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Managing Purchasing Organization's Changes


F. M. Babineaux, C.P.M.
F. M. Babineaux, C.P.M., Strategic Sourcing and Supply Federal Express Corporation, Memphis, TN 38194, 901-224-4988,

85th Annual International Conference Proceedings - 2000 

(Helping the Tired and Overworked Deal with Today's Workplace Realities)

Over and over again we hear the charge, "Things are changing faster than ever." These changes in what we do, how we do it, and whom we do it with leave us overwhelmed. Purchasing employees are faced with diversity training, TQM training, team building, and computer training - all of which changes their jobs into something they never dreamed possible. Movements toward empowerment, cross-functional teams, outsourcing and reengineering all leave us wondering about the next buzzword. And how do purchasing employees cope with being caught in the middle of all these changes? Stress, poor morale, noncommittal attitudes and the feeling that teams and the zap of empowerment are just an attempt to justify more work for less pay. Yet the need for change is evident. We in purchasing have to change our focus if we are to survive - we have to change from the tactical models of the industrial revolution to complex information systems in a global economy. We are overwhelmed and stressed. We want to go forward, but we fear we're slipping back. What we need is a systematic way to help us - the tired, angry employees - deal with the realities of the workplace of today.

Major changes rarely happen smoothly - like a Tarzan swinging easily from one tree to another with a triumphant yell. Instead, employees usually liken change to a roller coaster ride - moving up and down at a frightening speed. At first, change often scares people because it's perceived as a threat or a danger. But, as time passes, they get used to the new state of affairs and begin to see its opportunities. Understanding this common "down then up" sequence of reactions helps purchasing managers implement change. This presentation will help purchasing managers identify the phases that employees must go through to resolve ambivalence and change behavior when dealing with change. Effective coaching by the purchasing manager can help people cope more effectively by giving them what they need when they need it. When your purchasing organization must undergo change, watch for these phases:

Denial. Denial is often one of the first reactions - or actually a lack of reaction - to the change. The change just doesn't sink in right away. Although change can bring a sense of loss to employees, productivity still continues for a while, causing managers to believe the transition has been accomplished. Productivity loss comes later during the Denial phase, as the change sinks in - it becomes real. At this point management must recognize that employees' resistance is normal, and it is time for the organization to respond to it.

Resistance. In the resistance phase, strong feelings about the change emerge, feelings of self-doubt, anger, depression, anxiety, frustration, or uncertainty. Productivity slips, and people are often upset and negative. Some want to leave the organization. To safely weather this phase, employees need to express their negativity.

Exploration. During the exploration phase, people draw upon their internal resources and creativity to figure out their new responsibilities and to visualize their future. This can be a creative, exciting time when people take on the change as adventure and form powerful new bonds with their fellow "pioneers."

Commitment. At this point, people are ready to make stable, long-range plans and to act on them. They're willing to recreate their mission, their roles, and their expectations. This phase will last until the employees are faced with another change.

Coaching For Change. As individuals go through the change phases, they need different strategies for each stage. The following are brief descriptions of strategies that will help at each phase of change.

Denial. To help people see the need for change, information is needed. They need facts to clarify the situation, not reasons why they "ought to change."

Resistance. At this phase, employees need someone to listen to their ambivalence, and to reinforce their motivation. As the employees become aware of their own ambivalence and fear, it brings an opportunity for managers to listen and to reinforce the motivation for change. Employees should not be forced to accept the change - they should be given the opportunity to exercise whatever control they can over the process. In this phase employees need to be heard and managers need to listen.

Exploration. It may be tempting during this phase to try to tell people how they ought to proceed and what they ought to do. But, it is more helpful to let them construct their plans and make their own choices. Employees are motivated when they get to make choices.

Commitment. At this phase, the individual may need very little in the way of support, especially if coaching during the previous phases has been thorough. Perhaps occasional "how's it going" check-ups and short discussions of problem solving will be all that are needed.

Maintenance. Just because things run smoothly for a while does not mean the change phases have been completed. Maintenance is critical. It takes a long while to truly change behavior, and the care and nurturing of a new behavior can be the difference between success and a relapse.

Summary. The change phases can be applied to the purchasing organization as a whole system, or on the individual level. There might be workgroups within the purchasing organization who are in different phases of the cycle, while individuals within those workgroups are in a different phase. It all depends upon a person's personalities, experiences, and adaptability.

Now, using the phases of change, purchasing managers have a systematic way to diagnose the phase of change, and apply the help necessary to let employees discover their own motivation for change. Notice that the emphasis is on the level of the individual not the implementation of the organization. An important consideration to remember is that people respond with resistance when they feel they are being forced to change. "Push me and I push back." This means people have to be helped to change.


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