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The initial driving force that prompted JC Penney's organizational change came as online shopping and consumer needs and preferences were dramatically shifting. Penney's had high hopes when hiring Ron Johnson, former Apple retail store executive, as the CEO and potential change agent that would assist in turning things around. Unfortunately, as sales fell, this approach to change came from a reactive position, where a decision was made that was not in alignment with the company's vision or mission. It turned out to be a costly mistake, causing them to accumulate over $5 billion in debt. "Johnson's vision was to make Penney hippier, and he changed long-held strategies and management practices that defined the company's culture and identity" (Kincki & Soignet, 2022). Johnson terminated thousands of employees, replaced the company's executives, and completely redesigned the company and its culture. The organizational development strategy that Johnson executed failed miserably, creating hardship for Penney's across the board, prompting the company to implement change, once again. Besides the pressure from declining sales and major debt, most of the driving forces for this desire to change came from within the organization. One force was that of human resource concerns as the toxic work environment caused job dissatisfaction for employees and worker morale to drop. Conflict caused poor manager-employee relationships and the clash of culture that aligned with the strategic goals of Penney's, and that of the culture that Johnson and his executives brought into the equation, supported the notion that change was imperative. At this point, Johnson was fired, and Myron Ullman was hired as the interim CEO.
Ullman and Lewin's Change Model
The unfreezing stage of Lewin's model "involves getting to a point of understanding that change is necessary and getting ready to move away from our current comfort zone" (Connelly, 2020). Creating the motivation to change is the main objective of this stage and was most likely highly anticipated by managers and employees because of the chaos and pain that was inflicted on the company by Johnson's leadership style and organizational development techniques. Another important aspect is that "Managers also need to reduce the barriers to change during this stage" (Kinicki & Soignet, 2022). The barriers to change might have begun breaking down when Ullman immediately did away with the changes Johnson made to the organizational design of Penney's and reestablished the company's promotional pricing and sale of private label brands.
The changing stage of Lewin's model is the transition process made by the organization and its employees in order to innovate a product, service, process, or in this case, all of the above. During this process, those involved need to be given the training, tools, and information necessary for the implementation of change to be successful. The level of involvement and support of management during this stage often determines whether or not the development process will have long-term success. The fact that the company hired Ellison, with the condition that he had to shadow Ullman for a year, reestablished the foundation of the culture. The pair invested a lot of time and effort into communicating with all components of the organization by visiting vendors, partners, and holding employee town hall meetings, all of which improved manager-employee relationships.
In the refreezing stage, changes are accepted, monitored and become the new norm. I like the idea that "Popular thought has moved away from the concept of freezing. Instead, we're urged to think about this final stage as being more flexible, maybe like a milkshake or soft serve ice cream, rather than a rigid frozen block. This way 'Unfreezing' for the next change might be easier" (Connelly, 2020). Additional training, coaching, and reinforcing are a part of this stage, and Ellison provided funds and resources to do this, as well as hired experienced executives to lead the initiatives. Employee promotions were created to reward productive employees and included them into the implementation process decisions, adding value and both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.
Connelly, M. (2020, September 12).The Kurt Lewin Model of Change. Change Management Coach. Retrieved June 20, 2022, fromhttps://www.change-management-coach.com/
Kinicki, A., Soignet, D.B. (2022).Management: A practical introduction.McGraw-Hill Education