The nature of organizational change is dynamic; both internal and external environments duly influence change. The organizations that are able to adapt to differing environments, sometimes irrational, are the ones who will survive in the business world. This semester brought about a rich history of organizational change and an outstanding experience of large group intervention and change. Open Space, Future Search and Appreciative Inquiry are all fantastic examples of how well large groups can work together to create change. This blog post will explore some of the key points of the history of organizational change that most influenced my direction of thought and learning throughout the semester. The blog post will then explore my thoughts on Open Space, Future Search, and Appreciative Inquiry and how I plan to incorporate organizational change in my daily life, both personal and professional, where applicable.
Understanding how change comes about in an organization is important and it is an ever-changing process because of the many factors involved. Every organization has different cultures, climates, needs, goals, visions and missions. As a result, the art of change for an organization is created based on the particulars of that company. The largest asset for most organizations is the staff that works there. Organizations have individuals who are influenced by society. Therefore, influence from external environments, such as society, changes an organization’s internal environment. What exactly is an external environment and what are the components that create it? I initially struggled with this question early in the semester. I have come to the understanding that an external environment is like an open system. The relationship between the organization and the external environment is one that allows factors such as technology, society, legislation, competitor information, and supply and demand influence the way business is conducted. Finding out as much information about what is happening in the external environment is a key to an organization’s success. At VAMAC, we call this information market intelligence. Successful companies will lead and prepare the organization for change through communication and action based on the latest and most relevant information. The internal environment is important and a vital part of change, but organizations must not forget the role external environments play in change.
Burke and Litwin write about the internal environment, which includes both climate and culture. Burke and Litwin define climate in terms of perceptions that individuals have of their everyday work unit. Culture is more in the background and is defined by beliefs and values. The clarity of differentiating between the two is amazing and profound at the same time. I think the organization has a choice; do they want to change the climate or the culture? The climate has to do with everyday transactional type of behavior. The culture has to do with the organization’s espoused beliefs. One espoused belief at VAMAC is that the company operates, in all aspects of business, with integrity. The employees of VAMAC know that an espoused belief for the company not only includes integrity but also the importance of family. The company is family owned in its third generation and the top leaders of the company take into consideration the balance needed between family life and work life in order to have a productive workforce. One would think changing the climate would be easier than changing the culture. However, I think changing either climate or culture presents a challenge for the entire organization. How change agents approach and follow-through the change will differ based on what level of the organization is being affected. One of the most important aspects of change is realizing that without the support from the organization, change is not likely to occur in a planned manner.
According to Richard Beckhard and R. T. Harris, organizational change involves three conditions, the future state, the present state, and the transition state. The present state is the current state of the organization with regard to what is being assessed for possible future change. The transition state is the state the organization must go through to reach the desired future state – where the organization wants to go. Understanding how to walk an organization through each of these three conditions is the formula for successful organizational change. Ensuring that the process is communicated in a way that is understood by all involved at every level of the organization is going to promote an internal environment that is prepared for change. Change managementin this style is demanding work. Both defining the future state and assessing the present state have to be addressed simultaneously. Without understanding where the organization is today, why, and where it wants to be in the future, ideal change will not occur. Change agents have to develop strategies and adhere to the action plans to manage the transition to its completion. Applying Beckhard and Harris’ model, when creating change, is complex. A complete understanding of the organization’s culture, climate, internal and external influences is necessary to affect positive, successful change.
Open Space is an experience that requires no tight schedule or mapped agenda. Open Space allows participants space to explore the topic of the conference without putting limitations on their thinking. The conferences have an existing theme, an invitation list, what the proposed participants are interested in, and the rest of the conference output is left up to the participants to decide. There are planned points throughout the meeting with specific purposes. For example, there are morning announcements and the evening news that is designed to bring all participants up to speed on what has occurred so far in the conference. A closing ceremony brings all participants back together in a celebration like manner to reflect on what has been accomplished and to close the conference. An Open Space conference relies on the experiences of the participants, the present happenings and calls to anticipate the future through the questioning and exploring process. The environment in an Open Space conference was designed to be supportive of creative thinking. The participant’s in the VCU Open Space Conference were able to go outside and literally be in an open, comfortable environment. By opening your space, you open your mind to the many possibilities for the future.
Like Open Space, Future Search also looks toward the future. Future Search is an action guide to finding common ground in organizations and communities that want to plan their own future. The idea behind a future search is to bring the whole system into the room to explore participants’ past, present, and ideal future. The whole system is made up of stakeholders. Stakeholders are members of the community who will be affected by the decisions made during the conference. Stakeholders are sometimes only representatives of a much larger group. For example, a small group of mothers who have children in the local elementary schools may attend the conference in order to represent all of the mothers of those elementary school systems. Unlike an Open Space conference, a Future Search conference has a structured format. Specific tasks for the participants are worked through during the two and one half day conference. One particular task that I enjoyed during my team’s Future Search conference was the walk through the past. Each table of participants was asked to look at their experiences with social media and learning through the personal, global, and community views. It was amazing to see how dramatically social media and the mediums through which it operates have changed in just the two decades that we explored during our conference. It is a bit scary. Unfortunately, we only had enough time to walk through the past and part of the present in our conference. During our debrief session we covered the remainder of the present and the future portions that participants would have done in a typical conference. The ideal future is realized during the conference when the participants “act out” the idea of the new, ideal community or organization. The idea behind the acting out is that the participants are moving – putting their words into action during the conference will help when it comes time to take action after the conference. Future Search is used around the world to help communities and organizations make their ideal future a reality. I am glad I was able to gain the experience of walking through a conference even if it was a mock presentation with regard to the number of participants and the action steps being realized. However, the level of participation was outstanding from my classmates and professor.
The Appreciative Inquiry Summit is designed to build on the strengths and successes of the past and present and to envision and articulate possibilities for the future. The summit I experienced was very hopeful in nature. I was forced to focus on what was working and positive instead of trying to fix what was broken. During our summit, we focused on enhancing the experience of graduate students at VCU in the year 2020. I immediately thought of my daughter Morgan and what it is that I want her to have experienced during her time in college. The statement I want her to be able to put on her graduation cap is, “The art of individuality is not lost.” I think with all of the technology, class growth, and the way professors will teach is going to change. I want her to be able to have one-on-one time with her professor if needed or be able to have a choice in what method she learns – on-line or in a classroom setting. The other exercise that I found created commitment was the provocative proposition. Our group came up with the slogan, “VCU is a world-wide, diverse community that strives to build a limitless network of life-long learners and givers.” That is a powerful slogan and one that I think should be used for the future. It was a good experience to create our positive core through discovery, dream, design, and destiny. The appreciative inquiry technique is one that brings people together in a positive way and I am glad I was able to explore the possibilities for the VCU graduate class of 2010.
Applying what I have learned this semester in the Organizational Change course will be a goal for me going forward. The concepts I learned while studying the history of organizational change and large group interventions are valuable to me in my current position. Leading the training and education initiatives for VAMAC is a big responsibility. Each semester in the adult learning program, I gain new knowledge and I gain a better understanding of what will and will not work in my organization. Understanding the difference between the culture and the climate and how VAMAC needs to be able to adjust to both internal and external factors will help me make changes and recommendations with a stronger foundation of how organizational change is applied successfully.
I am participating in a leadership meeting next week that is focusing on the future VAMAC; how will we begin now to remain successful in the future? This question immediately brings to mind that the external and internal environments influence the future VAMAC. I will be able to ask intelligently, “How is VAMAC adapting to the dynamics of our external and internal environments?” I will be able to contribute to the group my understanding of organizational change. I feel like this course has better prepared me for many aspects of my job.
The nature of organizational change is dynamic to say the least. This blog first explored the rich history of organizational change and large group intervention and change. It then explored my experience and understanding of Open Space, Future Search and Appreciative Inquiry and how the work to create change. This blog post then highlighted some of the key points of the history of organizational change that most influenced my direction of thought and learning throughout the semester. Lastly, it gave a few examples of how I plan to incorporate organizational change in my daily life, both personal and professional, where applicable.