Management Issues: 'Organizational Change Management'

Author: Keith R. Dutton, M.S.

Editor's Note: We are pleased to bring you this NEW monthly feature, "Management Issues" at written by Keith Dutton. We think you will find the information grounded in management theory but explained to be useful in your day-to-day professional activities. We would love to hear your feedback, comments and suggestions.


"When one door closes another opens. But we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we fail to see the one that has opened for us."

—Alexander Graham Bell

The old adage, “the only thing constant in the world is change,” has never been more prevalent than in today’s society. As an EMS leader, manager, or supervisor, are you prepared for change within your organization? Can you get the necessary support you need to make things happen? How are your coaching and facilitating skills?

Most management textbooks define organizational change as any substantive modification to some part of the organization. But how does that change occur? And what factors affect the degree of change within the organization?


There are usually two forces that cause change in an organization: external forces and internal forces. Understanding where they come from is one of the keys to properly preparing for change. External forces are usually those outside of the organization that you have no direct control over. These might include local, state and federal regulations, the economy, court decisions, unemployment levels, inflation and the cost of living. Changes in these areas could have a direct bearing on your EMS operations. Internal forces may also cause change to occur, and would include top management’s change in company strategy, increased productivity standards, and quality control standards. Internal forces for change may also reflect external forces upon the organization.

Can you prepare yourself for change? The simple answers are “sometimes, yes,” and “sometimes, no.” Planned change is by far the best method – its designed and implemented in an orderly and timely manner through anticipation of future events. Reactive change is harder on the organization. Usually put together in a hurry, changes of this nature have a multitude of problems; thus, the potential for further reactive change within your plan increases tremendously.

Resistance to Change

Perhaps the biggest challenge to the EMS manager/supervisor/leader who acts as the change agent within the organization is employee resistance to the change. Change usually brings about the “10/80/10” rule: 10% of employees will actively embrace the change, 80% will be fence-sitters, and 10% will actively fight it. Your job is to recognize this and understand it. The 10% against the change will have the influence and ability to negatively infect the 80%. As such, you need to focus your efforts on influencing the negative 10% -- they are the threat to the change. Their resistance to change usually falls into one of these areas:

  1. Uncertainty: employees usually become nervous and anxious about the change and are primarily concerned about their job security and ability to meet new job demands. You may present them with the facts and answer all of their concerns, but their own internal emotional controls may not allow them to fully comprehend how the change will affect them.

  2. Threatened Self-Interests: concerns in these areas usually relate to personal power and position power within the organization. No one wants to see their influence diminish within the organization, so they fight the change.

  3. Different Perceptions: everyone will have their own idea about the change. Thus, they may not see the change as benefiting them, their workgroup, or the customers that are served.

  4. Feelings of loss: over the course of time, social networks develop within organizations and change disrupts these networks. By way of example, a schedule change might adversely affect a relationship through a change in partners, or status, security, power and the employee’s self-confidence.

Overcoming resistance to change is not easy, but it is manageable by keeping these goals in mind:

  1. Participation: keep employee involvement in the planning process at a very high level. When employees can express their ideas and listen to others in the planning process, their own personal buy-in increases and makes the change easier for the organization. It also has the potential to reduce the negative 10%.

  2. Education and Communication: keeping communications as wide open as possible reduces the anxiety and uncertainty about the change. When rumors are spread about the change (this always happens!), quickly put the facts back out through the information process. Consider having different methods of getting the same message out to staff. For example, a change could be communicated four different ways: at a general staff meeting, through email from the supervisor or senior administrators, work group discussions and press releases.

  3. Facilitation: several different facilitation tools can be utilized, including a) making small changes, b) making only necessary changes, c) planning changes well in advance, and d) training employees before the change occurs.

  4. Force-Field Analysis: the title may imply that this idea is from outer space, but FFA is simply a tool that measures forces that act for and against the change. Change agents list these positive and negative criteria (assets/deficits) and then attempt to tip the balance so that the forces for the change outweigh those against the change.

Steps in the Change Process

EMS leaders can use a variety of methods and models in a change process. The most comprehensive approach utilizes these principles and goals:

Recognition of the need for change: Many changes come as a result of problems within the organization or reaction to planned or unplanned external forces. One of the first steps is to identify those problems and pick the most important problem that is adversely affecting the organization. Within this area of planning, it is important to define the problem precisely – don’t assume you know what the problem is.

  1. Establish goals for the change: What is it that you want to accomplish from the change? Increased productivity? Increased efficiency? Decreased expenses? Once you form general goal areas, then you need to define the parties that will be affected by the change and enlist them in the change planning efforts.

  2. Diagnose relevant variables: What are all of the issues? What will be negatively affected by the change? What external and internal forces will modify your goals?

  3. Select the appropriate change technique: Will you employ a change agent from outside the organization? What specific techniques will you employ? How long will the change take place?

  4. Plan for the implementation of the change: In other words, communicate, communicate, and communicate. Accurate planning is essential for this change to be successful. And make sure everyone is aware of the timeline – and make sure your timeline is fair and accurate! Adopt the slogan “Go Slow to Go Fast!” In other words, put your best efforts up front during the planning process – this will allow the actual implementation to move rapidly and successfully.

  5. Implement the change: This can be the hardest step – taking action. With proper planning, by now you have 90% of your employees supporting the change so you can continue to focus on the positive benefits of the change.

  6. Evaluate and follow-up: This is perhaps one of the most important areas that we overlook. How successful was the change? Did things take place as they were supposed to? What do you need to go back and fix? What did you learn from the experience?

Feedback, comments or suggestions? Send us an e-mail, or talk to us in the message forums!

Next month we’ll look at more change issues that deal specifically with technology, operations, structure, design and organizational development.

Keith R. Dutton, M.S., teaches management and business courses at Tallahassee (Fl.) Community College. He also serves as the organizational development manager for a hi-tech firm that supports Florida’s 65 community college libraries. Keith spent 21 years in EMS, serving as an EMT, paramedic, firefighter, educator, department chief and state EMS director. He possesses a Master of Science degree in human resources management.