Symbolically, Mulally’s biggest challenge was to change the perception that Ford was on a path to oblivion because it had become too bloated, bureaucratic, and self-absorbed to understand or adapt to the realities of the twenty-!rst century. As he sought a more hopeful story about the future, he followed the lead of wise symbolic leaders such as Lou Gerstner at IBM. He looked to the past. Mulally combed Ford’s corporate archives, believing that a key to Ford’s future was a return to the principles that had make it great in the !rst place. He hit pay dirt with an ad that Henry Ford had run in 1925 in the Saturday Evening Post (America’s most widely read publication at the time). Under a picture of an American family standing atop a grassy knoll next to their Model T, the caption read, “Opening the highways to all mankind.” In the text, Henry Ford outlined his vison: “A wholehearted belief that riding on the people’s highways should be within easy reach of all the people.” That ad gave Mulally the touchstone he was looking for. He wrote stream-of- consciousness notes about what needed to happen: pull stakeholders together, form tight relationships with the board and the Ford family, respect the heritage, implement reliable discipline and a business plan, and include everyone. Then he took another sheet of paper and sketched his “Alan Legacy.” Bottom line: “One Ford,” anchored on a glorious past, moving toward a future that replaced chaos and in!ghting with simplicity, teamwork, and unity—worldwide.
How Frames Can Improve the Odds Comparing the stories of change at 3M, JC Penney, and Ford illustrates an iron law: Limited, top-down thinking almost always fails. Changes that are more employee driven and comprehensive have a better chance. Organizations today face a persistent dilemma. Changes in leadership or the environment pressure them to adapt, yet the more they try to change, the more often their reach exceeds their grasp (Nickerson and Silverman, 2003; Barnett and Freeman, 2001). Ormerod (2007) argues that “things usually fail” because decision makers don’t understand their circumstances well enough to anticipate the
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consequences of their actions. Theymarch blindly down their chosen path ignoring warning signs that they are headed in the wrong direction. In studying scores of innovations, we continue to see managers whose strategies are limited because their thinking is employs only one or two cognitive lenses.
Think about the challenges of rebuilding Iraq. The architects of the U.S. invasion foresaw a relatively quick and painless transition to democratic stability. Instead, eliminating the Saddam Hussein regime opened a Pandora’s box of political and symbolic issues seething beneath the surface (as happened subsequently in Libya, Egypt, andmany other nations that have undergone cataclysmic regime change). It is much better to spot quicksand before rather than after you’re mired in it. The frames can help change agents see pitfalls and roadblocks ahead, thereby increasing their odds of success.
Changing an organization is a complex, systemic undertaking. It rarely works to retrain people without revising roles or to revamp roles without retraining. Planning without broad-based participation that gives voice to the opposition almost guarantees stiff resistance later on. Change alters power relationships and undermines existing agreements and pacts. Even more profoundly, it intrudes on deeply rooted symbolic forms, traditional ways, icons, and rituals. Below the surface, an organization’s cultural tapestry begins to unravel, threatening time-honored traditions, prevailing cultural values and ways, and shared meaning.
Too many change efforts fail, but there are bright spots that offer hope. Arnold (2015) cites !ve cases of dramatically successful change. One was Santander, the giant Spanish bank, which entered the U.K. market by buying two old-line British banks. The two were very different from one another and neither had much in common with Santander in terms of culture, systems, and practices. Santander needed to establish a common brand and to get both banks to align with its cultural values of “Simple, Personal, and Fair.” Santander’s change process emphasized both people and systems, including extensive opportunities for involvement and training. Reading between the lines of such case descriptions, one can detect the importance of the four frames in approaching change. In the remainder of the chapter, we look more closely at the human resource, structural, political, and symbolic aspects of organizational change and integrate them with Kotter’s model of the change process. Exhibit 18.1 summarizes the views of major issues in change that each frame offers. The human resource view focuses on needs, skills, and participation; the structural approach, on alignment and clarity; the political lens, on con”ict and arenas; and the symbolic frame, on loss of meaning and the importance of creating new symbols and ways. Each mode of thought highlights a distinctive set of barriers and offers some possibilities for making change stick.
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Exhibit 18.1. Reframing Organizational Change.
Frame Barriers to Change Essential Strategies
Anxiety, uncertainty; people feel incompetent and needy
Training to develop new skills; participation and involvement; psychological support
Structural Loss of direction, clarity, and stability; confusion, chaos
Communicating, realigning, and renegotiating formal patterns and policies
Political Disempowerment; con!ict between winners and losers
Developing arenas where issues can be renegotiated and new coalitions formed
Symbolic Loss of meaning and purpose; clinging to the past
Creating transition rituals; mourning the past, celebrating the future
CHANGE, TRAINING, AND PARTICIPATION It might seem obvious that investment in change calls for collateral investments in training and in development of active channels for employee input. Yet countless innovations falter because managers neglect to spend time and money to develop needed knowledge and skills and to involve people throughout the process. The human resource department is too often an afterthought no one takes seriously.
At one large !rm, for example, top management decided to purchase state-of-the-art technology. They expected a 50-percent cut in cycle time from customer order to delivery, leading to a decisive competitive advantage. Hours of careful analysis went into crafting the strategy. They launched the new technology with great fanfare. The CEO assured a delighted sales force it would now have a high-tech competitive edge. After the initial euphoria faded, though, the sales force realized that its old methods and skills were obsolete; years of experience were useless. Veterans felt like neophytes.
When the CEO heard that the sales force was shaky about the new technology, he said, “Then get someone in human resources to throw something together. You know, what’s- her-name, the new vice president of human resources. That’s why we hired her. That’s her job: to put together training packages.”A year later, the new technology had failed to deliver. The training never materialized. Input from the front lines never reached the right ears. The company’s investment ultimately yielded a costly, inef!cient process and a demoralized sales force. The window of opportunity was lost to the competition.
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Management Best Sellers Spencer Johnson, Who Moved My Cheese? An A-Mazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and Your Life (New York: Putnam, 1998)
Spencer Johnson’s brief (94-page) parable about mice, men, and change topped Businessweek’s best-seller list for three consecutive years (1999, 2000, and 2001), making it one of the most successful management books ever.
The essence of the book is a story about a maze and its four inhabitants: two mice named Sniff and Scurry and two “little people” named Hem and Haw. Life is good because they have found a place in the maze where they reliably discover a plentiful supply of high-quality cheese. But then the quality and quantity of cheese decline, and eventually the cheese disappears altogether.