People don't like change. For decades, many authors have
analyzed our resistance to change (Lewin, 1947; Coch, 1948; Dalton,
1970; Bridges, 1991; Burke, 2003). As much as we resist change, change
is a fact-of-life for everyone and every organization. No person or
organization is immune to the effects of their changing environments.
This conceptual paper attempts to link theories of change to a case
example. The example concerns California State University Channel
Islands (CI)--the newest of the 23 campuses in the California State
University (CSU) system. CI was founded in 2001 and opened to students
in 2002. CI started with 13 faculty members and a few administrators.
Today, CI has 85 tenure/track and 200 adjunct faculty members and 650
full time employees.
While the campus grew steadily from 2001 to 2009, the State of
California budget difficulties have severely impacted CI since 2009. CI
was scheduled to reach an enrollment of 6,000 full-time equivalent
students (FTES) by fall 2011, but has been held to only 3,500 FTES at
this time. All employees were furloughed two days each month throughout
the 2009-2010 academic year, and hiring freezes have been implemented.
In summer 2011, two high-level administrators were laid off, a member of
the President's Cabinet left for another job, and work hours were
reduced for many employees. The recent economic downturn continues to
influence the California state budget adversely causing significant
reductions in state funding for the CSU. These budget reductions are
considered permanent with dim prospects of increased funding from the
state in future years.
Since the effect of change on humans and their organizations has
been extensively studied, there are many tools, suggestions and models
to help managers in adjusting to change (Weick, 1999; Wasleree, 2003;
Marks, 2009; O'Heir, 2011). After briefly exploring the concept of
change and offering suggestions to assist managers of changing
organizations, we describe the case of CI. Our goal is to provide useful
information for organizations in transition.
2. ORGANIZATIONS IN TRANSITION
The external environments surrounding organizations are in constant
flux. Additionally, the internal organizational environment which
surrounds employees is constantly changing. The impact of these changing
external and internal environments produces a variety of symptoms:
confusion, uncertainty, ambiguity, stress, inefficiencies and,
ultimately, ineffectiveness in organizations. Change happens because
environments constantly change and--since everyone is surrounded by and
cannot escape their environments--no one is immune to the effects of
change. As organizations change, employees may feel insecure, confused
and--ultimately perhaps--frozen. Often, employees withdraw into their
comfort zones or personal "silos." While appearing to protect
themselves from the effects of change, employees may also return to old
conflicts--latent disagreements between individuals and groups may
resurface (Balser and Carmin, 2009).
As environments change, employees and their organizations reflect
the effects of change in two areas, operations and people, over two time
horizons, short term and long term. In the short term, few or no effects
may be visible to managers. Profound, significant and potentially
damaging effects of change may not be noticeable to managers at first.
For example, change may compel employees to retreat to well-known
processes--to the exclusion of innovation. Managers may recognize the
use of well-known processes and conclude that things are operating
normally. But they may miss the fact that employees have stopped
innovating and are merely repeating what is most comfortable to them.
In the long term, significant strategic impacts may occur from
employees' reaction to their changing environments (Cummings and
Doh, 2000). The Mission and Strategy of the organization may become
distorted and sub-optimized. Employees may place the organization
(inadvertently) in a survival mode at the same time that competitors are
pursing innovation and growth. The organization may become paralyzed or
Organizational history--for both public and private
organizations--contains many examples of organizations that have
successfully adapted to their changing environments. These successful
organizations display several traits:
First, they demonstrate an ability to assess their changing
environment accurately. Peter Drucker often described "intellectual
integrity" as the ability of managers and organizations to
recognize the world "as it is, not as they wish it to be"
(Drucker, 2001 and 2004). Second, the adaptability of employees is the
primary cause of the organization's longevity and success
(O'Heir, 2011). Third, the adaptability of employees directly
relates to their acknowledgement of the importance of (adapting) to the
new environments (Applebaum et al., 2008). In Acceptance Theory, Chester
Barnard (1938) described the four elements needed for employees to adapt
to their changing environments:
* Employees truly understand management directives (to change)
* Employees feel capable of carrying out the directives
* Employees believe the directives are in the best interest of the
* Employees believe that the directives are consistent with their
If these elements are not present, the employees will not accept
the need to change and will revert to their "silos" for
comfort and protection. This lack of adaptation to the changing
environments can lead to a distortion and sub-optimization of operations
and, most significantly, the Mission and Strategy may be compromised.
3. SUGGESTIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONAL ADAPTATION
As Drucker (1994) noted, a key step leading to adaptation to change
is an accurate assessment of the status of the organization--in relation
to its prior and current environments and the core competencies of the
organization. This is a very difficult step for many organizations
because they are overwhelmed by change and, especially, by the pace of
change. It is often difficult for managers to understand what is
happening; difficult to understand why their prior assumptions are no
longer valid; difficult to understand what must be done to adapt.
If they understand the nature of their changes, successful
organizations modify their strategic and tactical plans (Kotter, 1995).
Once the organization has performed an accurate assessment of changes
and the appropriate modification of their strategic/tactical plans, we
offer two implementation principles: empathy and communication.
Empathy goes beyond leaders "expressing feelings" or
"being emotional" about the necessary changes (Kellet et al.,
2006). Rather, the objective of empathy "is to make clear that
leadership is cognizant of the needs, feelings, problems, and views of
employees who have lived through a merger, acquisition, downsizing,
restructure. Empathy facilitates adaptation by legitimizing
employees' responses to the transition, raising their awareness of
the adaptation process and accelerating the pace... The knowledge and
understanding gained from their sense of empathy enables leaders to
influence members' support for [new] organizational goals."
(Marks, 2007, p. 723)
Communication is a basic element of organizational success. For
centuries, writers have described the fundamental elements of
communication, the characteristics of successful communication and the
barriers hindering effective communication. While effective
communication processes are important in all areas of the organization,
they are indispensible in promoting adaptation to change. If employees
do not understand the causes of change and their required adaptations,
the organization will either fail or have its Mission/Strategy severely
compromised (Kinjerski and Shrypnek, 2006). Kiefer (2005) wrote that
employees' "perceptions of an insecure future are key
antecedents to negative emotions" and poor performance.
4. CSU CHANNEL ISLANDS--A 10-YEAR HISTORY
By any reasonable standard, CI is highly successful: the campus has
never missed its enrollment targets, the campus received initial
regional accreditation at the earliest possible date and for the longest
possible duration, the campus was recognized by The Chronicle of Higher
Education as a "2010 Great College to Work For," and, most
significantly, the campus has graduated several thousand students from
its new programs who have gone on to successful careers and advanced
While CI is justifiably proud of its successes, these
accomplishments have been achieved during a decade of uncertainty,
political change and economic adversity in the state of California.
During the campus' brief history, California has had three
governors, Democrat Gray Davis, Republican Arnold Swartzenegger, and
Democrat Jerry Brown. Term limits have led to a substantial turnover in
the legislature. In addition, the CSU Board of Trustees had significant
membership changes during the last 10 years (the Board consists of ex
officio elected government officials and political appointees). There
have been two economic downturns since the campus opened in 2002. The
first, in the early part of the last decade, corresponded to the
"dot-com" bubble, and the second is the ongoing "great
recession." These downturns have led to large reductions in state
funding of California's colleges and universities. On June 15,
2011, the legislature passed a tentative budget that reduced funding for
the CSU by $650 million from last year.
For 10 years, CI has operated in a changing political and economic
environment. But, in some important ways, it has been highly stable.
First, while there has been significant turnover among the CSU Board of
Trustees, the chief executive officer of the system, Chancellor Charles
Reed, has overseen the CSU since 1998. Second, Dr. Richard R. Rush has
been President of CI since its founding in 2001. Third, President Rush
personally selected CI's 13 founding faculty and 11 are still
employed at CI (although some are now in administrative positions).
Fourth, President Rush also personally selected most of the campus'
administrators and, while there has been greater turnover among their
ranks, many are still with the campus.
Stability in these key positions at the system and campus levels
has helped CI offset the effects of the poor economy in several ways:
First, key campus employees including the President, founding and early
faculty and administrators were recruited on the basis of their affinity
to CI's Mission Statement. The Mission is continually emphasized in
all planning efforts and daily operations. Second, all CI planning
processes are open to the entire campus community, leading to
substantial buy-in across the campus community.
A third key in managing the effects of the economic downturn has
been a steady flow of information to the campus from the system, and a
corresponding information flow from CI administrators to the entire
campus community. The President, Provost, and Vice President for Finance
and Administration make regular presentations about the budget and its
implications for CI's future.
Although CI is highly regarded, its growth has been greatly slowed
by changes in the political and economic environment. We believe that
stability among campus leaders, ongoing and inclusive planning processes
and clear and constant communication have been crucial to our success.
Our challenge is to sustain these successes, especially as key employees
separate from the university.
5. CONCLUDING REMARKS
We offer the above description of change at CI as an example of one
organization's adaptation to its changing environment. We conclude
with several points: First, continual change is an inevitable condition
for all organizations and their employees. Therefore, leaders must
recognize that change is normal and not a unique occurrence. Second,
since continual change is "an organizational fact-of-life,"
leaders must always be ready to modify their Mission/Strategy/Tactics to
adapt to new environments and circumstances. Third, leaders and managers
must recognize the short term and long term effects on their people.
Finally, leaders must be good communicators--especially in the midst of
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William P. Cordeiro, California State University Channel Islands,
Camarillo, California, USA
Dennis Muraoka, California State University Channel Islands,
Camarillo, California, USA
Dr. William P. Cordeiro earned his PhD in Executive Management from
the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management at the Claremont
Graduate School in 1986. Currently, he is Associate Vice President for
Academic Affairs and Director of the Martin V. Smith School of Business
& Economics at California State University Channel Islands.
Dr. Dennis Muraoka earned his PhD in Economics from the University
of California, Santa Barbara in 1981. Currently, he is a Professor of
Economics in the Martin V. Smith School of Business and Economics at
California State University Channel Islands.