In today’s world of constant change, the idea that change itself has become a constant is an often-voiced phrase. If one were asked how much change to expect over the next 20 years, or even over the next 5 years, it would be difficult to predict with any degree of certainty. Yet, in order for organizations to survive now and into the future, leaders must be able to understand and influence change. The purpose of this paper is to understand the concept of change by identifying the types of change, discussing models and strategies for leading change, and identifying the role of the change agent or leader of change. Finally, a case study of successfully led change will be used to illustrate these concepts.

In dealing with the types of change in today’s world, the traditional models and strategies are likely to be ineffective. Therefore, a new way of both perceiving change and of leading change will be proposed. The central premise behind this new paradigm for viewing change is that, in order to change others, leaders of change must first change themselves (Quinn, 2000). They must develop an ongoing awareness of themselves and an ability to engage in self-reflection regarding their own responses to change, and they also must be personally committed to change (Nadler, 1998). Both leadership and change occurs within the context of relationships, and to successfully lead change, the leader must engage the active involvement of all those who are and will be affected by the change. Ongoing communication must occur during all phases of the change process.

The concept of change

Change is a continuous process that requires people, groups, and organizations to adapt their behavior in order to not only survive, but to thrive in today’s world. In order to better understand the dynamic nature of change, one must be aware of the overall trends or forces in the environment and in society as a whole. These trends are the forces or challenge that leaders face when attempting to manage change. The demand for change results not only from the external environment and increased competition, and the accompanying search for competitive advantage, but also from the globalization of markets, the increasing involvement and knowledge of consumers, the rapid pace of technological innovation and of information technology, and the alteration in the structure of corporations through mergers, acquisitions, and government deregulation (Nadler, 1998). Changes in government policies also serve as a major impetus for change. Perhaps one of the biggest drivers of change, other than economics, is the ever-increasing rate of change. As noted by Kotter (1996), “the rate of change is not going to slow down anytime soon. If anything, competition in most industries will probably speed up even more in the next few decades.” Everything today is in a constant state of change, and in fact, “even change changes” (Wheatley & Kellner-Rogers, 1996). This all requires that leaders learn new ways of influencing change.

Quinn (2000) described two types of change: incremental change occurs continuously within normal expectations, and is small and predictable in scope; and transformational change occurs outside of normal expectations, and is profound in scope. In a similar way, Nadler (1998) described four types of change, which are differentiated on the basis of timing (anticipated or reactive) and scope (incremental or discontinuous). The change faced by most organizations today is that which is discontinuous or radical and brought on shifts in the external environment, as compared to the small or incremental changes that occur all the time. This discontinuous, radical, or transformational change requires organizations to change by redefining and redesigning themselves, by changing their direction, and by making radical changes in all aspects of their functioning.

Models and strategies for change

Chinn and Benne developed the traditional categorization of models of change in 1969 (Bennis, Benne, & Chinn, 1969). Each of these three models is accompanied by assumptions about how to make change happen and by relevant change strategies. The empirical-rational model assumes that people are rational, and will respond to logical arguments in support of change. Change is based on communicating facts and information about the change and the need for change, and on offering incentives to change, i.e., a telling strategy. The power-coercive model assumes that people are compliant, and will do what they are told or can be forced to do. Change is based on the use of authority and imposing of sanctions for failure to change, i.e., a forcing strategy. The third traditional change model is the normal-reductive model, which assumes people are social beings who will change based on a re-definition of norms, values, and behaviors, and by gaining their participation in the change, i.e., a participating strategy (Quinn, 2000).

Perhaps the most familiar and widely used model for change is that proposed by Kurt Lewin (1951). According to Lewin’s model, all change begins with unfreezing, which occurs when people feel the need for a change, and follows after disequilibria is introduced into the system. Moving or implementing the change occurs when people try out the innovation, and refreezing occurs when the change becomes part of the system. Although this model is easy to understand and apply, it assumes a period of stability at the beginning and end of the model.

The characteristics of change today are such that there are not any periods of time when things can be considered stable. Therefore, new models for viewing change are needed.

Leadership and change: The role of the change agent

Anyone who seeks to create change is a change agent (Quinn, 2000). Successful change agents in business lead in ways that align people’s behavior with the organization’s business objectives, and also align these behaviors with the organization’s values in order to achieve a higher purpose or vision for change (Nadler, 1998). Change agents in politics seek to change society. Other change agents, including parents, teachers, and therapists, seek to alter the behavior of individuals (Quinn, 2000).

To succeed in leading change, whether the leader is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a company or an ordinary person, the leader of change must first recognize the need for change (Nadler, 1998). The leader of large-scale and radical change must also recognize that it cannot be accomplished without the support and help of a committed group of people who understand the need for change as well as the strategies for accomplishing it. Success also requires a deep personal commitment and involvement. The CEO who is leading a large-scale change must personally take the leadership role; it cannot be delegated to others. Further, one must be willing to take the necessary risks required to accomplish change. Leaders of change must be willing to transcend their usual patterns of behavior. According to Quinn (2000), leaders must first look within themselves in order to succeed as a change agent. According to Quinn, this new perspective on change uses a transforming strategy to influence change.

The Transition State

Before even beginning the process of change, leaders must first recognize that people generally do not like change, and will resist it (Nadler, 1998). The transition state is that period of time between the current state and the future state. It is characterized by a great deal of instability and uncertainty, which ultimately leads to stress, not only for the leaders of change but also for those who are affected by the change. It is characterized by issues related to power, anxiety, and control. Although anxiety and stress often lead to improvements in performance, too much of it can lead to decreases in performance. This is the period of time where people are concerned about what will happen to them in the change, and whether or not they will be able to adapt. One could perceive the actual change as being an external phenomenon, while the transition is an internal or psychological phenomenon. The challenge for the leader of change or change-agent is to manage the transition and overcome the obstacles to change. Nadler (1998) refers to transition management as comprising activities associated with “winning hearts and minds.”

In order to manage the transition, it is essential that change agents build support among key groups, and include the participation of those who are involved in and will be affected by the change throughout all phases of the change. Communication and feedback must be ongoing. In addition, since change is likely to be resisted, it is important to create a sense of dissatisfaction with the current state by convincing people of the need for change. Leaders must develop and communicate a clear image of the future state (Nadler, 1998). During the period of time from here to there, the importance of clear and ongoing communication is key to the success of the change.

New Model for Change: Nadler’s Congruence Model

Nadler (1998) developed the congruence model as a way of looking at an organization by understanding the concepts of organizational fit and organizations as systems. The components of an organization as a system consist of the inputs into the system (the environment, organizational resources, and history), a transformational process (the business strategy), and the outputs (the organization’s pattern of activities, behavior, and performance). The transformation mechanism is the operating organization (consisting of the work, the people, the formal organization, and the informal organization). The operating organization, as the “heart of the congruence model”, uses its business strategy to produce the output, all within the context of the environment, and the organizational resources and history (p.32). All of these components of the system must fit together in order for the organization to be effective. Thus, effective organizations are characterized by how well the components of the organization fit together. When there is a tight fit, or congruence, among the components of the operating organization, a high level of effectiveness and performance can be achieved. The challenge to executives who are leading their companies in radical change is to lead in ways that create alignment among people’ behaviors, values, and practices and the organizations objectives in order to achieve a vision for the future.

When using the congruence model as a model for achieving large-scale organizational change, the leader of change faces challenges throughout each of the 5 phases of the cycle of change. During Phase 1, it is important to recognize the change imperative. This phase begins with a scan of the external environment, and the recognition of the need for change. The activities that must occur during this first phase includes making an organizational diagnosis based on an internal organizational scan and assessment of organizational congruence. During this phase, it is crucial to obtain the participation of others in designing the solution.

A clear, compelling vision for where the organization is going must be articulated during phase 2 of the cycle of change, which is referred to as developing a shared direction. Themes should be used as symbols of, and values related to, communicating the goals of the desired change (e.g., the theme of quality). During this phase, it is crucial to build support for the needed change and direction of the organization. The CEO who is the leader of change must build a coalition of support at the top of the organization in order to succeed at creating radical change.

The heart of the change process is in the activities included in the third phase of implementing the change. The implementation phase includes the process of strategic choice, which is how the strategy will be reshaped, and includes the work required to do it. During the strategic choice process, participation in redefining the organization’s mission and goals and strategic alternatives is crucial. This leads to the second part of implementation, which involves the reshaping or redesign of the organization’s operating environment. This is where strategy and culture must be aligned. Cultural change is not only hard to do, but it is risky. Leaders of change must be able and willing to use appropriate change interventions in order to change the behavior of people. Leaders must also be willing to reflect on their own behavior in order to change the behavior of others. Change interventions include focusing on leader behaviors and modeling, communication, education, feedback, and recognition and reward. The implementation phase also includes the process of strategic selection, which refers to finding the right people to fill the right positions in the organization through good staffing decisions and processes. The task is to find people with the skills and characteristics needed to implement the new strategy, structure, and operating environment in a way that creates organizational congruence.

The change cycle does not end once the new strategies and organizational redesign have been implemented. The challenges of Phases 4 (consolidating the change) and 5 (sustaining the change) are to maintain the momentum of change so that it becomes the new way of doing things. It is during these two phases that executives who are the leaders of change must not become an obstacle to change by, for example, losing their enthusiasm and momentum. They must continue to find new sources of energy, and keep anticipating the need for further changes that are needed. Continuous assessment and learning is the central component of the entire cycle of change.

Throughout the entire cycle of change, there are 7 key change management practices that leaders of change must demonstrate. First, successful leaders of change must demonstrate their active personal involvement in the change by publicly demonstrating their understanding and commitment to the change, i.e., they must own the change. The ability to communicate the essence of the change in a clear, concise manner is an important indicator of owning the change. The second practice is that of aligning the change, or making the connection between people’s work and the ultimate objective or direction of the organization. In order to be energized, people need to know how their work is contributing to the organization’s overall direction and vision. Third, the new goals need to be clarified and communicated clearly, and people need to be held accountable for exhibiting new skills, knowledge, and abilities. Expectations need to be set so that people are “stretching” themselves beyond what they were previously doing. Fourth, the new behaviors must be modeled, i.e., leaders must “walk the talk.” The leaders of change must consistently exhibit the new behavioral expectations, and these behaviors must be consistent with the organizational values. At all times, the importance of communication must be emphasized. The fifth practice of communicating must occur continuously as people need information about how the change is affecting their everyday lives. Although communicating is important, it must be accompanied by finding ways to engage people in the change by empowering them to act and providing ongoing support and encouragement as they develop new behaviors. Finally, leaders must actively show their appreciation for people who demonstrate the desired performance through the use of appropriate rewards and celebrations.