In today's fast-paced business world, not many things stay stable for long. Companies and organizations are increasingly forced to quickly react to external changes, which can undoubtedly influence day-to-day projects and even business strategies.
Executives today are often forced to decide whether to implement change projects – and these changes, especially the fundamental ones, can undoubtedly appear daunting.
“Change can happen at any moment,” says Leland Sandler, who teaches the half-day “Overcoming Immunity to Change” at UCSD Rady's Center for Executive Development, but sometimes people find that “something is just getting in the way of that change.”
And beyond obstacles, other challenges persist. Many times, managers will enact large, abrupt changes without considering smaller, more long-term shifts, according to Andrew Campbell, director of the Strategic Management Centre at Ashridge Business School.
For example, “a typical challenge is when to use the structure lever,” Campbell says, “because changing structure can be very disruptive.”
Campbell teaches Ashridge's four-day executive course in “Advanced Organisation Design,” and says that he finds that many leaders try to change up their organization's structure too often for the sake of efficiency.
“You can often solve things by taking some individuals away on a weekend sailing trip, and getting them to make friends, or by training people, or by changing steps in a process,” says Campbell.
“There are a lot of things that you can do which can facilitate organizational effectiveness that don't involve structure.”
An executive education course in change management can help managers see this larger perspective, by providing a framework that can help facilitate change. Often, participants come into these programs with a variety of specific change needs, or questions about implementation or best practices.
Marc Buelens, who teaches the four-day “Inspiring for Change” (in Dutch) at Vlerick Business School, notes that people come into the course with “different change situations in the back of their head, from the most strategic to the most psychological or concrete.”
Like many change management courses, “Inspiring for Change” uses a combination of lectures, testimonials, and case studies to guide participants through change processes. Ashridge's “Advanced Organisation Design” focuses on group interaction to illuminate specific organizational issues.
“We do exercises that help participants teach each other,” says Andrew Campell. “We also do role-play exercises where there's some tricky issue that needs to be negotiated, in order to understand the relationship dynamics or organizations.”
Executive courses in change management: getting personal
Change management courses aren't always about organizations – many focus primarily on more individual or personal change, which can be difficult for some executives.
“People will often say things like, 'I'm hard-wired' or 'I've tried doing something different, it's just not in me, it's just not who I am,'” says UCSD's Leland Sandler.
Unfortunately, a resistance to change can have negative effects on an organization. For example, a leader might be hesitant about bringing others into a decision-making process, fearing that it will diminish his value as part of the team. This hesitance can bog down the entire process, and make it harder to make good business decisions.
In “Overcoming Immunity to Change,” Sandler leverages insights from research in developmental psychology to help managers move past these kinds of blocks, and helps them determine the root causes and assumptions that are inhibiting change. Sandler says that these personal processes can work better in a neutral executive education environment, as opposed to a day-to-day workplace.
“It's harder within an organization, where you have your counterparts all around, where you have a lot at risk, as well as whatever the political agendas are that are coming into play,” he says.
Learning about change management in an executive education setting can have other benefits, as well. At Ashridge's “Advanced Organisation Design,” participants are encouraged to bring in a management issue that they've run into, so it can be analyzed in a small group setting.
“That is frequently a huge eye-opener,” says Andrew Campbell, “because they suddenly see their situation through more objective eyes.”
Campbell says that this objective analysis, along with some insight into change management frameworks and processes, can help participants bring new ideas back into the workplace that can be applied over the long-term.
“They go away with some tools that they can use immediately,” he says, “but like the proverbial bicycle, it always takes a bit of riding before you are proficient.”
“We would expect the learning journey to continue months or even years afterward.
Photo: Felix Burton / Flickr