“Change is always a threat when done to me, but it is an opportunity when done by me.”
Change has always been with us, but only recently have we viewed change as something that needs to be managed. As more of modern life became mechanized in post-industrial society, business and social thinkers looked for ways to make organizations, whether companies or institutions, more efficient. Managers who tried implementing these ideas soon discovered, however, that they often did not produce the desired results. Change, they found, kept changing.
Organizations, unlike machines, are dynamic, open systems susceptible to forces from both within and without. Increased global competition, rapid technological advancement, electronic communications and constantly morphing consumer tastes and values have revved the speed of change to a dizzying pace. For today’s managers, change is a constant, demanding continued vigilance and flexible strategy. In order to respond to change, an organization must itself change, and this is where the practice of change management comes into play. As a management tool, it aims at helping employees accept and embrace changes in their work environment.
From a behavioral perspective, managing change involves two domains, people and process. People respond differently to change and under different circumstances. Just as managers must learn what motivates each individual to perform well, so must they discover what information, guidance and support each employee needs to successfully adapt to and integrate change. A 2008 study by management consultants at Booz & Co. found that business transformations often fail because employees feel they are not part of the change and therefore don’t commit to it. Engaging employees early and providing regular status reports is critical to achieving lasting change. The study also concludes that leaders need to drive change by engaging with and coaching staff, while acting as role models for the new ways of working.
Change can be a welcome relief when current circumstances are uncomfortable, and it can be an agonizing disruption when current circumstances are satisfactory and the future outcome is unknown. As Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard business professor and change management guru, observes, “Change is always a threat when done to me, but it is an opportunity when done by me.” Managing processes—both the transition to new work processes and the process of change itself—can alleviate much of the anxiety and dread surrounding change by providing a clear road map of how the group will get from “here” (the current work environment) to “there” (the future work environment), thus making the unfamiliar seem more familiar. Also essential is providing mechanisms for employees to voice concerns and provide feedback so that they feel they are part of the process.
Conducting a successful change management initiative requires organizational knowledge and skills. In larger organizations, the human resources department or training and development department may include staff with the skills and experience to lead such efforts. If changes to the physical work environment are involved, such as when employees are being relocated or reorganized, interior designers can perform an important role by gathering employee input during the programming process and easing the transition to the new environment by helping employees understand the process and rationale for the changes, as well as the benefits of their new surroundings. In smaller organizations or projects mainly focused on the physical workplace, the interior designer or design consultant may be in the best position to facilitate the change management process, with support from the organization’s leadership.
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