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Organizational Change: The Greatest Test of Leadership

5 pages
1176 words
Vanderbilt University
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Organizational change can be defined as the process of implementing changes in an organization and the effects that these changes bring to the organization. These changes can be made on the various aspects of the organization such as the structure, strategies, the operational methods, the organizational culture, or on the technologies applied in the organization. Organization change can occur at distinct periods of time or continuously over the lifespan of the organization. The ability to implement organizational changes can be the ultimate test of a leader. Due to the dynamic nature of the global markets, it is critical that a business can reinvent itself to fit with the latest trends in the industry. It is only through reinvention that the long-term survival of a business can be secured. On the other hand, the human nature resists fundamental change of the things that affect it. This is because change is viewed by some to cause anxiety and uncertainty. This creates two scenarios for leading change, one of which is its absolute essentiality and the second the incredible difficulty in implementing it.

Organizational change is the ultimate test for leadership. A successful leader is one who demonstrates the willingness and ability to be flexible and move his business in a new direction when necessity strikes. Embracing change is the key to sustainability and thrive for any organization. Organizations with leaders who can successfully implement changes enjoy several benefits which can hardly be found with organizations resistant to change. One of the benefits is building up competition. The current world of business is characterized by competition triggered by the dynamism and technological advancement evidenced in the world today. Keeping abreast with the changes boosts the competitiveness of an organization. Adopting change results in a satisfied clientele. Customers are attracted by the best that an organization can offer. Changes are meant and should be geared towards improving services, ensuring that they best serve the customers. As such, leaders who implement changes improve customer loyalty and attract more customers to the organization. An organizational change also ensures that unrewarding policies and non-performing employees are cut out and replaced with better ones, thus boosting the overall performance of the organization regarding services and profits. When an organization is doing well, it reflects on the competence of its leaders and vice versa.

Implementing organizational change is normally difficult for leaders. This is because the human nature is resistant to change. Additionally, it takes a considerable length of time for a change to take effect. It is not guaranteed that a certain change will yield positive results. Some changes that have been introduced in some companies have been successful while others have been an utter failure. Even very capable people are prone to making mistakes. Any critical mistake in any of the phases in the process of implementing the change can result in devastating impact or slow down the momentum for the organizational progress. Challenges to the implementation of organizational changes can be attributed to errors which can appear in the course of the process. Some of the errors/challenges will be discussed. One is the failure to establish a great and enough sense of urgency for the change. Often, this challenge is experienced in the first phase of the organizational change. Transformation calls for leaders to identify the need and urgency for change. This phase is critical since it sets the pace for the successive phases. The challenge comes in when the managers either lack patience thus want to rush the change or overestimate their success in increasing urgency. Others may feel like the idea of change will not be welcome and as such fail to push for it. Unless an organization has managers who are leaders, no initiative for change would be recommended.

Lack of a powerful guiding coalition is another challenge that hinders organizational change. Most renewal changes are steered by two or more people and especially if the head of the organization is on the supporting team. This team needs to incorporate key players in the organization since an agreement has to be reached for the commitment to the renewal. Companies that fail to appreciate the difficulty of producing change end up underestimating the importance of a powerful guiding coalition. Efforts that do not recognize the need for a powerful coalition only experience short-term success but eventually collapse. The third challenge is lack of a vision. Every change should be driven by a vision which helps in clarifying the direction in which the organization intends to take. A good vision that will result in successful transformation requires critical analytical thinking and exchange of ideas among the implementers. Lack of a sensible vision will dissolve the transformation efforts into confusing and incompatible projects that will either take the organization in the wrong direction or nowhere.

Undercommunication of the vision poses another challenge to change. Communication of a new invention in the organization ought to be done effectively for the staff to understand and implement it. With the resistant nature of human beings to change, leaders ought to communicate the change credibly in a manner that convinces the people that the change is possible. This way, the people will support and embrace it. Communication should be in words and deeds to set a pace for the others to follow. Ineffective communication slows down or completely kills changes that could have been greatly beneficial. Another challenge is the failure to plan for, and create short-term wins systematically. A real transformation takes time to be realized. Short-term goals are essential in maintaining the momentum since these can be achieved and celebrated. Most people will give up unless they see evidence that their efforts are bearing fruits.

Declaring victory too soon is a challenge to the successful implementation of organizational change. It takes a long time for a change to sink into an organizations culture deeply. While celebrating performance improvement is good, declaring that the war is won can turn catastrophic if the change is not deeply embedded. This means that the change needs to be monitored long after it has shown improvement. Finally, failure to anchor the changes to the organizations culture is a major drawback. Change sticks when it becomes the routine way of doing things in that organization. Most changes fail to take permanence when old ways continue to be used even after new approaches have been introduced.

The above challenges can be overcome through the application of various strategies. These strategies involve putting right the challenges that have been outlined above. These actions will ensure that transformation is achieved in an organization. They include establishing a sense of urgency, forming a powerful guiding coalition, creating a vision, effectively communicating the vision, empowering the rest to act on the vision, planning for and creating short-term wins, consolidating improvements and producing more change for long-term gains, and institutionalizing the new approaches to make them sink into the culture of the organization. With these steps, transformation can be achieved in an organization.


Kotter, J. P. (2009). Leading change: why transformation efforts fail. Harvard Business Review, 73(2).

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