Friday, 7 September 2012

Having more - even more to lose - makes you happier to commit to organisational change

Imagine Simone and Bridget are two professionals working in the same organisation. Bridget's role is prominent,  provides her with regular development and has an excellent bonus scheme. Her boss is encouraging and supportive. Simone is on similar pay but is based in a department that doesn't do bonuses, is underappreciated by the rest of the organisation and neglects staff development. Her boss is aloof and absent.

Along comes a sweeping organisational change program - new departments, different reporting lines, role reviews, the works. Who should be most resistant? My money would have been on Bridget: the one with most to lose. But research from Jiseon Shin and colleagues at the University of Maryland suggests the opposite: that being in receipt of 'organisational inducements' prior to a change program makes you more likely to support it.

Shin's team conducted surveys with employees from a South Korean company who were going through changes of the sort described above. For the first survey, three weeks before the changes began, participants rated organisational inducements, which involves both material benefits like health care or pay, as well as less tangible factors like development support. At time two, five months into the change program, participants expressed their commitment to change, both in terms of their cool, rational take on it - normative commitment - and their 'affective commitment' - the emotional connection now recognised as a key component of buy-in. In addition, their managers  rated whether they put this into practice, by vocally supporting the change in the presence of others or coming up with new ideas that fit with the change.

The analysis revealed that higher organisational inducements were associated with more commitment to change, both affective and normative. Why would this be? It turns out that inducements heighten both state positive affect and sense of social exchange, both measured in employees at time two. The former involves feelings of excitement and enthusiasm, and the latter is the belief that the organisation engages in reciprocity, paying back what is put into it. The better employees felt treated, the better they felt – positive affect in itself buffering anxieties – and the more they trusted they would be treated well later on. These two factors were shown to be the mechanism that caused higher commitment. What this commitment led to was slightly more complicated, but the upshot was that normative commitment had more dependable consequences, leading to both more frequent change behaviours and lower turnover, measured twenty-two months later.

A key take-away from this study for organisations is that to better manage change initiatives, they need to pay careful attention to the conditions that precede the change. If employees feel they have had been treated right to date, they are more willing and more able to surf the ambiguities of newly introduced change. If they feel otherwise, they're likely to face the future at a low ebb, thin on hope.

ResearchBlogging.orgJiseon Chin, M Susan Taylor, & Myeong-Gu Seo (2012). Resources for Change: The Relationships of Organizational Inducements and Psychological Resilience to Employees' Attitudes and Behaviors Toward Organizational Change Academy of Management Journal, 55 (3), 727-748 DOI: 10.5465/amj.2010.0325

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