The Possibility of Anticipating Change

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Sometimes it is relatively easy to anticipate the need for change. For example, companies operating in the European Union can, if they pay appropriate attention, anticipate the impact of new regulations that are currently being discussed in Brussels. Companies competing in markets where margins are being squeezed can anticipate the need to secure greater efficiencies or generate new income streams. There are, however, occasions when organizations are confronted with changes that are difficult to anticipate, for example the effects of the 9/11 terrorist attacks or the SARS epidemic.

Some organizations are much better at anticipating the need for change than others. They are proactive. They search out potential threats and opportunities. They prepare for destabilizing events that might occur or anticipate changes they could initiate to gain competitive advantage. Other organizations are much more reactive and only act when there is a clear and pressing need to respond. Whether the need is for incremental or transformational change, the earlier the need is recognized, the greater the number of options managers will have when deciding how to manage it. Whenever managers are forced to react to an urgent and pressing need to change, they are relatively constrained in what they can do. For example: There is less time for planning: Careful planning takes time, something that is more likely to be available to those who are proactive and anticipate the need for change. There is unlikely to be sufficient time to involve many people: Involving people and encouraging participation in the change process can aid diagnosis, reduce resistance and increase commitment, but this also takes time. There will be little time to experiment: Early movers not only have time to experiment, they may also have the time to try again if the first experiment fails. When there is a pressing need for change, it is more difficult to search for creative solutions. Late movers may have little...
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