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Strategies for Change

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If vested interests and power were everything involved in planned change, an effective political strategy would be all one would need. But reason and evidence are sometimes heeded even by those whose vested interests are somewhat challenged and who have the power to ignore rational persuasion. Social dynamics are at work, and the more the change agent knows about how to make them work, the better. Often, it is more effective to seek to reduce resistance to change by human relations strategies than to try to overwhelm that resistance by force. If motivation researchers are correct that we all have the need for achievement and affiliation as well as for power, then we need a change strategy which speaks to all three motivations, not just to power.


Is it possible to entertain the notion that humans are rational, social creatures who want to solve their hidden problems but also want to protect and enhance their vested interests? If we make such an assumption, we must combine our strategies for change. Rational research and planning is not enough—nor is connecting innovations to opinion leaders in all the right ways. Nor is skilled intervention to diagnose human needs and to reduce resistance—nor is the most effective political maneuvering. We must do it all.

Planned change starts with a “felt need” on the potential user’s part, on the part of the person, group or organization which might change. Something is wrong; something needs improvement. A diagnosis is conducted and a problem statement emerges. Then there is a search and retrieval of alternate solutions both inside and outside the user system. Some solution for the local situation then is developed and approved. Application follows. Often this implementation raises another need which starts the cycle all over again.

In essence, all effective change projects involve a basic act of communication—an interactive process, with all parties involved as sources and receivers of change messages and with all focused on solving the receiver’s problem. In such a model, all of the problem-solvers (including those that are external to the organization) would employ rational planning, the R&D model, probably with the help of experts in research or development. All would exchange messages through social networks, perhaps with the assistance of skilled linking agents. All parties would confront and resolve human barriers to change, and an applied behavioral science interventionist could be of valuable assistance there. All parties would use, or run against, power and authority, and a political strategist would come in handy.

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