Change Management: Initiation Is the First Step

The First Step in Managing an Organizational Change

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In the initiation or awareness, stage of change, the need for change is recognized by an individual or a group. There may be a specific problem or a performance gap, or there may simply be the nagging feeling that something is not quite right.

Regardless of how the need for change originated, a shared recognition that the current system is not working or can be improved develops in the workgroup. One passionate person who sees the need for change can influence and educate an entire workgroup.

In fact, during the initiation phase, the initiators of the change must build alliances with coworkers and obtain the support of senior managers if the changes they desire have any chance of success.

Often a limited number of people are involved at this point. These people may come from any level of the organization. Higher-level managers are usually involved in issues such as major capital decisions. Others may suggest change through such avenues as suggestion programs, department meetings, and discussions with peers, supervisors, or reporting staff members.

The Initiation/Awareness Stage

Awareness of the need for change can come from many different sources. Sometimes people just realize that there must be a better way to get work done. Other times, people are influenced by outside sources, such as people in other organizations, books, videos, or an article they read. The competition also drives change initiation.

Specific examples of initiation/awareness sources of information that spark the need for change include:

  • Understanding the fundamental and changing needs and requirements of customers
  • Attending seminars, conferences, meetings, and trade shows to explore potential solutions
  • Talking with vendors or peers in other organizations, and sending away for product information
  • Reading magazine reviews, periodicals, online articles, or industry journals
  • Making field trips to visit other companies and organizations
  • Recognizing that a current system is not working
  • Observing changes in the environment in which you make products, sell to customers, or react to competitors

Create an Organization Culture That Encourages Necessary Change

Organizations can encourage employees to recognize the need for change in many ways. The organization's culture supports employees' efforts to introduce and initiate change in both subtle and straightforward ways.

The following activities promote awareness of the need for change.

  • Reward and encourage idea-generating and experimenting to reduce resistance to change typified by attitudes such as, "don't rock the boat" and "we tried that already and it didn't work."
  • Encourage risk-taking and experimentation by diminishing unwritten, negative organizational norms such as, "failure will be punished."
  • Provide consistent access to employees to customers, suppliers, and competitors.
  • Encourage attendance at seminars, conferences, and trade shows, by providing financial support and assistance.
  • Encourage participation in industry groups and professional associations by paying dues and providing time to attend.
  • Implement suggestion programs and other similar systems that encourage employee ideation.
  • Subscribe to industry journals and trade magazines online and offline. Ensure broad distribution through the company library.
  • Make positive performance evaluations, salary increases, promotions, feedback, and recognition dependent on growth and contribution whenever possible.
  • Focus the organization on a shared, clearly understood mission, such as quality or customer, to focus on and encourage positive change.
  • Build management development, recruiting and employee selection, and employee performance improvement plans to support the desired characteristics you seek in employees.

During the initiation phase of change, education, sharing information, and what is rewarded and recognized in an organization's culture play a huge role in whether the change will be effectively implemented. The organization's readiness for change and the change management skills of the initiators also will affect the success of the change.

See the six stages involved in change management.