Recent Trends in Human Resource Management

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Change Process as Problem Solving and Problem Finding

A very useful framework for thinking about the change process is problem solving. Managing change is seen as a matter of moving from one state to another, specifically, from the problem state to the solved state. Diagnosis or problem analysis is generally acknowledged as essential. Goals are set and achieved at various levels and in various areas or functions. Ends and means are discussed and related to one another. Careful planning is accompanied by efforts to obtain buy-in, support and commitment. The net effect is a transition from one state to another in a planned, orderly fashion. This is the planned change model.

The word “problem” carries with it connotations that some people prefer to avoid. They choose instead to use the word “opportunity.” For such people, a problem is seen as a bad situation, one that shouldn’t have been allowed to happen in the first place, and for which someone is likely to be punished — if the guilty party (or a suitable scapegoat) can be identified. For the purposes of this paper, we will set aside any cultural or personal preferences regarding the use of “problem” or “opportunity.” From a rational, analytical perspective, a problem is nothing more than a situation requiring action but in which the required action is not known. Hence, there is a requirement to search for a solution, a course of action that will lead to the solved state. This search activity is known as “problem solving.”

From the preceding discussion, it follows that “problem finding” is the search for situations requiring action. Whether we choose to call these situations “problems” (because they are troublesome or spell bad news), or whether we choose to call them “opportunities” (either for reasons of political sensitivity or because the time is ripe to exploit a situation) is immaterial. In both cases, the practical matter is one of identifying and settling on a course of action that will bring about some desired and predetermined change in the situation.

The Change Problem

At the heart of change management lies the change problem, that is, some future state to be realized, some current state to be left behind, and some structured, organized process for getting from the one to the other. The change problem might be large or small in scope and scale, and it might focus on individuals or groups, on one or more divisions or departments, the entire organization, or one or on more aspects of the organization’s environment.

At a conceptual level, the change problem is a matter of moving from one state (A) to another state (A’). Moving from A to A’ is typically accomplished as a result of setting up and achieving three types of goals: transform, reduce, and apply. Transform goals are concerned with identifying differences between the two states. Reduce goals are concerned with determining ways of eliminating these differences. Apply goals are concerned with putting into play operators that actually effect the elimination of these differences (see Newell & Simon).

As the preceding goal types suggest, the analysis of a change problem will at various times focus on defining the outcomes of the change effort, on identifying the changes necessary to produce these outcomes, and on finding and implementing ways and means of making the required changes. In simpler terms, the change problem can be treated as smaller problems having to do with the how, what, and why of change.

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