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Change Management Simulation and Personal Reflection

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Diagnosis and Organizational Structure

As a privately held manufacturing company that barely escaped an economic recession, Spectrum Sunglass Company was committed to maintaining debt covenants with their lender and to remain a competitive producer of utility sunglasses in the U.S. marketplace. To accomplish both goals, Spectrum did not see a need to change any current business practices to innovate their product line. In the previous year, sales rose to $101 million after the economy arose from the recession, and the company returned to normal profitability. Nevertheless, Spectrum would find themselves in a pending dilemma, with profit instability due to the softening demand for sunglasses. Spectrum currently has a $10 million term loan and a revolving credit line of an additional $10 million; if Spectrum is out of covenant for more than two consecutive quarters, they could be required to either pay down the loan or raise additional equity capital. Spectrum feels this is not the time to change or redesign the organization’s business structure even though the market was moving in a new direction, one that encouraged environmental sustainability with the use of “green” materials.

At a sunglass-industry trade show in Las Vegas, a Bigmart executive approached Spectrums booth, he explained his new role with Bigmart. He also disclosed that Bigmart had adopted an in-house labeling program whereby products that receive a “Green Stamp” manufacturing certification would receive a special promotion with BigMart. BigMart was now considering making all its suppliers go through the Green Stamp certification process. The consideration became reality when the BigMart Vice President not-so-subtly threatened if we did not respond within 3 months with a detailed implementation plan on how to reduce our dependency on petroleum, then BigMart would consider canceling all current contracts with Spectrum. This was an initiative I have wanted to push for a while so for me, the choice was obvious, devise the plan that would keep our largest partner, but I knew I would have to win over quite a few colleagues if this was to work. Now it was up to me to convince my organization that this is not only a great idea but more importantly, an achievable task.

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When BigMart’s ultimatum was first presented to the Executive Officers and the CEO at the annual strategy retreat, immediately I knew who my early adopters and resistors would likely be:

Adopter: Leslie Harris, VP of Sales and Marketing

Harris agreed with me that introducing a product line to the market that showcased sustainability would potentially open new consumer markets and allow us to expand our business internationally to countries that supported environmentally friendly products. She also saw this initiative as a branding tool for U.S. consumers.

Resistor #1: Paul D’Arcy, Chief Financial Officer

D’Arcy believed a decline in profitability would be detrimental to the company meeting its debt covenants. The CFO thinks any raw green material substitute for petroleum would be too expensive and would negatively impact Spectrums profit margins.

Resistor #2: Luke Filer, VP of Operations

Filer protested the introduction and implementation of a new production plan. After completing a year-long Six Sigma certification process, he thought the plant managers would be outraged to then have to “retrain, retool, and retest to accommodate the use of ‘unproven,’ environmentally friendly raw material substitutes.”

The VP of Human Resources, Mary Gopinath, and the CEO, Henry Adams both saw the need to give BigMart’s proposal serious thought and decided to move forward with planning the initiative to see if it was feasible. If I could leverage both of their support that would be a huge win for my initiative. Looking at the organization’s hierarchical structure, I figured I could count on my own department and those under Harris in Marketing for support. I thought most of the resistance would come from D’Arcy’s and Filer’s teams, as the finance and operation sides of the house would both be logistically impacted with this major change.

Mobilization Strategy

I believe it would have been more beneficial for me to take more time in the strategic planning phase, I think I kind of went in there blind to some very critical factors that would have helped me along the way. For example, identifying a change model or models that best fit my organization and initiative, as well as, really taking the time to know and understand the leadership team and their network. In hindsight, having a plan to effectively communicate the need for change, mobilize individuals in the organization to adopt the initiative, and evaluate, if the changes were effective or not (Battilana, Gilmartin, Sengul, Pache, & Alexander, 2010) would have met the simulation’s incremental goals of mobilization, movement, and sustainment. The plan for organizational change, inspired by Lewin’s Theory of Change (Cawsey, Deszca, & Ingols, 2016), describes one where I as the change initiator had to motivate the organization’s leadership and supporting characters, moving through four stages of the change initiative: Awareness, Interest, Trial, and Adoption. The obvious first steps should have been to rally a few key individuals, based on which departments I thought would easily adopt the initiative (Marketing and R&D) and which needed to be educated more on its benefits (Finances and Operations), to create a coalition of support.

Without having a firm plan of action, I decided to begin making random moves based on what I thought would work, not really taken the time to ensure I took every opportunity to make all decisions and moves count. I began with the walk the walk, to be honest, I don’t have a rational reason why I chose that as my first lever. Had I understood more about, “power tactics, it may have provided insight on how I could have influenced change.” (Cawsey et al., 2016) Needless to say, I had no positive impact and I lost credibility ; I continued under the assumption that “[r]esistance to change initiatives is partly attributable to organizational members’ emotional reactions, stemming, for example, from threats to self-esteem…, confusion and anxiety…, or stress related to uncertainty” (Battilana et al., 2010). I thought appealing to the entire organization was the way to go but after some epic fails, I found out that was definitely not the way to go. I figured holding a town hall meeting would surely galvanize supporters and get things headed in the right direction, it generated no interest, and I lost credibility. At this point, I had to stop and regroup, I was clearly frustrated with the outcome and grasping at straws as to my next move. I decided to glean some knowledge from the “authentic leadership” theory, where a leader who expects to enact change must model the message by living the values they want others to adopt (Northouse, 2012). After some thought, I figured it would be a wise move to conduct private interviews, this would allow me to speak solely with a select group that I thought could influence others based off their network connections. This strategy paid off; a small number (6) individuals became interested, five moved into the awareness stage, and one became neutral but for some reason, I could not ride the wave of my minuscule success.

Strategy Evaluation

When it was all said and done my strategy was non-existent, to say it mildly, there was no clear vision proposed on my part to ignite one person to adopt my initiative. This is something I was passionate about and I feel as if I didn’t utilize the resources at my disposal properly. I believe if I would have framed a plan that followed Kotter’s 8-step methodology, where the process first focuses on shifting the mental models of the stakeholders in the organization, targeting deeper thinking and behaviors that can support change, I would have been more successful sooner in motivating people to interest. Kotter’s model addresses the people-oriented behaviors I was somewhat attempting early on in the simulation.

As Battilana et al. (2010) found in their study comparing people-oriented and task-oriented leadership strategies with respect to communicating, mobilizing, and evaluating change implementation, leaders who exhibit task-oriented behaviors still utilize strategies that are thought to be people-oriented. “One explanation for this finding might relate to the notion that leaders who are effective at task-oriented behaviors are aware that they need to share their vision with others, keep members’ attention on goals, and guide them through the implementation of new organizational designs.” After looking at my decisions and recalling thoughts I had during moments when I pulled what I thought was critical levers, I believe I was so focused on the task that I failed to give the proper attention to the people, which is probably why I was unable to influence change.

Insights and Reflection

The scenario was realistic in all aspects, thought-provoking, and difficult under the allotted time given to produce a plan. The biggest challenge for me was focusing under the pressure of an unrealistic deadline, in my opinion, a change that significant would have been very difficult to do in 3 months. I had my moral and economic convictions as to why this initiative would be great for the organization and customers, but I could not articulate the benefits to the management team. Instead, I call an unplanned session to discuss the conversation I had with our largest retail customer, that was primetime to make my pitch and I blow it. Preparation; had I been better prepared I would have had a soft implementation plan ready, to include, the benefits to the organization and staff.

I don’t think you can underestimate the power of relationships, I missed the interconnectedness of departmental and personal relationships. Relationships are critical to the movement of any initiative, I did not look at the network connections until I had failed multiple times. Understanding people would have been significant in managing the change process, I feel I made the process tougher on myself by taking the task on myself instead of looking at it from a team perspective. Just because you are the project lead doesn’t mean you must do everything to complete the task. I have learned to seek and build relationships that will positively affect the change I am attempting to implement.

Lastly, it’s incumbent on me to not allow frustration to drive my decision making, it is easy to be fueled by emotions, which leads to irrational actions in stressful situations. I became very irritated when my choices were incorrect and non-impactful, this led to several improper selections. I wanted to succeed so badly that I was willing to operate out of character just to see progress; with that, I showed no patience in the process. Although I was on a tight timeline, patience must be factored into the process, had I slowed down to gather my thoughts, I know without a doubt, my influence would have stretched much further then it did.

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