Based on the JC Penny case study, debate the following statement, providing arguments for and against the point of view proposed by the author. What are your conclusions from this debate?
Change is nothing new and a simple fact of life. Some people actively thrive on new challenges and constant change, while others prefer the comfort of the status quo and strongly resist any change. It is all down to the personality of the individual and there is little management can do about resistance to change (Mullins 2010: 753).
As in life itself, change is an inevitable force which some people try to resist and some people thrive on. In a smaller context it is the same sort of principles that governs change in organisations, and how resistant it is to change is heavily dependent on the personalities within the organisation itself. Mullins (2010) stated that change is a fact of life and people will either reject or embrace it, according to their own personality.
While the management of JC Penny was trying, at first, to change the organisational culture which was found to be out dated and rigid, they soon found out that change was not so easy to accomplish. Decades of corporate tradition were harder to root out and even changes meant to increase consumer satisfaction were found to be deeply tied into the strict and rigid culture of the organisation. Seemingly small changes, such as building emotional connections with customers meant radical changes in the organisation’s cultural web.
When changes happen to the cultural web of an organisation many employees find that they are unable to handle the changes. Lewin summarized the process of change in 3 separate phases, Unfreeze-Move-Refreeze (Burnes, 2004).
In JC Penney’s case the unfreeze phase occurred when the new director, Ullman, recognised that a new corporate culture was necessary to replace the out dated traditional and rigid culture the firm had built up over the decades (Purhayastha, 2007). He immediately started talking to various individuals within the firm and also set out to share ideas with other firms that had successfully undergone change (Purhayastha, 2007).
Ullman then set out to the ‘moving’ phase as described by Lewin by implementing small but noticeable changes. Campaigns aimed at making business relations in the office more casual included poster campaigns, a more liberal dress code and even security cards that granted them less restricted access around the firm’s facilities. However, even for relatively mild changes, such as dropping the formality of addressing colleagues, Ullman found that there was still some resistance by members of staff too accustomed to the traditional ways of working (Purhayastha, 2007).
Finally, the refreezing stage as identified by Lewin can be said to be the introduction of the ‘Winning Together Principles’ which serves to establish stability within the organisation after the changes have been passed.
Rhodes and Palus (2009) stated that change in organisations is facilitated by a change in mind sets and not just by a change in skills. De Vita (cited in Mullins 2010) also argues that if change is to be successfully implemented there should be a continuous virtuous cycle between the engaged company, its conditions of engagement, and the engaged employee. Rhodes and Palus (2009) also stated that in times of change, slowing down and learning allows you to ‘power up’ in the future and will also allow employees to get on board with any changes about to take place.
The JC Penney case goes far in proving that resistance to change is found in people in society as a whole and thus would be impossible to avoid such resistance in organisations and the business environment. It could be argued that managers could take a number of actions to prepare staff for change and even to try and promote change as a positive thing, but they will always find some form of resistance as it is endemic to certain types of people.
Burnes, B. (2004). Kurt Lewin and the Planned Approach to Change: A Re‐appraisal. Journal of Management studies, 41(6), 977-1002.
Mullins, L. J. (2010) Management and Organisational Behaviour.
Purhayastha, D. (2007) Remaking JC Penney’s Organizational Culture. ICMR Centre for Management Research
McGuire, J., Palus, C., Pasmore, W., and Rhodes, B., G. (2009) Global Organisational Development: White Paper Series [online] Available at: < http://www.ccl.org/leadership/pdf/solutions/TYO.pdf> [Accessed 27 March, 2013]