Change Agent

Lynall takes his organizational management expertise overseas

Matthew Lynall helps executives battle the enemies of organizational change. A clinical associate professor of management and director of experiential learning and management consulting at Krannert, Lynall teaches organizational change management at Purdue and abroad.

The students for his executive three-day course are master’s-level or aspiring executives who are keen to know how best to implement top management team (TMT) driven change. The course examines the obstacles to desired outcomes of change for organizations implementing major, cross-enterprise transformations as well as the prerequisites to successful management of change.

Matthew Lynall

In December 2013, Krannert professor Matthew Lynall taught a three-day change management course at the American University of the Middle East in Kuwait. (Photo provided)

“Change management is important because there is a long history of major U.S. companies’ strategic initiatives not producing the intended results,” Lynall says. “The cause of failure is seldom the technical or structural aspects of the change, but more often the neglect or inability to manage the human and organizational aspects. As Paul Allaire, the former CEO of Xerox, once said, ‘The hard stuff is the soft stuff.’”

When people are not given the communication and support they need, Lynall says, the most carefully crafted plans for change can, and often do, fall apart. Not only are the benefits of the change not realized, but also costly negative consequences can include disillusionment and cynicism among employees who ultimately may learn to ignore or avoid change.

“One global U.S. bank used to broadcast changes to its regional offices from its New York office via satellite,” he says, citing a case in point. “They found that the changes weren’t implemented because there was not support from the local managers. The solution was to communicate the change down one level at a time, ensuring there was buy-in and support at each level.”

Failure to cascade change in this way, Lynall says, produces something akin to an organizational black hole that swallows up much needed communication. Another challenge is for the people leading a change to accept their own need to adapt.

“As companies push decision-making responsibility toward the front line, they typically find that people in authority — from supervisors to business unit managers who have earned their positions with a top-down, command-and control approach — are less receptive to change than those working on the front line,” he says. “The skills and management style that earned them their current positions are less applicable in a more collaborative environment.”

The result, Lynall says, is that the potential benefits of a more empowered workforce can be lost as managers and executives leading the change refuse to change themselves.

Lynall’s course introduces various change management concepts and their applications along with case analyses and best practices.

“On day one everyone shares who they are, their roles at work, along with any personal experiences they’ve had or changes they are currently planning,” he says. “Those personal contexts get threaded throughout the course so that the participants can immediately attach the course material to their own experiences and change projects.”

The course includes a computer-based change-management simulation and the cases describe various change situations such as post-merger integration, process re-engineering, introducing disruptive technologies, turnarounds, quality management, and cultural renewal.

In December 2013, Lynall offered the three-day change management course at the American University of the Middle East in Kuwait. He says he will be glad to return there to teach the course again. “I wasn’t sure what to expect in my first visit to the Persian Gulf, but this was probably the most engaged, attentive and enthusiastic group I’ve worked with,” he says. “Their observations regarding the cases and their own organizations were very keen and insightful.”