Organisational Change Management Volume 1

Expectations Greater than Reality

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(Fantasy Confronts Reality or J-Curve)

As Karl Albretch observes

"...unrealistic expectations can easily derail any ambitious change effort......the shock of the perceived differences between what they had hoped for and what they actually got...... The experience of colliding with reality and having to revise expectations occurs quite regularly in organisations; in fact, it qualifies as an official syndrome of organisational life.....J - curve..."

Karl Albretch, 2003

Sequence of the J curve (see diagram below)

1 The change initiative starts. The dotted line shows the expectations while the solid line shows what actually happened, ie usually things get worse. The reason for this is the current system has been upset, ie instability and change have been introduced into a system that previously operated satisfactorily. By introducing a change, there is an inevitable period of confusion and stress, with people trying to determine how the new arrangement is going to operate. For example, if responsibilities are changed, staff will tend to mix old behaviors with new ones until things settle down.

2 What has happened is the initial replacement of a stable but ineffective situation with an unstable one whose benefits have yet to materialize. As a result, there are unanticipated consequences occurring. For example, people who used to get along well are now fighting and competing; new programs anticipated to make employees happier have actually made them apprehensive and suspicious.

3 There is a gap between expectations and results. The greatest disparity between expectations and results is called VOD (Valley Of Despair). At this stage it is not uncommon for change efforts to end because senior management decides that the change is misguided or not feasible and/or there is a collective sense of discouragement that leads to a loss of energy and commitment to the change process. If the change champions approach the situation with realistic expectations and understand the concept of the J-curve, they will tough it out.

4 Once past the VOD, things start to get better as hoped-for results start to appear, people become more confident, morale improves, a better understanding of what works and will not work develops, etc

NB VOD stands for Valley of Despair

organisational development change management

(source: Karl Albrecht, 2003)


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