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Book Review – The Essentials of Managing Change and Transition – M. Serkan Pektas

by on November 11, 2007

The Essentials of Managing Change and Transition (Business Literacy for HR Professionals).Authors: Lauren Keller Johnson, Richard LueckePublished: Boston, MA. Harvard Business School Publishing, 2005Pages: 265 pp. (ISBN: 1591395739) Price: $37.80

The Essentials of Managing Change and Transition is a part of “the Business Literacy for HR Professionals” series, which was developed and published by Harvard Business School and the Society for Human Resource Management. According to the publisher’s note, “this book provides a comprehensive overview of the concepts, skills, and tools HR professional need to be influential partners in developing and executing organizational strategy.”

This series was written under the guidance of Wendy Bliss, who has experience as a human resource executive, attorney, senior editor, and professional speaker. The subject adviser of this series is Michael Beer, the Cahners-Rabb Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Lauren Keller Johnson and Richard Luecke are the coauthors of this book. Both have authored several books and articles on a wide range of business subjects.

This book is influenced by the previous book of Richard Luecke, which is “Managing Change and Transition”, and it contains similar chapters. If you have read the previous book already, you can still find some important experiences, real life cases, and guidelines in this book.
The first chapter emphasizes factors of change and presents change as an opportunity rather than a threat for HR departments. In the business environment, where change is constant, the new role of HR is to help their companies to adapt and profit from changes. Those roles as change agent and change facilitator generate crucial value in an organization.

The second chapter reviews different types of change within organizations. The HR has a great influence on the entire change process, but structural and cultural changes are the most relevant practices. Also, the different types of timing for different change programs are defined. The advantages and disadvantages of anticipatory, reactive, and crisis changes are discussed. This chapter also describes two approaches to change, one of which is the organizational capabilities approach. Although both approaches are the essential parts of the change, the authors suggest that one should be chosen at the expense of the other (Which is most appropriate-Theory E or Theory O? pg. 27), I think that they can be applied at the same time. In economical approach, Theory E, is sometimes about includes employee layoff, so there should be organizational restructuring or at least new arrangements are required within departments.

In the third chapter, the authors define three major conditions that are necessary for an organization’s change readiness: respected and effective leaders, appropriate reward systems, and nonhierarchical organization. I agree that those conditions are necessary for change programs. Under those conditions, the success of the change programs is higher. However, it means that if the organization is functionally aligned and traditionally hierarchical, then the organization is not change-ready. In addition, the authors discuss how HR professionals can cultivate those conditions in their companies. In my opinion, changing hierarchical structure into nonhierarchical structure is a great change management issue. This indicates that if nonhierarchical structure is necessary for an organization to change, then hierarchical organization will never change. The authors also talk about the importance of respected and effective leadership in nonhierarchical organizations. In nonhierarchical organizations, everybody can be a change agent. In my opinion, respected and effective leadership is needed when an organization is hierarchical. Reward system benefits are also important but financial rewards systems sometimes bring new problems rather than solutions.

In the fourth chapter, the authors emphasize the importance of the human side of transition. The best conditions and regulations can be created in order to encourage an organization to change, but it is not enough to initiate transition in an organization. For example, some employees could lose their expertise after implementation of change program or they need to learn new skills to compete without gaining any return. This situation may cause that most employees fell frustrated and the authors suggests some methods for them to deal with the upheavals of change.

The fifth chapter is the brief description of The Heart of Change by John P. Kotter and Dan S. Cohen. The authors represent these eight steps to change as a guideline and they discuss effective and non-effective actions to take during the change efforts. Those steps are:
Step 1: Establish a sense of urgencyStep 2: Create a guiding coalitionStep 3: Develop a compelling visionStep 4: Communicate the visionStep 5: Empower others to act on the visionStep 6: Generate short term winsStep 7: Consolidate gains and produce more changeStep 8: Anchor new approaches in the company culture

In the sixth chapter, the authors identify seven activities that are essential for implementation. All of them are about communication channels between system agents and change agents. They believe that the communication, such as enlisting support and celebrating short term wins, would catalyze the transition. They also discuss involvement and roles of consultants and employees in different steps of implementation.

In the seventh and eighth chapters, they address different types of employee responses to change and how to handle those responses. The authors also mention about change agents and system agents like in The Facilitating Organization Change: Lessons from Complexity Science (by Edwin E. Olson and Glenda H. Eoyang). In this chapter, in addition to these two agents, the authors point out another type of employee, classified as resistors who do not want to change. According to the authors, the resistors are also active participants of the change process like change agents. The acknowledgement of those employees before implementation would allow change managers to plan comprehensively.

The remaining chapters are about how to adapt continuous change culture into an organization and the role of HR professionals on this adaption process.
This book is designed to give implementation ideas for Hr professionals. The authors’ main concern is to give general knowledge and a practical view. That is why in this book, the critical approach to issues is rarely discussed.

At the conclusion of each of the eleven chapters, the authors give an especially useful “Summing Up” section which makes possible a review of important points. After that part, each topic has been leveraged by critically questioning them at the end of each chapter.

I also like the “Tools” section makes it easy for a reader to think him/herself by putting into situations and encouraging critical thinking about topics that are covered in the chapter. Beside those, there are also special parts in each chapter, such as “HR Action”, “Tips”, “Dos and Don’ts”, and special notes. In those specially formatted parts, the readers can find many useful points and practices to apply real life cases.

Therefore I think that the flow of chapters is very well structured and specially formatted summary and tools sections at the end of each chapter stress the main points of the chapter so the readers can focus on them.

However, there are two things that should be improved for better readability. First of all, I have some difficulty in following chapters in terms of special parts, because those special parts recurring in each chapter have different places. For example, after the first chapters, I would expect that “Tools” parts are last part of each chapter, but sometimes they are placed different parts of the chapter rather than the last part. If they have a common places in each chapter layout, it looks more professional. Secondly, the authors’ points in “HR Action”-“special notes” and “Tips”-“Dos and Don’ts” seems to have similar concept. Instead of labeling and formatting them differently, it is better to keep that information under “HR Action” and “Tips”.

It can be said that, this book is a guidelines book. This book gives a good hints to manage transition. If you are interested in the book that discusses the change management issues in more criticizing way, this is not the book that you are looking for. Since the aim of the book is to give some background information about change management to HR professionals, the authors have accomplished it by discussing all aspects of change management from HR perspective. If you have plans to build career in HR, or you are already in HR, and looking for guidelines to back up your vision for managing change in workplace, I strongly recommend you to read this book. This book should be under your hand, because you as a HR professional are going to deal with the change management issues at all level and almost everyday.

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