How to Cope with Change: the only Constant in Life
Professor Emeritus, Sawyer Business School, Suffolk University, Boston,
About 2500 years ago, Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “change is the only constant
in life”. The history of human civilization is the history of
This paper does not explore the history of changes. Here
we want to explore some aspects of present-day
organizational changes affecting our lives and show how
to manage these changes. Our focus mainly will be on
organizational changes in cultural contexts.
Greek philosopher Heraclitus
Organizations operate in an environment of constant change. Changes in social,
economic, physical and political environments interacting with each other create
challenges for organizations and people working within the organization, putting their
survival and growth at risk. Complexities of challenges increase as the rate of change
increases. Though change is constant, the rate of change today is much faster than
Change complexities threaten efficient organizational operations and stability. Regular
review of strategies and operational realignments and renewals have become facts of
our time. Managers learn new things, acquire new skills, top management reorganizes
and restructures operations and seeks new markets, creates new products, adopts new
processes to cope with changes faced regularly.. How critical challenges from these
changes are depends on the nature of changes.
No one wants to change. Everyone loves to stay within their own comfort zones. We
create our own identity based on skills, experience, training we acquired over many
years and our assumptions and expectations conform to the structures we work within.
Think about changing from our regular diet to healthy food- the chain of activities it will
trigger and many hurdles to overcome. Think about adopting new technologies in
business, education, or industry. How difficult it is to get everyone on board to
implement any innovations in operations.
The dilemma today is –‘change or die’. Changes are necessary to responds to forces in
external and internal environments. If we fail to accept changes we face inevitable
decay, stagnation, and finally extinction.
People know change is inevitable- what is devastating is the speed at which changes
are happening at different levels. It is coming like Tsunami at many levels in life.
Tsunami changed lives and living of millions
Let us talk about organizational changes and
changes in our personal lives. For example, Uber
runs world’s largest taxi company without owning
any taxi. It is more convenient to go for a Uber
than calling a conventional taxi. Why not
conventional taxi companies change their
strategy. Airbnb created world’s largest hotel chain without owning any real estate! Or,
Amazon and Alibaba
in Japan (Google photo)
became largest retail giant without keeping any inventory. Amazon meets our shopping
needs from anywhere for anything? Convenience of shopping is the main factor. It is like
choosing between options of going to a movie hall or seeing the same movie at home.
Today’s consumers look for convenience, speed, and reliability. Businesses are shifting
burden of fixed costs to the consumers or to a third party and utilizing the capacity of
other people which are lying unused in an economy. It was doing business with other
people’s money (OPM). Now it is doing business with other people’s capacity (OPC).
New organizations are being created and old organizations are changing their strategies
and styles of doing business to cope with changes. Over all, global economy is become
Resistance to Change
Where change is a matter of choice resistance to change dominates. For example,
education is one industry which is deeply affected by the resistance to change. In
education, by design, change does not play a dynamic role. Changes are slow and far
between. Leaders in higher education often lack ‘cognitive readiness’ (Morrison and
Fletcher, 20021). Cognitive readiness is the ability of the decision makers to make
1Morrison, J. E., & Fletcher, J. D. (2002).
Cognitive readiness (IDA Paper P-3735). Alexandria, VA: Institute for Defense Analysis
efficient and effective decisions in a timely manner in a constantly changing and
complex environment”. Though MOOC and blended learning made some noises but
they did not make any noticeable headway. Most higher education institutions are
chasing accreditations and not innovation.
In 1886, Richard W. Sears opened a mail-order-catalog company in Minneapolis that
remain the nation’s
largest retailer from 1964 to 1993. For 93 years Sears catalogue was next to Bible in
In 1993 Sears dropped its Catalogue business and Jeff
Baz started Amazon a year later heralding a new era in
retail business. While Sears was struggling with the
burden of expensive real estate, increasing costs and
decreasing sales, new retail businesses were looming in
the horizon. Walmart, now world’s largest retailer started
in 1962 and Target followed. By 2016 Sears is on the
verse of collapse and is ready to declare bankruptcy.
Failing to make deep changes pushed Sears to the death
spiral. It tried ‘incremental changes’. Retail business
needed ‘deep changes’, which Walmart, Amazon, and
Target were quick to recognize.
Incremental changes are small changes that happen frequently in the business and in
individuals interacting business. For example, lately, use of microchips in the credit
cards, which enhanced security and added convenience. We have made changes in our
habits of using credit cards. Some credit card companies are yet make changes. If they
are late, customers will not wait to make change to credit cards using chips.
On the other hand, deep changes are fundamental changes in the business processes,
products and services. They are permanent in nature. While deep change is risky, it
leads to growth and stability. We can use as examples the adopting of mobile banking
by the banking industry or Trump’s using of tweets by-passing the traditional
communication media to connect with his political constituency are deep changes. Or,
hospital and industries using robotics to blending labor intensive operations or
production are examples of deep changes. Intelligent and learning machines are
introduced in businesses to do routine operations. Some grocery stores are
experimenting with delivering groceries to the customers at home by robots, some
hospitals are delivering medicine to hospital wards by robots, and Uber are
experimenting with driverless cars are moving fruits of deep changes to our everyday
To highlight the differences between deep change and incremental change we have
constructed a Change Matrix. In the Change Matrix, we have shown how different
forces of change work in different change situations.
Status Quo Incremental change Deep change
Survival and growth Not Ensured Ensured in the sort
Assurance of Long
Adopt Not supported
Entrepreneurial org Does not support Encourage Strongly support
Innovation None Less High
No new demands
on the employees
demands on the
High new demands
On the employees
Vested interest Supports strongly Puts barriers Creates wall of
Response time slow Medium Quick response
Operating Cost High Medium Look for cost
Market reach Limited Limited Unbounded- global
Four P’s of Change Status Quo Incremental
Does not offer any
changes for people
Some changes are
offered to people
changes with the
change in customer
Products Existing products
Add new products
in the old mix
New product mix
Place/market Existing marketing
strategy -using new
Promotion Same channels May explore new
New channels, like
Change management in the emerging economies
Now let us focus on the change environment in emerging economies. We must
remember that there is a wide cultural and economic difference between the advanced
countries and less developed countries. Therefore, one has to look at the change
factors in the emerging countries differently.
The Nature of change
Deep change is a prerequisite for success in advanced economies where competition is
severe and customers are value conscious. Organizations in advance economies can
sustain disruptive changes. For example, department stores focus on the high-end
customers to shop at store but 90% of their customers are above 50 and shop online at
convenience of their home. Companies are changing their strategies and newer
companies have seized this opportunity aggressively making deep changes.
The situation is different in developing economies. Competition is not deep and
customers are incrementally offered new products and services causing major
disruptions in the market. Thus, incremental changes are more appropriate for
developing economies. Majority of customers do not have access or are trained to shop
online for products and services. For example, online banking (money transfer
transactions), though deep change, in developing countries are serviced by third
parties, not directly by the customers as they do not have access or skills to online
banking. This is an example of ways to overcome cultural barriers to deep change.
Drivers of change in developing countries
Technology, globalization, competition, cost, and leadership are important drivers of
change. For emerging economies, these drivers of change work differently than in
Technology- Internet technology and digital communication iPhone) in developing
economies can be used as strength. They have more reach than many advanced
economies. In the USA,‘FCC found that as of 2014, 39% of the U.S.’s rural population
didn’t even have the option of calling a cable or phone company to provide access to
broadband (Cheat Sheet, May3, 2016). Whereas, in Bangladesh high speed internet is
available through mobile modem even in remote areas.
Globalization- Local consumer markets are not threatened in any massive way by
globalization. Organization need changes for meeting demands of huge local market
and to improve efficiency and product and service quality. Foreign exports or imports for
the local mass market are not highly significant.
Competition- Both local and global completions are not considered threats in the short
run requiring any deep changes for organizations in developing economies.
Organizations focus on incremental change to gain competitive advantages.
Costs – Controlling cost of product or services is not a big concern for the companies in
the short-run because they are already in the low cost product market. However, cost
will gradually increase because of increase in input costs and improvement in
production processes which will happen through incremental change.
Organizations need to change because of many reasons, most of them can be resolved
using incremental changes but for long term solutions they need deep changes,
irrespective of where are they located. The following table shows the change priorities
for organizations in emerging economies.
Incremental Change Deep Change
Loss of productivity
Loss of revenue
High cost of operation
Breach of securities
Low employee morale
Need to accelerate growth
Explore new market
High cost of operation
Explore new technology
Trouble with Communication
Resistance to change in developing economies
Irresponsive leadership or the decision makers at all levels of the organization are the
biggest enemies of change. As we have seen it is simply impossible to cope with
changes in the environment by doing business as usual or making incremental changes
as happened in the case of Sears Roebuck. Leadership should recognize and accept
the need for innovation and change .
In one sense, many present-day business operations and services embrace new
technologies and processes. These changes occur incrementally. The customers and
employees get adjusted to the new changes because they are not life changing and
career disrupting changes. However, as deep changes are disrupting and risky, most
organizations do not try deep changes. The case of online education and training may
be considered as a deep change. Culturally, online education is not an acceptable
option as it is in developed economies.
The table below lists resistance to change circumstances for deep change and
Resistance to change Incrementa
Fear of loss of control
Dilution of power High High
Threat to job and
Loss of benefits Lo High
Need to learn new skills Moderate High
Fear of unknown Lo High
Overcoming barriers to change
Literature suggests many initiatives to overcome barriers of change. Based on my
experience with change initiatives in developing economies, if the head of the
organization (the owner or the Chairman) wants to implement any changes it happens
though there will be some resistances. The actions listed below will help remove the
barriers to change if any:
Justify for the good of the
Supportive of employee
Top management support
Clear assignment with
Define favorable and
Clearly defined goals
Focus on short term goals
Develop team concepts
Action- plan, do, check, act
Keep good people
Pressure for change
Keep morale high
Create a change environment:
Change is not about managers but about the business. To initiate change, the first step
to create a viable change project. The essential elements of change environment
include: a cohesive team and supportive environment, necessary resources, periodic
feedback and review process, removal of bottlenecks, right people in right place,
stronger people in critical roles.
Managers who are assigned roles of chance leaders must have some essential
qualities. They need to be flexible, positive, adaptive, convincing, accommodating of
others’ opinion or style, can change behavior, maintain control, assertive and not
tentative, empowered and skillful. For successful change implementation, top
management support and people’s acceptance are essential. Without these two-no
changes was ever successful.
Many change initiatives fail because of poor or inconsistent leadership, lack of staff
motivation, lack of resources, no time is invested to plan and learn, mixed priorities-
busy doing something else. One must understand that implementing change needs
investment of time. It needs serious time commitment. Organizations in developing
economies find it hard meet these prerequisites for implementing effective change and
thus they prefer to stay back from deep changes.
Change is a reality of life. Change dynamics are different in different cultures. Time also
is an essence of change. Developing countries need different change management
strategies than the developed economies. Organizations and individuals must keep
changing for survival and growth. Some changes are incremental and some are deep.
Deep changes are fundamental and risky and incremental changes require adjustments
and renewals. Resistance to change is a normal reaction to any change initiatives.
Some resistances are difficult to be removed but most resistances can be managed
successful. Top management can be changes can be inhibitors are reluctant to embrace
innovation and change.