Laura Ashley Organization’s Change Management

Introduction and Context

All organizational change obviously depends, at root, on behavior change on the part of individual members of the organization; the behavioral approach is an ideal method for bringing about such change. There is also evidence that once behavior has changed attitudes and perceptions will also adjust in line. Before the start of any organizational change program it is usually necessary to undertake some ‘awareness raising’ activities.

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In this case raising the profile of safety issues helped the implementation of the behavioral program itself (Laura Ashley 2008). The company selected for analysis is Laura Ashley. Laura Ashley is a global company with vertical integration and centralized management. Global retailers address consumer groups who, independent of their home country, have similar lifestyles and expectations. Technology has fostered increasingly interlinked customer cultures and lifestyles. Ashley now owns 540 stores in 28 countries. More than 50% of its sales are generated outside of the United Kingdom.

The group’s commitment to manufacturing a large proportion of the goods it retails and its international nature make it different from other U.K. retailers. An important advantage of being a global company is the ability to replicate stores with their already proven formula, cheaply and in a short period of time. The company took this as an expansion advantage and multiplied their stores eight times over in the 1980s. Under the Laura Ashley name, merchandise is offered to target consumers, whose expectations are clearly defined. Worldwide, merchandise is sold under the Laura Ashley brand and identical services are offered at all stores.

Promotions and store decor are relatively the same throughout every store. Pricing policies, however, vary by country. In 1953 a single family in the United Kingdom began a small business designing scarves and towels. The business expanded and in 1968 opened its first retail outlet selling women’s and children’s clothing. Its offerings have since expanded to include accessories, home furnishings, and perfume. There are also plans to develop a line of boys’ clothing. Laura Ashley is well known for its floral patterned fabric and Victorian-style clothing. To gain greater customer awareness, management has decided to locate new shops in prime high street sites and to relocate existing shops in similar areas (Laura Ashley 2008).

Change Management Model

Change Model

The change model selected for implementation is Lewin’s change model.

Change Model.

This model is the most appropriate one because it stipulates the main steps of change and meets organizational objectives and structure of the company. This model can help to solve problems and new environemtnal demands imposed on Laura Ashley. To some extend, this model is simple, and can be easily applied by the company’s management team. Also, it covers all important areas f change allowing the company to prepare the ground for change, introduce change and level resistance to change.

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Following Hammer and Champy (1993) complexity of the model does not often lead to better outcomes and results: a simple model allows a company to develop state-of-the-art solutions to its current problems and weaknesses. The intent is to follow some of the Lewin approach on unfreezing and refreezing attitudes toward different cultures. Laura Ashley’s HR staff will formulate what the differences are (unfreezing) and try to replace irrational assumptions with a more rational understanding of differences with the help of a trained facilitator (refreezing).

When one initiates such training in an indigenous organization, it must be across the board instead of with isolated groups within the organization. Without a complete commitment to understanding cultural differences by all members of the organization, changes among only a few will probably result in a great deal of frustration by those few, for they will stand alone, changed in their attitudes, within an organization that remains unchanged (Sherman and Garland 2007).

As it was mentioned above, the main causes for change are globalization of business and market expansion of the company, a need to deal with diverse customers from different coulters and countries, and new strategies goals aimed to meet social responsibility and diversity issues. To change the culture of Laura Ashley using Lewin’s model is essentially similar to that used for any other behavior change, but more complicated. Instead of the traditional process involving a mission statement, which most employees will regard with considerable skepticism, particularly if they enshrine values which are very different from those existing at the present, followed by various training initiatives think in terms of the following steps (Collins and Porras 2004).

Applied to Laura Ashley, a term “culture” can be defined as that which gets reinforced. Laura Ashley’s employees behave the way that they do because some behavior pays off and other behavior does not. It is this selective pattern of reinforcement common to a particular organization which sets up the ‘invariant patterns of organizational behavior’ and defines organizational culture. This type of organization is lead by a strong leader, James Maxmin.

Decisions are made at the top and are quickly disseminated through the organization. ‘Good’ employees implement these quickly and efficiently. It is supposed that for Laura Ashley, this type of change is flexible, reacts quickly to changing circumstances and values creativity and initiative. Laura Ashley, and its management value initiative and creativity, so these will be rewarded, either by approval and recognition or pay and promotion (or both), and a creative and dynamic culture will develop. In the more abrasive authoritarian organization reinforcement will be obtained by doing as you are told. Initiative may well attract punishment (Daft 2003).

The proposed change model will help Laura Ashley to concentrate on making a difference in the world, in extreme cases this is done with an almost missionary zeal. Innovation and the development of revolutionary products are valued. The judgment as to whether a development is good and desirable depends on the views of influential members of the organization, not on external or societal values. Hence their efforts to change the world can sometimes go drastically wrong (Hammer and Champy 2003).

For retailer like Laura Ashley, culture, national and international, is very customer oriented, but instead of using internal reference points, the concern is to find out what the customer wants and then supply this. In the same way there is concern for the welfare of employees oriented towards ensuring that their needs are also met. Warm caring relationships are valued in Laura Ashley. Most service organizations aspire to this type of culture.

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Ay Laura Ashley, reinforcement comes from being valued as an individual. If managers show warmth and friendliness to others, this will be reciprocated, so developing a caring environment. There is a danger that people will be reinforced simply for being there, rather than for doing something. Reinforcement will also be received from satisfied customers either simply through verbal interaction or, in some cases, by ‘thank you’ letters. To give another example from the academic world: it might be expected that a university teaching department would be a support culture, which would enhance mutual learning.

To be fair most such departments do have strong elements of such a culture. However, with increasing legalism and promulgation of rules and regulations reinforcement is increasingly centering on the provision of specific information to students on course requirements and correct completion of various bureaucratic returns. It is expected that at Laura Ashley this produces a high element of role culture, which is not the best way of fostering learning.

It will be apparent from much of the above that one problem with attempting to understand the culture of an organization is that there is often a mismatch between what management say about the culture and what actually happens (Laura Ashley 2008). This discrepancy does not only occur in management, it can be found in all aspects of life (Jansen 2000).

Unfreezing

In Laura Ashley, the need for change was caused by new social values and new global culture, new labor relations and importance of strong corporate culture which influence its operations and profitability. Trading conditions are not always easy in the EC due to the spread of the outlets across a number of countries. However, with the Single European market of 1992, many marketing opportunities have emerged for Laura Ashley and other retailers.

It is sometimes assumed that behavior analysis is not a suitable technique for making organizational change interventions. This seems to be based on the belief that because the approach involves defining specific behaviors of individuals it can only be used to change individual behavior. It is sometimes further suggested that any major change in organizational culture involves a re-appraisal of the way that individuals perceive the organization and that such a cognitive re-organization is outside the scope of this methodology (Laura Ashley 2008).

Communication and training will help to company to prepare its employees to a change and new cultural values followed by Laura Ashley. For the company, it is curial to communicate change and motivate employees. These stemmed mainly from improvements in communication, involvement and commitment. A sense of achievement and pride became manifest as a development in confidence and initiative among the workforce.

Change

In new cultural environment, Laura Ashley will introduce new traditions and communication patens aimed to level cultural differences and miscommunication. A number of briefings will be given to senior members of the organization (i.e. those concerned with making the decision that the project should proceed), explaining the theory underlying the approach and outlining the stages of the project. When the decision will definitely be made to go ahead, a letter of intent, signed by the chief executive, is sent to all employees.

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This states the aims and objectives of the program and is intended to signal that there is a high level of commitment to it at the most senior levels of the organization. This is backed up with notices on bulletin boards and items in company newsletters. The consultants then gives a series of briefings to all personnel who are ultimately going to be involved. These explained the underlying theory of the behavioral approach and outlined what is going to happen during the intervention itself. Having set appropriate expectations and, as far as possible clarified misunderstandings and concerns among the workforce, the next stage is to implement various diagnostic procedures (Cope 2000).

The idea is to involve all employees into a change process and show that new changes and cultural value benefit both employees and customers. Changes will take place in customer relationships management and internal culture between different regional offices.

Refreezing

Despite the fact that the changes in employment associated with new culture seem to make Laura Ashle’s employees substantially worse off, at least in the short run, resistance by employees seems to have been virtually nonexistent. A second factor undermining employee resistance is the ubiquitousness of these changes. Laura Ashley that adopted practices that ran counter to employee interests might expect to find itself losing workers and unable to hire new ones as applicants flocked to competitors.

The changes tend to shed labor helps create an excess supply of skilled labor on the outside market that, in turn, makes it easier for companies to adopt these new strategies. For Laura Ashley, it will be relatively easy to obtain skills from the outside labor market, making it costless to abandon internal development practices. Planning for and trying out solutions. Based on the analysis of the problem(s) experienced, a team-building intervention of some sort is planned and implemented.

Some typical kinds of group-based interventions include: goal setting for the team, role analysis, responsibility charting, group interaction process analysis, and interpersonal conflict mediation. Other solutions may involve skills training, such as communication or leadership skills training. After some period of time, the performance of the team is reassessed to determine if the adopted solution has been effective. If not, the team repeats Steps 3 through 6 until the problem is resolved. At present, the level of corporate restructuring is so great that it is difficult to imagine how it could be accomplished within an internalized model of employment (Collins and Porras 2004).

Change Agent

At Laura Ashley, the change agent can be identifies as new strategies goals and objectives of the company based on its expansion aims and priorities. At Laura Ashley, the change agent is one of the main personalities and managers who would implement and direct the change process. A change agent can be its current leader James Maxmin. Change agent is a leader able o motivate and guide employees.

Senior organizational leaders generally carry the construction of organizational purpose and direction. At Laura Ashley, the leadership performance imperatives that derive from the organizational context become entwined in this obligation as well as in the content of organizational directions. The complexity of the senior leader’s operating environment requires considerable cognitive resources to build the frame of reference that provides the rationale for organizational strategy. Similarly, organizational goals and strategies need to be responsive to the requirements of multiple stakeholders and constituencies, indicating the social imperatives confronting senior leaders.

Finally, a little-noted observation about organizational goal setting is that when such directions are created, they reflect in part the senior leader’s personal and self-defined (career) imperatives (Senior 2001). Thus, when leaders develop and implement organizational strategies, they do so from and within the context of these and the other imperatives discussed here. Motivation is hard to determine and will vary from time to time and individual to individual.

At Laura Ashley, apart from the practical difficulties it would be ethically completely undesirable to attempt personality change in a managerial setting. The relationship between attitudes and behavior is problematic. While attitudes may influence behavior, there is also evidence that behavior influences attitudes. As with the other two concepts attitudes are notoriously hard to change. Leadership does not reside in the routine activities of organizational work.

Instead, it occurs in response to, or in anticipation of, nonroutine organizational events. Nonroutine events can be defined as any situation that constitutes a potential or actual hindrance to organizational goal progress. Thus, organizational leadership can be construed as large-(and small-)scale social problem solving, where leaders are constructing the nature of organizational problems, developing and evaluating potential solutions, and planning, implementing, and monitoring selected solutions within complex social domains (Collins and Porras 2004).

For James Maxmin, it would be important to take into account that job security, pension income, and health insurance may be at risk or gone altogether. At the same time, for workers who survive their companies’ workforce resizings, the reorganized office or plant has often come to be a more challenging, more creative, more engaging place. Virtually all workers have been expected to do more with less. Yet at least with respect to the work they perform, many also have found the new organizational environments an improvement over the old.

Although managements are driven to consider restructuring by external forces not of their own making, they still must make their own way in response to the forces. There are choices to be made. As organizational restructuring continues its uneven but seemingly unrelenting course, managers and unions must take their organizations in one of two directions. If the leadership has resisted change and is forced to confront its competitive decline at the eleventh (Senior 2001).

Following Camal (2007), cooping with restructuring is one of the most difficult tasks of the main agent. Restructuring was initially viewed by some as a passing phenomenon, a kind of overdue corporate correction. The continuing opening of the U.S. economy to international competition and the further involvement of U.S. companies in other economies, however, can be expected only to intensify the pressure for change. So too should the continuing concentration of corporate ownership in a small number of very large hands. The pressures inside Laura Ashley for increased flexibility and for reduced fixed costs, as well as the continuous redefinition of competencies, should keep the need to restructure on the agenda for years to come.

Organizational structures and work systems are therefore likely to be further reconfigured in the years ahead. Moreover, since integrated, systemic change is required if restructuring it to achieve its ends, the reshaping is also likely to press more (Senior 2001). At Ashley, reinforcement will lead to behavior being reinforced! Negative reinforcement is no exception to this rule. The difficulty that people experience with the term is most hinges on the word negative. Laura Ashley’s management associates ‘negative’ with punishment and, indeed, the most common mistake is to confuse ‘take away nasty’ in the above diagram with ‘give nasty’ (Podlesnik and Chase 2006).

The benefit of the proposed change model is that it makes both employees and Laura Ashley aware of the likely personal consequences of change. Just understanding this process has a value. Laura Ashley’s employees realize that they are not alone in their experiences and feelings. They also become aware that each of the stages often fulfils a necessary function in the process of adapting to change.

Laura Ashley needs to recognize these elements of the change process and accept that different people will progress through the stages at different rates. But, whilst acceptance of the change process is useful, employees and the company can also take action help ease the passage through the stages. Perhaps the most important advice for Laura Ashley that the behavioral approach can offer involves ‘control’ and ‘self-efficacy’. Threat to perceived personal control is one of the common factors that appears throughout the literature on adaptation to change, whether in clinical, educational, or occupational psychology.

To take an extreme case, one of the main problems of those suffering from ‘post traumatic stress disorder’ is loss of control. Those held hostage for a long time, for example, need help to re-establish control over their lives. It is not unusual for long-term hostages to even find it impossible to decide what to eat for their first meal of freedom. Laura Ashley’s management should take into account that the ‘de-briefing’ often includes forcing them to take such, apparently simple, decisions.

An acquaintance of one of the authors recounts how on leaving a monastic order, for the first few days he found life very difficult. It was a major effort to decide when to have lunch, and even more difficult to decide what to have. Control also has links with perceived self-efficacy. Those who believe they have control over their environment are more likely to have higher levels of self-efficacy at Laura Ashley (Podlesnik and Chase 2006).

Impact on People

The costs to employees and the company may be high as workplace insecurity and short-term pressures override long-term commitments. On the other hand, if the leadership has built a culture that accommodates change and is ready for organizational innovation before the eleventh hour, it may be possible to address the pressures earlier and with less disruption. If so, the benefits to employees and companies may be high as workplace empowerment and long-term planning dominate the agenda (Senior 2001).

Summary and Conclusions

The Lewin’s change model can be used to manage on an organization-wide basis. By their very nature these techniques are, of course particularly relevant to organizational change. The basic principles involved are the same as for all other applications of behavior modification, that is, define the behavior you wish to develop and any behavior you want to discourage and find ways to reinforce the new behaviors and extinguish the old.

The main difference when carrying out organizational change, rather than individual, is the need to influence large numbers of individuals at one time. Reinforcement is usually given on a group basis via feedback charts. It was described how this approach could be used in a major change intervention in Laura Ashley involving both safety and quality improvement. In any change process there is always the possibility of resistance from those involved. It is important to listen to what people are saying about why they are unhappy with the change – they may have a valid point, which needs consideration.

The best way to avoid unnecessary resistance is to proceed openly and participatively, in this way problems will be raised early in the process and can be resolved. One key issue, which may generate resistance and make participation difficult, is the necessity for a shift from dependence to inter-dependence. Laura Ashley should accept the fact that change takes time and that people should be supported and encouraged to help themselves. In particular, the model system that encourages change should not be devised so as to encourage competition. Self-improvement goals are generally more effective than competitive goals when new skills are being acquired. Laura Ashley, by its training and motivation systems, can influence which of these goal orientations people will adopt.

Bibliography

Collins, J., Porras, J. I. 2004, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. Collins.

Cope, Mick. 2000, Know Your Value. Publisher: Financial Times Prentice Hall.

Daft, R. L. 2003, Organizational Theory and Design. 9th Edition. South-Western College Pub; 8 edition.

Hammer, M, Champy, J, 1993, Re-engineering the Corporation. Nicholas Brearley, London.

Jansen, K. J. 2000, The Emerging Dynamics of Change: Resistance, Readiness, and Momentum. Human Resource Planning, 23 (2), 53-55.

Laura Ashley Home Page. 2008. Web.

Podlesnik, Ch., Chase, Ph. N. 2006, Sensitivity and Strength: Effects of Instructions on Resistance to Change. The Psychological Record, 56, (1): 303.

Schien, E. H. 1996, Organizational Culture and Leadership. Jossey-Bass.

Senior, Barbara. 2001, Organisational Change, Capstone Publishing.

Sherman, W. S., Garland, G. E. 2007, Where to Bury the Survivors? Exploring Possible Ex Post Effects of Resistance to Change. SAM Advanced Management Journal, 72, (1); 52.

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