“Fair, consistent processes and
transparency are tools of credibility”

Change, and creating change, is an elixir or poison, depending on whether you hold the spoon with the medicine to the patient’s mouth or you are the patient that receives the medicine.

When creating change is introduced as a ‘next step’, it means the current state is not meeting expectations and those who have become comfortable will need to move to something different.

The effort of creating organizational change can be categorized into three broad categories: People, Technology, and Structure.

People: Instant change is accomplished when a leader moves someone either to a different position or out of the organization. However, long-term research shows how this has a limited effectiveness unless a structural change process accompanies the personnel change. Too often in a two to three-year period after a personnel change, little change has evolved and things progress as before.

Technology: Technology disrupts every organization, and has the powerful ability to create change all by itself. People understand the rapid progression of technology and the fact that if current technologies are obsolete, they will be unable to compete with other organizations.

Technological change has the ability to act as a “back-door change agent”, which a leader can use to move the organization forward without appreciable resistance.

Organizational Structure: Structural changes or “Business Process Reengineering” are the most complex, difficult, and (if done well) productive changes an organization can produce. The three major ingredients for creating structural change include: the use of data, the use of Industry Best Practices for the proposed changes, and clear communication to all involved in the change process.

The Why’s of Creating Change

For change to take place, an organization needs to know its current status and where it wants/needs to be. Assessments create maps of potential change. These maps, which need to be based on data, come complete with identified Strengths and Weaknesses of the internal operations of the organization. They should also review the external Opportunities and Threats. The use of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats have the acronym of SWOT or a SWOT analysis.

The data assessments are to result in compelling reasons for the widespread belief that the planned changes will move the organization forward.

Creating change seldom has a hearty welcome party.

Regardless of the influence that change has on the individual, it also has effects on departments, their perceptions, and the organization. J. Douglas Tomas, in his book, Building Organizational Capacity: Strategic Management in Higher Education, identifies eight elements that need to be considered in all change dialog. These include:

  • Purposes – why we are here and where we are headed?
  • Structure – how are we configured to do our work?
  • Governance – who makes what decisions in the areas affected by creating change?
  • Policies – what rules do we proceed under during and after the change?
  • Processes – how do we get things done once the change has been implemented?
  • Information – what information do we convey to our constituents affected by the change?
  • Infrastructure – what human, physical, technological, and financial assets are affected by the change?
  • Culture – how does change “fit the culture?” should the culture change?

Creating change without fear

Change evokes fear in many people, because it represents a vast unknown factor in their lives and how the changes will impact them. People often resist change for one of three reasons:

Creating Change: Fear #1 – The Unknown

“What do they plan on doing? How will this affect me?” The most common fear of change centers on around the unknown. When people see or hear the whispers about change, they fear what they do not know.

If a new desk is inserted in an area unknown, then fear arises. Who will sit at the desk, and what will they do? If some information does not come to the employee in a formal communication, then informal communication arises and stories of impending changes and doom circulate to fascinate or terrify the employees.

Creating Change: Fear #2 – The Fear of a Loss of Value

“I am respected for my knowledge and expertise. Creating change resets my knowledge base to the same as everyone else’s, so I am no longer the trusted expert others come to.”

In the current system, employees might receive value or they have done well personally in their present position. Now, when the system changes in front of them, their world is rocked. Questions arise such as: will I be part of the new system? Will I remain a respected employee? Will someone else usurp my role as the expert?

Creating Change: Fear #3 – Change Will Not Help Us

“Things are fine right now. There are a few areas we need to brush up on, but we do not need all of this monumental change to improve in these few areas. You are new here and I have been around awhile.”

If people have been a part of the organization and its developments, then they may believe the organization is already doing the best it can.

A leader needs to combat any fear of creating change. Three tools can help the leader to create change and move change plans forward.

  • Provide data for the needed change to the employees. The more employees know, the less they will fear it. Remove the fear of change, or at least reduce it, and provide the reasons why the change will make the organization better.
  • Include the internal organizational leaders into the process of change and let them help to create the change. When done well then those who were previously fearful of change may themselves become missionaries of the changes or at least become neutral to them.
  • Communicate the need loudly and clearly. This creates a push/pull strategy to push it by the data and pull it through by letting people know the need, the importance, and how the organization will become a better place.

Although leaders or change agents are responsible for creating and implementing the changes, in the end, they rely on the people in the trenches to get things done.

Those who Do Not Embrace Change are Not Enemies

“People are not against you, they are only for themselves,” said Gene Fowler.

If you introduce change and people resist, it does not mean they are your adversaries. Employees simply oppose changes to prior and present states and you are the change emissary to the entire world they have known all these years.

Employees resisting change are not bad people or bad employees. Rather they feel that change provides a new element, an element that frightens them or perhaps make them feel less valued. The finest leaders carry these employees into the world of change and have them rejoice in the newness, accept it, or at least remain neutral to the changes.

Cultural Reaction to Change

An organization’s culture has a great deal more power than it may appear. It potentially consists of long-standing beliefs and values that are pervasive, deep and define the organization to employees. Culture consists of assumptions, values, beliefs, norms, and behaviors that have developed gradually. Moreover, it explains much about how an organization functions, both internally and in relation to its external environment.

At all times, you are embedded in culture with all its physical manifestations such as shared values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, attitudes, and behaviors shared by a group of people.

Culture is found in a group’s language, decision making, symbols, stories and legends, and daily work practices. You will find culture on the bulletin board, in the company newsletter, in the manner that employees interact in meetings, and in how people work together in accomplishing projects. When change focuses on the culture, these beliefs may no longer be consistent with the desired change. This creates the risk of a cultural rebellion against the creation of change and planned change processes.

Restructure Tool #1: Best Practices

Explore your industries best practices. You may feel when you begin this review that you have slow or inadequate processes or procedures. In your exploration keep an open mind as to your objective. Continually explore and ask questions such as:

  • What changes are needed to meet the industry best practices?
  • Do other models exist that are successful? If so, what are these models?
  • Can we adopt these models for our organization?
  • How will changes to the current model benefit the organization?

Restructure Tool #2: Real Data

Too often, data comes from opinions in search of verification rather than from a review of what actually happens. Good data, with a broad range of acceptance within the organization, can help to eliminate a vast amount of resistance against change.

When well presented, the data provided shows a better pathway to change, which employees will be more inclined to act upon. This way, it is possible to use gathered data to neutralize the politics of change and create active supporters while eliminating change resisters.

Restructure Tool #3: Consultants

The Emperor Has No Clothes could be a story written by a consultant. Consultants bring you a story of the obvious that no one wants to hear. After stating the obvious, they leave with their large fee. You can now blame the consultant for the horrific obvious statement and the need for change. The consultant made me do it!

The most powerful use of the Consultant is to have him or her identify the problems of the organization, especially if they reside in the upper levels of management. Too often politics perpetuate bad practices in top management. Yet few are willing to raise their head and speak due to fear of suffering exile or death (figuratively in companies, in real life in conspiracy theories).

A good consultant is able to identify organizational problems and create solutions more quickly and efficiently than you or your internal staff. Some reasons for the use of a consultant might include the following:

  • To work on a short-term problem or situation.
  • To provide a special expertise for new purchases, accounting, legal issues, etc. …
  • To provide short-term assistance in lieu of more staff.
  • To assist in a major crisis.
  • To supplement staff time or expertise.
  • To ensure objectivity.
  • To ensure credibility.
  • To obtain a variety of skills.
  • To deal with legal requirements.

Besides offering expertise, a good consultant creates a report, shares it, and includes any difficult news of their recommendations. The one who bears bad news is often berated, verbally attacked, challenged as to their competency, or exiled.

It is always best for news of institutional inadequacy to be delivered by an outsider – who can then leave.

Bring in a consultant to find the areas that need change, deliver recommendations – and then leave. Then the organization can berate their findings and those who need to change can blame someone, as data has been provided, which says, “We Need to Change.” The leader can then review the news and find ways to make organizational improvements.

Sell the Structural Changes

The leaders affected by the change, need to be part of the dialogue and “buy-in” to the changes. Without their active support, the changes may die on their own. It is important they support the changes BEFORE they take place. Thousands of ways to derail change exist if the people most affected by the change fight it every step of the way.

Back-fill helps to move change forward. Bringing in staff to temporarily fill-in employees jobs – while they work on the change  – we call “back-fill.” This removes the frustration of commitment and can build excitement rather than increase the employee’s, especially the leaders, frustration.

Every organization must go through change or it will eventually falter and die when everyone thought their day of sunshine would last forever.

The tools to help identify the need for change lie in the hands of leaders. When changes have been implemented, then the organization has moved forward.

Therefore, make certain you celebrate change as each step is completed. Embrace the new world you create and share the newness of it with all involved – survive and thrive!

Transparency provides the best
reinforcement for communication

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Before he became the Vice Chancellor Human Resources for South Orange County Community College District, Dr. Bugay spent over a decade in other higher education positions as well as almost a decade in K-12 education as principal and administrator. An organizational behaviorist, he has served on the boards of the Association of California Community College Administrators, Association of Chief Human Resource Officers and International Higher Education Teaching Learning. He is a frequent presenter on topics ranging from tough decisions, managing change, to hiring, and communication. His latest book, Backbonology: Tough Decisions at Work, is scheduled to launch in early 2018.


  1. Great articles Leadership and Active change, are constantly growing in the minds eye. While thinking about the change That’s coming your way, anxiety and worry will ignite inside without you even realizing it’s happening. By the time we see it and feel it boo creeping up on us, we can’t help but think about all the different actions needed to keep your self from being consumed by the unknown reactions that are ravaging the whole thought process needed to be a clear picture of the great leader inside and out and. know that leading people to greatness is a important Link to the future. People look to our leaders for all the answers to calm the change that is taking place. Changes of any kind are scary and they usually radiate maddness inside without a person being able to control the situation, on their own. Fear instills weakness and sadness Inside. So my theory is that Leaders are drawn into the psychology of the unknown, just as a normal follower type personality is led to believe he that changes will destroy happyness all around the world. Calm is right there, in reach for all just allow it to be. Change is good for all types of moving forward and not to be feared or resisted. Go ahead world, welcome it, little man or Leader inside, Anxiously awaiting your thoughts on my views…

    • Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. It takes courage to overcome fear, yet with a different mindset – change might not install fear. As you say: ‘calm is right there’. At times, it seems, leaders become fearful of leading others as they are unsure how to lead themselves. Thanks again for taking the time to debate a matter that influences millions of peoples’ lives.

  2. Very insightful article, David , thank you!! It will help me navigate what feels like a constant stream of changes at work!! Should be required reading at school for everyone!! Well done!

  3. I appreciate the comment, Jane! Backbonology is loaded with practical tools to assist you in your position. In the area of personnel, it makes a point to ensure the treatment of the people with dignity and respect – something we need more of today. If I can help you in your endeavor, please feel free to contact me. I am a LinkedIn Open Networker with my email address in my profile.

    New job, new year. Do great things, Jane!

  4. David – I look forward to your new book in 2018. The article above is a timely read for me as I embark on a new role as HR Director for Volunteers of America in DC in January. The content dovetails nicely with my Organizational Theory class that I just completed with the fall semester.