2004). Managing change in a world of excessive change: counterbalancing creative destruction and creative recombination. Web.
Brown, S.L., & Eisenhardt, K.M., (2010). The art of continuous change: linking complexity theory and time-paced evolution in relentlessly shifting organizations. Web.
Pasmore, W., Shani, A.B., & Woodman, R.W., (Eds) (2010). Research in organizational change and development. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Paton, R., & McCalman, J., (2008). Change management: a guide to effective Implementation. London: SAGE Publications.
Senior, B. & Fleming, J. (2010). Organizational Change. England: Prentice Hall.