Written by: Flora Lang and Katrina Cirule
Change is a constant fear among many of us. The reasons may differ, but the feeling is the same. Living in the now sounds a lot more comfortable. It can be because the present is great and relaxed or because of the concern of something worse. No matter the situation, some would do anything in their power to stay in the present or even past and stop change. However, suspending change as an individual is dangerous in the world that is hungry for it. Change is inevitable. The three main aspects that are going to be discussed in this essay are social, structural, and technological changes, as well as the process and leading of it.
Although no society has ever remained the same, not all of us truly comprehend or appreciate the concept of social change. Sociologists define social change as changes in human interactions and relationships that change cultural and social establishments. These transformations, which happen over time and might have great and long-term consequences for society, are often results of social movements. For instance, the Reformation, environmentalism, the feminist, or the LGBTQ+ rights movements are a few of the world-changing acts. As a result, relationships have changed, organizations have changed, and social standards have changed because of these social change happenings. (Dunfey 2019)
To better understand the reason behind these social shifts, sociologists have come to three main theories of social change- evolutionary, functionalist, and conflict theory.
Auguste Comte, also known as the “father of sociology”, supported the evolutionary model, which also relates to Darwin’s theory of evolution, however, more so tying it to the concept of society rather than biology. The evolutionary model of social change gained its recognition in the 19th century, suggesting that societies always develop into higher levels. Compared to organisms that progress from simple to more complex, so do societies, and the ones which cannot adapt to change fast enough, fall behind. At first, social evolutionists declared that all societies must go through a similar, unilineral process of progress, thus adapting the thought that Western societies are superior because of their modern position. Only later, the idea of multilinear change was shared, adapting the idea of social evolution in different ways and directions. This means that there can still be continuing progress even if the steps of it are not the same for every stage of change depending on geography, culture, problem, and other reasons.
The second, functionalist theory, supported by Talcott Parson, an American sociologist, gained its recognition during the 1940s-1960s. In the functionalist social change theory, another biological comparison is introduced- society is like a human body. (Soken-Hubert 2020) When a part of a body is harmed, the other parts must adjust. Society is like a balanced system of institutions, where each has a role in maintaining society working. (Mondal 2015) This theory highlights the idea of harmony and unity, stating that society always works towards stability through adaptation and change. However, the functionalist theory, which is all about maintaining equilibrium, has its cons- it displays the stable life of the upper-level class and fails to realize various crucial factors, such as race, gender, class, and other aspects.
The third, conflict theory, looks at the nature of society and highlights its ways of being competitive and unequal. This theory was represented by Karl Marx, who, although supported the evolutionary theory too, stated that change does not always result in the development or something better. In fact, he highlights how the upper-level class takes control by exploiting the vulnerable parts of society. Marx emphasizes the importance of being proactive rather than only trying to stay stable, as it is in the functionalist theory. This displays conflict, inciting people to action, resulting in social change. For instance, the conflict theory is also found in feminist, queer, and critical theories. (Soken-Hubert 2020) The conflict theory supports clash and states that it is even desirable in order to fight inequality. However, it also has its drawbacks- conflict does not always bring positive or expected results. (CliffNotes 2015)
Although social change can be affected by other factors, such as technological or economic change covered in the next paragraphs, education and new experiences also have an impact on these shifts. In order to achieve positive social change which is understood by improving people’s lives as a result, it is believed that learning about other cultures, being exposed to different value systems, communication styles, and ways of living, as well as reflecting on one’s own experience and gaining a sense of responsibility can be crucial when it comes to sustaining and supporting the process of social change. Gandhi has once said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Each and every one of us holds the power to influence social change, thus all that is left to answer is what kind of change do we wish to see? (Alliant International University 2020)
Structural change is the outcome of many things happening in technology and the economy. Usually, it happens over time with the shift of many pieces affected by wars, change in politics, natural disasters, or simply by innovations including technological ones. Once the change has happened in individual needs and multiple individual businesses, the industry and the market itself will be shaped accordingly. Structural can also be called structural development as it is often the result of technological developments creating a new level of consequences in the form of structural change. (Ganti 2021)
Nowadays, structural change is common and rapid, but a normal part of one’s life. Many examples can be found from recent years, but one of the biggest is the disappearance of jobs. Traditional jobs, that have been a part of society for many generations but couldn’t survive the 21st century. Although it has been a long process, the outcome of it may be called recent, which is the lack of jobs, hence the lack of earnings. (Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment n.d.) Indicators can be found everywhere and are giving an estimate; thus, the industry can prepare for a major shift, but the process is always a bit difficult. (Diana 2013) Let’s look at the previously mentioned example of disappearing jobs and cashiers in particular.
Cashier jobs are still wildly available and are an everyday sight, however, the alternatives are getting more and more common as well. In this case, technology and social changes can be held accountable but from multiple different angles.
The first angle is the development in technology that makes it possible to replace cashiers. We are still a bit far from replacing all workers with machines while making it economically sustainable, but the concept has been existing since the 1960s and different options have been emerging in the past two decades. Automated self-checkout services, smart stores (Amazon), and various delivery services are already substituting cashiers, especially in urban areas. As cash is slowly disappearing and contactless payment becomes safer and stays safer, innovations are occurring.
The second angle is that today it is not only possible to replace cashiers but also asked for. While researching the topic, I have come across many forums for people with anxiety. Most people say that having the chance to go shopping and not interacting with others makes them feel safer and in control of their surroundings. They can do it at their own pace whether that pace is slower or faster. When it comes to fast-food restaurants or grocery store self-checkouts, the overall feeling seems to be the same.
Last, but not least, the structural change of other industries is affecting the retail industry and the shopping experience, forcing it into a structural change as well. It is always a circle, with these, so come the continuous change. With the change of other industries, people are always in a hurry and prefer a queue and small talk-free shopping experience in this running world.
One would think that these radical changes would have a stronger impact on the world which they have, but the basic integrity of society hasn’t gone anywhere, merely transformed. Following the example, shops still have to hire people to check that everything works fine, and nothing is stolen. On top of that, resources can be allocated to packing or customer service so productivity and customer satisfaction can increase. (Dorsett 2021; Suddaby 2021)
A technological change occurs when a completely new product or good is innovated or an already existing one is developed further. In the second case, the development can happen at any part of the process of manufacturing the product or creating the service. These technological changes have a great effect on a lot of things, from the smaller or bigger demand for different materials to the labor productivity. Technological change has three main stages. The first one is the inventing process itself, the second is the basic use of the invention and the last is the “commercial exploitation” when the invention transforms into innovation meaning it becomes significant from an economic standpoint, rather than a scientific one seen in the first two stages. (Winston 2021)
The United Nations has conducted a study about “The impact of rapid technological change on sustainable development” (2019, 3-4; 9-11), that uses the SDGs as a resource to reflect. Through examples, the publication concludes that rapid technological change can get the world to the SDG goals by 2030, but it can also raise a whole new set of questions regarding ethics, societies, governments, and policies.
Technological changes are continuous. They can be put on a chronological timeline and are some ways or another connected. If we take automated energy generating methods as an example, we can get from watermills to electric cars, through the printing press, the steam engine, the computer, and smartphones with each step explained.
In underdeveloped countries, oftentimes technological change cannot make its way into industries or society. There is no capital or other resources, skills, or sometimes even the need to implement them. This is called technological or economical backwardness, which is the outcome of necroeconomy and retroeconomy.
- Necroeconomy is an economy based solely on government support and the products of it are low quality, overly high production costs, and most importantly no or little demand besides what the government artificially creates, party by having no competition.
- Retroeconomy is somewhat similar to necroeconomy, however, it is not as serious. Retroeconomy uses outdated technology compared to the global standards, is partially relying on government support, but has moderate demand on its own.
Usually, companies are stuck in necroeconomy and retroeconomy because they are focusing, forced to focus or have the resources only for short-term solutions. (Papava 2016, 3-5)
The process of change
Although there are sociologists creating many theories about change, to understand this process better, we must also look from a more “how?” side of the story. The Transtheoretical Model (TTM), also known as the Stages of Change Model, was developed by two psychology professors James O. Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente in the early 1980s when doing research with former smokers. This model presents the idea of stages during a process of change on a mostly individual level, however, it can be applied to a grander scale too. (Giordano 2021)
Change is a process involving 5 stages: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. Each of these stages also connects with a certain behavior expected from the person.
In the first step, precontemplation, an individual might not even realize there is a need for change, because one simply cannot see the problem existing. It is a lack of awareness and a failure to realize the issue. (Pacheco 2012)
In the second stage, contemplation, one becomes aware of the problem but is still hesitant to make any change. This part is mostly described as feeling uncertain or doubtful, often using excuses for not making any change or experiencing a lack of commitment to taking real action, which can last from months to years. For example, a person realizes that the reason for not having good health is because of smoking a pack of cigarettes per day.
In the third, preparation, stage, one is emotionally ready to commit to change and is preparing themselves for it by making the first small steps already. For example, a person who smokes and wishes to quit, might have bought nicotine patches in this stage of change. One usually intends to act within the next month.
The next step is action when a person is involved in an active modification of the problematic behavior. This process is self-directed and intentional rather than pushed to be done by the influence of others. This stage can last up to half a year since the new habit has to form and solidify.
The fifth step is maintenance, where one is focusing on sustaining the change and not falling into the relapse. Now, old behaviors have been replaced by new ones. (Giordano 2021)
Although the process of change has been explained in 5 steps, it is never final. Change is a process of looking for ways to maintain the new habit and evolve further. Moreover, if one does fall back into the old patterns of behaviour, a person is not the same as they used to be before the process of change. They might fall back into relapse and start the first, precontemplation phase all over again, however, it will not be the same starting point as at first. As Heraclitus has said: “You never step in the same river twice.”
Change is an always happening process where a person grows with the cycles of it, however, it is hoped that one builds resilience during the preparation, action, and maintenance part to avoid relapse or get through it quicker. This is also a matter of getting to the second stage of contemplation and realizing that there is a problem again easier or faster. (Pacheco 2012)
Change management is the way of describing and implementing change and the way of preparing, helping, and supporting the people who are part of the change to get accustomed. There are two sides to change, the technical and the people side. While the technical side answers how and why the organization will be different, the people side focuses on how the individuals can adapt. The people side of change is called change management, which focuses on the grander, organizational side of change. (Creasey 2019, ASQ)
There is often resistance to change and the will of procrastination, that’s why it’s important to do it in the right manner and through a good system that benefits both the organization and its people. Putting extra effort and money towards the right change management might be worth it in the long run. Transparency is the number one key element when it comes to successful change management, just like engaging people in the process so they can not only share their views on the matters but also feel valued and validated. (Buehring 2021)
Different studies mention a different number of steps for managing change, however, the principles and the desired outcome are the same. It is crucial to recognize when the management has reached its limits and ask for further help from professionals in the change management field.
- First, one needs to identify the need for change. It’s important that the management have a clear vision of where’s the organization going and how to get there. Answering the right questions later will help manage the change when it comes to the employees and other members affected.
- Then comes the presentations. This is the step where the people become the focus. They need to understand different angles of the upcoming change and understand the need for it. Presenting the scope, financial factors, and their future role can give a level of certainty or even excitement and providing data and predictions using that data may reassure some.
- The next step is implementing the new technologies, methodologies, or whatever the change is related to. It is essential that the people affected are still getting the necessary support and are not feeling alone. Although a singular person doesn’t influence the crowd anymore in this stage, it’s important to think about the future.
- Once the change has happened, reviewing, reflecting, and collecting the necessary data is the way to go for continuous further improvements. All previous and additional support and consulting are helping everyone involved. They make the transition cheaper, more efficient, and give a better outlook and thus a good reputation.
(Neirinck 2019, Ramos 2016)
Many historical examples can be found for change management or the lack of it. However, a good example that came to mind is from the present. Proakatemia moving to the main campus is a change for all of us. Reflecting this experience on the steps of change management made me realize how much there is to this whole operation.
Notes from the book
While reading the book “Change Management Masterclass” by Mike Green, a change management specialist, one specific notion really stayed in my mind- a formula for change. Although, at first, somewhat surprising, it describes the necessary factors needed for change to occur in a visual way:
C= (D x V x FS) > R,
where C is the change that is supposed to be happening, D is the level of dissatisfaction of the circumstances, V is the attractiveness of the desired result or vision, FS is the first practical steps, and R stands for resistance to change.
This formula unites the main steps in order to change, however there might also be space for other factors such as believability (the new result will actually change something), capability (the parties involved can realistically manage the process), as well as capacity (the resources needed are available).
In my opinion, the trickiest part of this equation is the multiplication in the brackets, meaning that, if one of those characters is nonexistent (thus being at value 0), the whole multiplication will result in zero, too. Therefore dissatisfaction, desirability, and the first steps are all required to be at some level that exceeds the resistance in order to achieve change.
In conclusion, we have both learned that there is still so much to learn about change, however, understanding the types and processes of it on both individual and collective levels has been a great starting point. Social change focuses on society and human interactions, structural change addresses the shifts in industries, while technological change occurs as a result of new developments and inventions. All of the fields are somehow tied to humans- regardless if it is a change of individual or collective level. Looking closer at the psychology of it and the spiral of change- 5 steps have been identified when researching how humans go through operations. However, these shifts can also be looked at, for example, business-wise, where change is managed by a leader and the team has to unitedly work together. These notions, therefore, resonate with the formula of change, where many factors must at the end be greater than the resistance against change.
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