They say change is the only constant in life. In this highly competitive business environment and the onset of a new industrial revolution, organizations that are reluctant to embrace change end up paying a hefty price for their rigidity. Organizations ought to be highly dynamic and gain a clear understanding of the landscape they operate in. They have to be constantly paranoid realizing the threat competitors pose to their operations and their market share. Sustainable competitive advantage will require a clear vision of the bigger picture, breaking the norms and sometimes shaking an organization from its core. If a certain project/program is not yielding expected results, change becomes inevitable. If an organization is not meeting its objectives, change becomes paramount.
Change theory is a type of methodology that uses a comprehensive basis of intermediate and early preconditions needed to arrive at a long term goal. It involves working backward. One of the advantages of the theory of change (TOC) is the ability to evaluate progress. An outcomes framework provides a clear sense of direction and clearly highlights the preconditions for achieving the desired change. Once it has been noted that change is required, all stakeholders are involved in the entire process of identifying the necessary preconditions. Involving all stakeholders reduces friction during the implementation process.
According to the Center for Theory of Change, TOC is focused in particular on mapping out or “filling in” what has been described as the “missing middle” between what a program or change initiative does (its activities or interventions) and how these lead to anticipated goals being achieved. It does this by first identifying the desired long-term goals and then works back from these to identify all the conditions (outcomes) that must be in place (and how these related to one another causally) for the goals to occur. These are all mapped out in an Outcomes Framework.
One of the cornerstones for understanding the change theory is Kurt Lewin’s ‘Change Management Model’, developed in 1940. It still holds true today. Lewin divided the process of change into three stages; Unfreeze, Change, Refreeze. The analogy is simple. Assume you have a huge cube of ice but then you realize that what you want is a cone of ice instead. So, what do you do? First, you must melt the ice to make it pliable to change (unfreeze). Then you must mold the iced water into the shape you want, in this case, cone of ice (change). Finally, you must solidify the new shape (refreeze). Refreezing occurs when change is finally taking shape in the organization.
Implementing theory of change starts with the end goal in mind. What is it that you want to achieve in the long run? Is it efficiency in a given department? Increasing the organization’s top-line? Improving procurement and supply chain management? Then from the long term goal, picture, vividly, the intermediate and early changes or adjustments that need to be implemented in order to make the end goal a reality. The first stage of implementation (unfreezing) is usually the hardest. It might require shaking the organization from its very core; its beliefs, its culture, its values. Employees need to buy into the new direction and discard the status-quo. Selling the new direction can be a tough nut to crack.
The second stage in the process happens when stakeholders start to resolve their conflicts and slowly start believing in the new course. It usually takes time for stakeholders to embrace the new direction being charted. The input of all stakeholders on board is vital to the success of the early and intermediate changes and consequently the desired goal. Their support and unwavering commitment is an absolute necessity.
Refreezing occurs when systems and processes have started working and the light at the end of the tunnel starts becoming visible. The organization becomes stable and the new structure starts to deliver tangible results. Stakeholders at this stage become reassured that the process was necessary and the means used are justified since the end (long-term goal) is becoming viable. At this point, the organization ought to anchor these changes into its culture.
In the face of turmoil, change is inevitable. Avoiding change is tantamount to burying an organization knee deep into a swamp of uncertainty threatening its very existence and with it the future of all stakeholders who benefit from its output.