A concise introduction

by Richard Pettinger

Chapter 3

As stated in chapter 1, one of the key issues that managers have to face is the need and ability to cope with change and uncertainty. You need therefore to know:
  • what is changing and what is likely to change
  • the likely and possible effects of these changes.
You need to be able to identify where the drives for change and barriers to change are going to come from; and you need to be able to assess and prioritise these and formulate propositions for building on and energising the drives, and addressing the barriers and where necessary breaking them down.

You are going to need to know and understand how to go about changing people’s resistances to change. This means that you need to know and understand why they are resisting, what they fear, and how to overcome these fears. You need then to be able to prioritise what to do and set out a clearly defined schedule and approach in order to tackle the things that you have identified.

During the course of your studies, you will see many case studies and examples relating to change and development. You need to get into the habit of evaluating these, seeing where success and progress were achieved, and what went wrong, and what could have been done differently and why.

You need also to recognise that there are no blueprints for successful change and development – there are principles that can and need to be followed; and you do need to have always in mind the mantra:
‘Change, from what, to what, when, where, how and why’

Change pervades every aspect of organisational and managerial practice. The effects of changes in the environment mean that organisation and business practices have to change in order to respond to:
  • changes in currency and commodity prices;
  • changes in electricity, gas, water and fuel charges;
  • changes in market demand brought on by the above changes, and also by changes in tastes and fashions, and changes in the activities of competitors and alternatives.
One key lesson is that management is concerned with constant adjustment and readjustment – which has to take place every time that there is one or more of the above changes. It is complex; and it requires a pioneering attitude as well as organisational and business expertise.

Additional Readings

There is a huge range of literature on change; and this may be classified as:
  • academic;
  • trade;
  • reflections and thoughts of practitioners.
Academic books on change include:
  • C Handy (1996) Understanding Organisations – Penguin
  • F Luthans (2996) Organisational Behaviour – McGraw Hill
  • L Mullins (2011) Management and Organisational Behaviour – Pearson
Trade books on change include:
  • M Hammer and J Champy (2003) Reengineering the Corporation – Harvard
  • T Peters (1989) Thriving on Chaos – Pan
Reflections and thoughts include:
  • R Branson (2006) Screw It – Let’s Do It – Virgin Media

It is vital to read something on change! Management is about coping with change and uncertainty; and it is also about transforming the organisations that produce and deliver products and services, relating to technology and globalisation, responding to competition and the threat of entry to markets as the result of globalised and international-ised business activities. Whether you read from the academic, trade or personal reflections point of view, you need to note and learn the attitudes and approaches needed, as well as the capabilities.

Case studies and examples

Marketing and Selling Technology

A corporate communications company working in thirty three countries across the world had become a brand leader for its core products, which were integrated telecommunications, internet and video and computer conferencing systems. These systems could be accessed anywhere in the world, subject only to the availability of a connection in the specific location. The company was flexible and responsive, delivering technology upgrades to customers as soon as they became available, having been tested to a commercially viable quality assurance process.

The technology used in this field was (and is) constantly being upgraded. However, the basic product and package was acceptable to all who bought it, and the company was very successful.

The company then changed its managing director, who brought in a new top management team. The company emphasis now was to switch from product excellence and performance to mass marketing. However, the 'mass marketing' concentrated very heavily on external general branding and reputation, rather than the customer and client management and direct sales efforts on which the company's success had been founded to date.

The immediate result was to change the approach to existing customers and clients. While technology upgrades were still presented to customers, the sales pitch now stated that 'if you wait a year or two, you can have the next generation product and be really up to date'. The consequence was that sales staff were now being shifted away from selling, to not selling. This was reinforced by a keynote address form the new chief executive who stated that 'as we are selling systems with a thirty year useful life, there is no rush to sell now'.

However, the next generation of technology upgrades were delayed; and this was because of the decline in both profits and also cash flow caused by the present attitude to sales. Production staff began to be laid off. Reputation declined; and customers and clients began to look elsewhere. The company's historic success had been founded on its excellence of service; and now this had been lost. The marketing and sales staff were still employed; however they effectively had nothing to sell. Accordingly the company collapsed two years after the new chief executive took office.

There were therefore some key questions that had to be addressed, as follows:
  • the need to speed up response times, in order to take advantage of the ability to sell products that were likely to have a short shelf life;
  • the need to develop the business approach to recognise the changing nature of the products, but without ruining the company’s reputation for service excellence;
  • the need to understand the demands of customers as the markets and the nature of the products changed also.
Hickman Civil Engineering Ltd

John Creedy was a design engineer at Hickman, a civil engineering company that specialised in drainage and earthworks. Following a spate of minor accidents, he and a colleague designed a simple temporary safety railing, which could be easily erected at the point at which all plant and machinery approaching trenches and hidden earthworks need to stop.

They took their proposal to the company site safety officer, who approved it. They then filled out an order for the materials, so that they could order them and have them installed on the various sites.

Nothing happened. John therefore went back to the site safety officer, who informed him that the order had been cancelled on the order of the contracts director, because the extra expense and delays that would be incurred did not justify the proposed outlay.

The following day, two men were badly injured when a dumper truck fell over the side of a trench, having accidentally driven too close to the edge.

Again, there are some fundamental issues to address:
  • the change in basic attitudes to organisational practice (and indeed attitudes and behaviour) which are invariably to be found at the core of bad, yet avoidable, accidents;
  • the need to develop every aspect of organisation practice and management (in this case, safety management) so that every aspect of the organisation changes, advances and improves;
  • the attitude to costs and their management; in this case, the statements about the spate of minor accidents, and now a major accident, mean that the company is certain to incur costs and delays – exactly what was to be avoided by not commissioning and installing the temporary safety railings.

The book publisher
Ativa Press had for many years been a mainstream publisher of women’s fiction and children’s books. The company was very successful, publishing large volumes of books which delivered small profits per individual sale, but which collectively delivered a steady flow of substantial profits for the company.

Following the success of the Harry Potter phenomenon at Bloomsbury Publishers, Ativa now saw the returns potentially on offer. The trick was to spot the next blockbuster in the markets. Accordingly, Heather Welch, Ativa’s CEO, gathered together a new sales and commissioning team to seek out the next blockbuster author. The remit given to the team was: find the next JK Rowling!

The team organised competitions and engaged in extensive publicity and energising campaigns across the UK. Thousands of proposals and synopses were brought in;  and slowly the team whittled down to the final three. These three were:
  • a fictionalised account of the early life of Charles Dickens and the community he was growing up in;
  • a follow up to Stephanie Meyer’s vampire saga called ‘The Following Night’;
  • an account of the life of Barbie and Ken set on a an inner London housing estate.
The team agreed these as their final three, and took them to Heather for her final approval and agreement. Heather stared at the proposals and read them through time and again. Finally she said:

‘Yes all well and good. We will commission the one that is guaranteed to succeed. Which one is guaranteed to succeed? That is the one we will go with’. 

Of course nothing is ever guaranteed to succeed! It is the wrong question in the wrong place at the wrong time to the wrong people. This does not prevent managers in all sectors and industries and locations from asking the question, and indeed only commissioning work on the basis that success is guaranteed and assured. There are some much more fundamental issues that have to be addressed if you are trying to move from (as it says here about Ativa) being a high volume low margin operator, into a mass and international operator (which is what Bloomsbury became for a short while with the Harry Potter phenomenon).

Discussion questions

Why do so many technology driven changes fail or fall short of full success? What lessons need to be learned about this by the managers of the future?

Why do so many managers, companies and organisations get drawn into unknown and untested markets and ventures when they seek to change and develop themselves? 

Why do so many organisational change programmes fall far short of success?

Each of the above questions includes the phrase ‘fall short of success’. What are the lessons for management students about managing change and managing in a changing environment, and in terms of coping with change and uncertainty (see chapter 1)?