Steps for Change and my two cents

Proehl (2001) proposes an Eight-step Change Management Model can be applied to both small and large-scale change, I summarize it below and then write about whether I find these steps effective :

Step 1- Create a sense of urgency: “Leaders must convince organization members that there is a need, an urgency to change”. (Apparently this rarely happens and leaders fail to communicate their intentions and the backing up information to the rest of the organization). This step also involves identifying internal drivers, or forces,  that propel the organization towards change.

Step 2- Build a coalition for change: “Individuals by themselves do not bring about change, no matter how charismatic they may be”. A team is needed to champion the cause; however, when dealing with discontinuous, drastic change a weak committee is not adequate. Once a team is created, it has to extend the support for the change beyond themselves.

Step 3- Clarify the change imperative: Often teams embark on the change project without having clarity about the problem or without identifying their vision or objectives. To help in this task a written contract should be prepared and shared with relevant decision-makers

Step 4- Assess the present: Through exploring the following:

  • Organizational culture and values
  • Organizational policies and procedures
  • Managerial practices
  • Technology
  • Organizational structure
  • Organizational systems (rewards, control, evaluation)
  • Skill level of members

Step 5- Develop a plan for change: “Once the coalition team members have identified the change imperative and assessed the current strengths and areas for improvement, the next step is to develop a plan of action to achieve the vision and outcomes” (p. 93). The plan identifies strategies and critical steps (when things will happen).

Step 6- Deal with the human factors: “It is ironic that human service leaders often fail to address the emotional needs of the organization members” (p. 94). Proehl proposes some questions (based on emotions, communication strategies, involvement of members) to be asked to address the complex human needs of organizations.

Step 7- Acting quickly and revising frequently: There are many tools that can be of help to implement the change, such as project management tools. It’s best to use existing tools so that the coalition teams  does not have to spend a great deal of time creating new systems for tracking the progress of the project.

Step 8- Evaluate and celebrate the change: Bringing closure, identifying if the vision was achieved and celebrate own and others accomplishments.

From: Prohel, R. (2001). Organizational Change in the Human Services. SAGE Publications:USA

My two cents:

Before talking about the linearity of the model I have to state that the author does address this issue and she does acknowledge the overlapping of steps and the flexibility of the model. However, there are some other issues that I want to highlight:

1-The model is based on a structural paradigm where people appear to be circumscribed to a system or structure. Although I agree that structures need to change in order to change systems, I don’t think that a paradigm that is mostly influenced by a structural approach will be effective. Even the language reflects a structuralist view in step six: “deal with the human factors” or “create a sense of urgency” (step one)  which sounds to me as a power-over way where someone is manufacturing reality and trying to convince others. Of course this can also translate into “generating buy-in”.

2-If step two is followed without having “dealt” with the human factors (because that comes later), or if a clear and transparent process for selecting the team members/coalition is lacking, this initiative will be the first of many human-related concerns, as people will not know why someone is on a group and others (themselves?) aren’t. Another scenario could be the creation of advisory groups formed by people who have nothing to do with the operation of the unit that is undergoing change. Although an external assessment is always valuable, the lack of understanding of cultural values and the perception of those external to the groups, might pose a challenge.

3-I believe that steps three (clarifying the change imperative) and four (assessing the present) should come first. Before starting any change, exploring the different variables suggested on step four would be best. Doing so might provide a better understanding of what do to do next and to lay out a plan from the very beginning, including human factors as one of the priorities. For instance, when implementing transitional change (a decision has been made to change) it’s better to invite people to give feedback and propose ideas than organizing a meeting with the purpose of informing of the upcoming changes. The latter approach to change would lead to uncertainty, gossip and fear.

4-Regarding step six (dealing with human factors), there seems to be an assumption that the managers or those leading the change know better, that they are the ones who have to deal with the rest. However, I found in many occasions that some managers have very little social skills and emotional intelligence, their levels of comfort addressing human issues is so low that they simply avoid them. So it would be important that human service leaders “deal” not only with external human factors, but also internal ones.

5-Lastly, the word “leaders” used interchangeably to refer to “managers”. I know it happens everywhere but there is a distinction between leaders and managers, between leadership and management. Because managers usually comply to an authoritarian, hierarchical framework there is a rejection from those who does not have or align with such traits to become “leaders”. This type of discourse affects the work that many of us are doing around developing agency and leadership.

I also found very interesting that on a previous chapter Proehl quotes Hackman (1999) on the role of top managers when dealing with change :

Contrary to traditional wisdom about participative management, to set authoritatively a clear, engaging direction for a team is to empower, not disempower them” (p. 341)

I didn’t find a critique or an alternative to the authoritarian way, which surprised me. Certainly, a manager can’t be wishy-washy or lack vision or direction, but these managerial behaviours are rooted on traditional paradigms of leadership in which a person has to “act a certain way” and is not consistent with my values of authenticity and participation.



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