The Change Timeline
The Past/Present/Future model of Change Management
I believe that, for any change to be successful, people must take account of the situational and environmental past, present, and future, to the extent that they are relevant to each individual employee, whole teams, and the organization.
By taking both the situational and the environmental past, present, and future as separate elements that need to be addressed within the process we can, more effectively, identify the psychological impacts and design interventions that focus on employee needs.
The environmental issues could include the wider business market-place, socio-economic influences, changes in government policy/legislation, etc. In contrast, the situational elements are more likely to be concerned with the processes operated by the employee, their perception of the team, and their role within the organization.
This requires that change agents consider the relationship between the past, present, and future, and address all three as part of the integrated change management process. This is depicted above as the ‘change time framework’, which can be used as an over-arching or meta-model to supplement their existing change management models by introducing the time dimension.
The following sections consider each time period in turn, highlighting the implications for both individuals and change agents.
The change time framework
How we as individuals handle the past plays a vitally important part in setting the groundwork for the success, or failure, of any future change. We tend to use the past as a benchmark as to how we see the present and the future.
It is important that any proposed change be placed in context of past successes, failures, policy decisions, and changes in the market-place (e.g. ‘we are where we are today due to the implementation of past initiatives and we are building on them’, ‘because of mistakes in the past we have to re-structure our organization to compensate’, or ‘to compete in the new market economy our old philosophy is no longer viable and so we must change how we do things’). This provides a legitimate, cohesive reason for change and lays to rest any incorrect, negative, or outdated perceptions.
As many people will have some investment in the status quo (i.e. a psychological contract), it is only by acknowledging the past that we can allow people to talk about their feelings and experiences regarding previous change, its impact, and its effect. This allows people to mourn their loss (with any change there will be some things which were good or worked well in the past and which will be missed once the change has been effected) and also allows what is known as ‘closure’, without which it is difficult to successfully move on. That is, we can help individuals draw a line under the past, acknowledge both the good and the bad elements of their past experiences, recognize the need to change and start to build a new future.
The role of the present is to help lay the building blocks for the future. This is where change agents/managers need to communicate with clarity the situation and the proposed way forward to allow new visions to be created. Regular updates need to be issued covering key elements of the change, how it is going, and what the next steps will be.
This is also the time to undertake the information-gathering process covering how the workforce feels and their perception of the changes. This is also where we identify those practical steps that can be taken to ensure the change happens and link them to the vision.
Change agents must communicate the ‘how to’ as well as the ‘what if’ scenarios and allow individuals to understand their place in the process. It is here that ‘visioning’ and ‘value-planning’ exercises should be undertaken, for example, using group seminars to discuss the current situation and way forward.
Change agents must be intimately involved in helping create a clear, cohesive, achievable vision of the future and then helping manage its implementation via line management throughout the organization. This vision must be something desirable (exciting and motivational) and something that can be visualized by the people involved. It must be grounded in their reality: people must be able to recognize and see how they can achieve it. The envisaged gains must also out-weigh what will be lost from the past, both at an organizational and an individual level; otherwise change will be difficult to establish and even more difficult to sustain.
From a constructivist psychological perspective, individuals should be given the chance to understand and internalize the vision of the future, explore the formation of new ways of working and thinking, and ‘try them out for size’. As a team, they need to go through a period of understanding their own experiences, relating those experiences to the bigger picture and their own values, and, then, relate them to other people’s experiences and decide what the new structure means to them and their place in (or outside) it. By going through this process individuals will be able to understand the new organizational culture and where they fit within it.
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