Week Four Reading Questions: Organizational Change

Describe, briefly, one reason organizational change is challenging.

Give an example of dysfunctional or at least “less optimal” forms of leadership and how they can negatively affect an organization’s ability to innovate.

Anything else you found interesting or relevant, feel free to share!

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10 thoughts on “Week Four Reading Questions: Organizational Change

  1. Lori Shull says:

    You may be able to change what you can’t see, but it is incredibly difficult. If I bite my nails, it may annoy someone else but I probably don’t realize I’m doing it. More importantly, biting my nails is probably something I have done for years and so to me it is completely normal, probably unconscious but I can stop if I really want to. If an entire company thinks nothing of every employee biting his or her nails, how much more difficult is it to stop? Organizational change is difficult because habits are incredibly hard to break, especially if everyone around is doing the same thing and no one is around to hold anyone accountable. Worse, if only the CEO is holding everyone accountable, it is much easier to stand around the water cooler, biting our nails and complaining about how it’s not that big of a deal and doesn’t the boss have better things to do.

    My former editor was, oddly enough, probably a combination of a detached leader with a slight dramatic tendency. I’m fairly sure he was also a drunk, although I tried too hard to avoid him to be sure. I started at the paper in a bureau. He was supposed to make the rounds once a week but instead he just took a day off. When we all moved into the same office, I found out he would take two-hour lunches every day to walk his dogs. When he was in the office, he never came out. Thankfully, we had a couple of reporters who knew everything he knew and were a lot more balanced and human. But if something someone was writing about caught his attention or his bosses came down on him for something, chaos reigned and at least a few of us tried to make ourselves scarce, whether we were in the line of fire or not. It was stressful, but more than that it kept us from having the courage to be innovative or to go after a story that might turn into a flop. It was not a good environment.

  2. Kimberly Exford says:

    One reason that organizational change is so difficult is because it is very challenging to make people forget their old ideas and habits. Like the example in the reading with the pike, it was so used to not being able to catch the minnows that once they were readily available to him (i.e. no glass divider), he didn’t even realize it. He paid them no attention as they swam around him, even though he could eat them! I think this is very similar to my work environment. As you may recall, I work for a learning center for people with reading and comprehension challenges. At one point, we had a change in management. Our previous manager had been in our location for years, and so this new manager came in like a mack truck. She changed the way we had been doing things for the past several years (i.e. our daily schedule, meeting times, etc.). As an organization/company, this was VERY difficult. We were so used to doing things one way, that when it was time to change, there was some major adjusting that had to take place. My co-workers and I all went through the “mourning” process discussed in the reading. And, for myself, as I reached the final step, “realization/acceptance” I finally started to see why all of the changes were necessary for our location to grow and become better. That next year, we were one of the top 15 performing learning centers in the company.

    My previous boss, still within my same company, but at a different location was a clear cut compulsive. She had very strict rules and hardly ever bent them, regardless of the needs of her employees. She was quite the micro-manager, and I often times found myself being sent to do a job independently, only to have her hovering and breathing down my neck while I was completing the task. She was new to her role, having got promoted the same time I did, and it was clear that she didn’t want to make a mistake, so she forced rigid rules on us to ensure that things got done. I was exhausted, and eventually I realized that I was getting no development working for her. I saw myself becoming stagnant and feared remaining in this position longer than I had hoped. This type of leadership was not healthy for me or others around me. We worked in fear of not doing something correctly, and found ourselves limited to what we could and couldn’t do. I felt like my creativity was being put on lock down due to such a strict environment. So, I made a career move that was best for me and relocated from Los Angeles to Memphis, TN. There, in a different center with a more hands-on, caring leader, I was able to thrive and become the manager that I am today.

  3. Andrew Doughty says:

    Organizational change is tricky, sensitive, powerful, demanding and long-lasting. It doesn’t happen overnight, nor does it happen without a keen awareness and respect for the environment, culture and stakeholders.
    As Edgar Schein brilliantly dissects in Organization Culture and Leadership, there are numerous unnoticed and assumed aspects of organizational structure. Assumptions and inferences can destroy the culture of an organization, yet nearly everyone keeps doing them. They create tension and an unstable or unforgiving environment that oftentimes destroys the overall mission. Kets de Vries piggybacks on this concept in Leadership Mystique with a simple reminder that perceptions and subconscious decisions are deeply engrained, so much that many don’t realize how or why they’re present and that it takes years to understand how different cultures approach situations.
    “Time is Money” can be stupid, cheesy and overused but the theme still carries weight because how many businesses have time and/or resources to filter out unjustified and harmful assumptions in their organization? In what should be seen as an investment in the future functionality of their organization is too often seen as a short-term waste of time and money.

    During my second year the University of Colorado Foundation, the Board of Directors elected to hire a management consulting firm to review all aspects of the non-profit organization whose sole responsibility was to support the University of Colorado. News of the dramatic decision spread quickly to each department via break room whispers, newspaper articles and department meetings. Paranoia spread, with many individuals seeking new job opportunities and others questioning what the intent was behind the move. No one knew what the firm was doing, who they were speaking with, why they were hired, who might lose their job, what the university’s role was, etc. This continued for a few weeks.
    The leadership issues as a result were very clear as many managers reverted to depressive tactics, as many of them did not even know the answers and were suddenly terrified for their own future and the job security of their respective departments. In addition, many perceived the organization’s upper management team’s leadership to be compulsive, although these assumptions were later curbed with the addition of weekly update meetings. However, the damage was done with poor communication from day one, which essentially forced previously unused leadership traits upon managers. Ultimately the firm was hired to facilitate a move from a separate foundation to all university operations. Jobs and responsibilities were never in jeopardy but as a result of poor communication the leadership team created an unnecessary state of paranoia and subsequent poor daily production.

    • Carrie Brown says:

      Very good example. Often consultants are good because it’s nice having an outsider around who can give you a different perspective – it’s hard to see yourself clearly sometimes. But poor communication can create exactly the problems you identify here. And you are right as well – taking the short term solution can actually end up taking MORE time in the long run.

  4. According to Argyris in Schein’s article, one reason organizational change can be difficult is because it is considered “double-loop” learning. Double-loop learning forces us to reevaluate ourselves. This causes the majority of people a deep sense of anxiety. In more simple terms, people freak out when they feel that their habits are being challenged. I recently read an article, “18 Ways You’re Making Your Life Harder Than it Has to be.” -http://themindunleashed.org/2014/08/18-ways-youre-making-life-harder.html

    While reading Schein’s information on organizational behavior, I kept referring back to “18 Ways You’re Making Your Life Harder Than it Has to be.” The artile describes, “You assign negative intent to other people’s actions.” In other words, people take change or suggestions from others as a personal insult or slap in the face. Just as Schein describes, “We will not understand what is going on, or worse we will misperceive or misinterpret the actions of others.” Instead of taking change as a slap in the face, why can’t employees and employers see it as positive opportunity? This will help with failure of an organization.

    According to Vries, one type of leadership that can negatively affect an organizations ability to innovate is for leaders to have an excessively compulsive personality. “The leader’s preoccupation with losing control robs subordinates of their sense of discretion, initiative, involvement, personal responsibility and enthusiasm.” I LOVED this section of the reading. “Working hard is not necessarily working smart.” I have also experienced this through my college softball career. I have never been on a team where my teammates responded well to an elite player that wanted to call all the shots and wanted all of the control. They did not trust them in our most crucial situations and this correlates with the work environment.

    • Carrie Brown says:

      Good example. To clarify, double loop learning is desirable – it’s single loop that is common and can inhibit change. I think that is what you are saying, but I’m trying to make it more clear. Double loop is certainly very difficult though to achieve.
      Agree on seeing change as positive opportunity, although remember that a lot of the reasons people resist change are unconscious and may make sense in context.

  5. Cheryl Hayes says:

    Organizational change can be challenging due to succession during the midlife stage of an organization. According to Schein, “the first and often most critical of these processes is the shift from founder to a second-generation chief executive officer.” Change is challenging because conflicts may surface about likes and dislikes toward certain aspect of the organization’s culture. There will be those that are for change in culture, strategy and processes and there will be those that are against it. Experiencing new leadership can difficult. The current change in Presidents here at the University of Memphis is a great example of the challenge of change as the university goes from a long run as educational institution to a more business oriented institution. The focus is the same, which is increase enrollment and the graduation rate, but the strategy to meet these goals are changing from the previous President’s strategy to reach also similar goals. Check out these links for more info on changes at UM (http://www.memphis.edu/stratplan/, http://www.memphis.edu/planningbudgeting/calendar.php, http://memphisport.com/2013/04/mixed-reaction-to-shirley-raines-announcing-her-retirement-from-memphis/ and http://www.localmemphis.com/news/local/story/Dr-Shirley-Raines-Steps-Down-as-University-of/d/story/5q9HQKu36kia1O_5g7ghww).

    Here a short, animated video on overcoming resistance to change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcz1aZ60k7w

    Compulsive personality is one example of dysfunctional leadership in an organization. In the readings, Vries describes a compulsive leadership style as “to master and control anyone or anything that might affect their life”. Leadership by one with compulsive personality can foster opposition in an organization because the leader does not take well to suggestions that detour from established rules and regulations. Trust is typically an issue as a compulsive personality does not trust subordinate and vice versa. Such a leadership style prohibits the ability of an organization to be innovative. Change is difficult. Focus tends to be inward the organization rather than outward the organization, which means attention is given to keeping the culture of the organization intact and not giving attention to external market changes that can result in less competitive products, or services.

    An article from The Washington Post talks about dysfunction in Department of Homeland Security that tries well with the reading on dysfunctional leadership in organizations. Check it out: http://www.newsmax.com/US/Department-Homeland-Security-morale-vacancies/2014/09/22/id/596051/.

    I found the following articles interesting as they relate to the topic of organizational change. Both are in regards to Target and strategies new CEO, Brian Cornell plans to bring about change for the corporation.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-leadership/wp/2014/07/31/how-targets-new-ceo-brian-cornell-can-succeed-as-an-outsider/ and

    Also, the week 3 legacy case study submitted was on The Washington Post. There is a connection with the Schein’s readings for this week on managed culture change through infusion of outsiders. After 80 years (1933-2013) as a Meyers-Graham family owned organization, The Washington Post was purchased by Jeffrey Bezos. Family member to Meyers-Graham, Katharine Weymouth, CEO and Publisher for last 8 years at The Post, was replaced by Fred Ryans as new CEO and Publisher. This succession brings about change to a long run 80 years of established culture at The Post. I can only image the opposition The Post will face moving forward. The following link is an article on Bezos naming Ryan as The Post’s new CEO and Publisher.


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