There are many aspects to change, and more importantly successful change. There are no perfect or right ways to go about change, but there are many wrong ways and many pitfalls and hurdles. Any change model will inevitably try to bring simplicity to the complexity that is change. It is this complexity that makes change an exciting and dynamic topic to study. It is this complexity that makes the practice of change management a stressful time for many managers and employees alike.
The key requirement of change managers is flexibility and adaptability. Listening is paramount, empathy is key. Self-awareness is the start point for any manager whilst awareness of the organisation and the people within it is vital. The change manager must have executive leadership competencies mixed with the human understanding of the best H.R director. The change manager will often be a bridge between many layers of the organisation, between managers and the unions, and frequently the company and it’s reputation.
Having said that there is no clear model, change is not anarchy, or that change has no steps that a manager can follow. There are many things that need done in any change programme. The key for the manager is the way that they are done and the spirit in which they are implemented (dynamically vs. slavishly; openly or secretive for example).
I believe that there are two legs to a change programme; the “Human” leg and the “Process” leg. The two legs must remain in balance, or the programme will quickly fall down. Both need direction to function. Both need to be going in the same direction at the same pace. Both need to be applied with the same commitment.
A good change agent must recognise and manage both legs of the programme in a balanced way to get the benefit of the organisation’s efforts. Many change managers and change gurus put their faith in well organised plans and many books exist that give guidance on this approach. Planning is essential in a change programme, however I see planning as a tool to bring together a number of processes from risk analysis to re-engineering to customer needs analysis, process mapping, benchmarking and transition management rather then the key to change itself. Culture change is a prime example. You can plan all you want, but if you don’t understand the human leg you won’t get to the hearts minds that make up the culture.
The key starting element of any change programme is to identify the need for change. The need for change is the rationale or “WHY” that creates urgency and belief within the organisation. It must be factual and believable and make clear the cost of not changing as much as the benefits of change. The leadership of the organisation needs to be fully versed in the “WHY” to be able to face the challenges that will come from within the organisation. Once the “WHY” is clear, it is necessary to have clarity of “DIRECTION”. Without clarity of direction, employees will choose different paths to solve the “WHY”. Each path may be perfectly acceptable, but the power of the organisation can only be harnessed if everyone walks in the same direction. It is necessary to differentiate direction from “THE ANSWER” at this point. Where we are going is different from how we will get there. Once the “WHY” and the “DIRECTION” are known, a “VISION” can be articulated. This vision must be shared across the organisation or it will be worthless. The “VISION” should be simple, memorable, easily understood and have meaning to the employees as people. From there the real work begins as you create a “climate for change”. By communicating these key elements and explaining the challenge to your people you will create a desire to move amongst the employees, who will understand what is expected of them and can see that they need to perform their roles differently to achieve the vision. This desire for change is necessary to turn change from something to fear and something that is happening to you to something that you are part of and can influence. Communication is one of the most vital processes to create this desire for change.
Communication is everything
Good communication is the cornerstone of any change programme. With communication comes understanding. Communication shows respect for your people, and if done well gives them a part to play in the process. Communication is the greatest reducer of fear of change in your toolbox. Lack of communication just fuels worry.Good change communication is honest, consistent, and regular, which seems really obvious but rarely achieved. There are a number of key actions and values necessary for good communication to work.
The 3 R's
REGULAR. A regular flow of information will help people feel involved and ease fears that come with a feeling of “not knowing what is happening”. Without continual change you will always be persuading people to “buy in” to a decision. Our preffered approach takes your people on a journey with you, so that they understand the decisions you make, thereby reducing resistance.
REPETITIVE. Key messages must be used routinely and frequently. Employees will not believe you if you keep changing your mind. They will believe you if you keep stressing the key messages. Find the key messages and stick to them! We know that this is hard for the intelligent leader (after all coming up with new ideas is what you are there for!)
FEEDBACK. Processes that allow people to ask questions, give ideas, pass comment etc ensure that employees feel involved. Being involved reduces fear and galvanises the organisation in pursuit of the desired outcomes of change.
OPEN. Keep people informed about what is happening. Don’t just wait until you have the answers. Let people know what is happening to get to the answers. The fact that they know something is being done will alleviate fears.
HONEST. Tell the truth. If you don’t know the answer, say you don’t know. If you have not made a decision, tell them what you will do to get to that decision. Hiding the truth builds distrust, and shows that you do not respect the employees.
At a client meeting once I heard words that I think I’ve heard a thousand times over the last decade. “They need to change” said the GM, who then went on to dissect the performance of his workforce who were “stuck in the past”, “resistant to new ideas”, and “unwilling to go that extra mile”. He then outlined for me the change programme that had been put in place over the last year, which was inevitably failing due their “intransigence”.
Very few changes start at the bottom of the tree. The Russian revolution aside, history shows that changes are made by people in a position to make them. The top of the tree. The ideas for change come from the top and so they should. That’s what the organisation’s leadership is for; to provide direction and business clarity, to analyse the trends and meet them with innovation.
So it is only natural to look down from the top of the organisation and conceive of the new ideas that those at the bottom should be implementing. By and large leadership is what workforces expect of leaders, and while many people are initially resistant of the idea of change, most workforces I have met understand that the company has to make changes to keep ahead of, or in touch with, the competition.
The trouble with looking down from the top to the bottom is the bottom is looking up at you. “We need to change” is your rallying cry. But the “we” often falls short when it comes to “I” And the bottom notices this and knows you don’t mean “we” at all.
With this thought in mind I asked the GM what the change programme had incorporated for the leadership of the organisation. Aside from a few shuffles of position under the banner of restructuring, the same leaders were in the top positions doing roughly the same things. Yet the workforce had to change its behaviours and its attitudes and align to a new set of values.
It brought to mind a quote that we use on our business cards. Mahatma Gandhi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world”, which I think is great guidance for CEO’s and GM’s leading change in their organisation. “What am I doing now that is not in support of the changes I need? “What behaviour do we need to adopt at the top to engender the change throughout the organisation?” and “What demands am I making that are counter-cultural or change destructive”
Change starts at the top, not just with an idea but with demonstration.
Many years ago I worked in a business that was implementing a spending freeze in line with its bottom line focus. To make a major statement it was announced that all business travel was to be stopped completely. The immediate impact was great. Throughout the organisation people got the message, and started to consider little ways that they could tighten the belts in their area. A week later a small announcement followed to say that the travel ban had been modified and that people of a certain grade and above would be continuing to travel first class. The message was immediately lost. The belief in the business took a step back. People gave lip service to the profit drive. Why? Everyone knew that a total travel ban would not work. Some people had to travel as part of their job. Destination dependent would have been acceptable. Role dependent and business class for long distant would have made sense. But grade dependent? And still first class?
The message was “the change is not about us, it’s about you”. That one message destroyed all the good intent of the profit drive and impacted on change programmes for years to come, as it installed suspicion and cynicism of the leadership group.
Many years ago I read a book by Chris Argyris, called “Overcoming organisational defences”. It was in my early years as a change agent and trouble-shooter of change failures. It made me really aware of the unwritten rules that propagate the business and run counter to the change you are trying to make. A favourite of mine, came when I was working with a business that was streamlining its management information systems and as a result reducing the number of people in its accounts department. The initiative was founded on good I.T and should have worked but it didn’t.
I follow my nose in these things and asked the people on the ground what they were doing and where their time was going. In the course of one discussion I noticed some piles of papers on one employee’s desk. They didn’t look like the standardised, cost effective reports I had been shown by the head of IT. I asked about them. “Oh, they are for the CEO and the Chairman”, I was told. These “special” reports were being hand created to mach a report that he CEO had used in the past. It turned out that a number of senior people also had their own “special reports”
The change was not about these senior people, in their minds so in a few simple requests they were wasting the vast spend of the I.T project and ensured that the head of accounts could not cut to the numbers that had been part of the project justification.
And of course the workforce saw and the workforce lost belief.
My advice? Remember Ghandi, and before you say that your workforce is resistant to change, ask yourself “What do I need to do differently? “What behaviour do I need to have” and “What counter-cultural demands do I make?” and be the “change you want to see in your world”
theCHANGEfactor™ brand was established in 1999 in the UK by Martin Fenwick. Prior to coming to New Zealand this resulted in projects in Belgium, Germany and France as well as throughout the UK.