Swimming with killer sharks, surviving and making them follow you

2017-11-06 10:35:24


Life in organisations is like being at sea: sometimes calm, frequently choppy and occasionally sick-making! The changes can come thick and fast as managers and company executives search for every possible improvement in performance. And the speed of that change is generally increasing. 

Advances in technology, for example, are changing people’s expectations and ways of working because they enable people to access information (and each other) at speeds only dreamt about a few years ago. If knowledge is power then everyone with access to the Internet is becoming more powerful as they can now obtain instant knowledge to aid decision-making that was previously only obtainable with days of effort. 

Increasing competition in a worldwide market is driving many companies to strive to achieve ‘more with less’ and the notion of a job for life is as dead as a dodo for many employees, as the rate of mergers and acquisitions, outsourcing, restructuring and so on increase. 

As a leader, you need to be competent and confident about implementing change, which is where this and next few instalments 
can help. 

Why necessary
The decision makers of any organisation will always want to implement change if they find out that such change will bring significant productivity to the organisation as a whole. While change is necessary, usually for the good of the organisation and its staff, it will always be subject to some form of resistance. 

Change may take place in different ways. It may range from minor staff restructuring to merging or acquiring another company.

Change is always traumatic to the workforce. Bidding good bye to the comfortable and ‘got-used to’ organisational process can be somewhat difficult for embrace. Yet, resistance to change should never be a barrier to change management. It is important for the management to understand that the barriers that make it difficult to implement change are usually the reasons behind the resistance to change.

No matter how necessary the change is, it will be difficult for an organisation to implement the planned strategic change successfully if barriers continue to exist. Let us now discuss what these barriers are.  

Continuity. Most people seem to be creatures of habit; you’ve probably noticed, for example, that people tend to sit in the same seats in meetings. Change, by definition, disrupts continuity in the workplace because people often have to adapt to new structures, processes and so on. 
Control. Many people like to have a high degree of control in their lives. Changes can cause people to feel less in control and even worry about coping with increased workloads, requiring new skills and so on. 

Convenience. People tend to organise themselves and their lives into routines that enable them to cope with the complexities and demands of working in a modern world. Personal routines may include start and finish times, when they take their lunch and so on. 

Security. People are naturally concerned about how they fulfil their financial commitments and the consequences of not doing so for themselves and, perhaps, their family. 

Social. Changes can result in the loss of a person’s status as well as alterations in team membership, personal friendships, reporting relationship and so on.

You may also experience two other potential problems when leading your team, which result from the introduction of advances in technology: 

Immediate access. Email and mobile phones enable people to keep in touch, but access to the technology is probably creating expectations among your colleagues - especially your boss - that you’re always accessible regardless of where you are. I know several managers who book fictitious meetings (with themselves) in their electronic diaries to prevent their work colleagues ‘stealing’ all of their time by booking meetings without asking for their permission. 

Invisibility. Email, laptops and mobile phones are enabling more and more people to work from home for at least part of the time. Although the effective use of technology offers productivity gains due to, for example, time saved on travelling, quiet work areas and so on, you may have concerns about whether you can trust certain people who are out of sight to be as productive as you expect them to be.

You probably have some experience of changes being introduced into your workplace within your current or previous jobs. Take a few minutes to reflect on your experiences and clarify your own expectations about how you prefer to be treated when changes are introduced that affect you and how you do your work. Doing so helps you to appreciate the concerns and potential reactions of others.
The main things that ‘get up people’s noses’ about the introduction of change are 
as follows: 

Lack of information. People want to know; (1) The reasons why the change is being introduced, particularly the benefits of, and consequences of not, changing. (2) Why the change is being introduced now (not later), (3) How the change is likely to affect them, especially regarding their role and responsibilities, conditions of employment, working relationships and so on. 

Too little or no involvement. People want to contribute to making their organisation successful and often contribute valuable ideas and suggestions even if their suggestions adversely affect them. For example, the number of employees who volunteered to take a cut in wages or a pay freeze to help their organisations cope with the economic downturn over the last two years 
is unprecedented.

Wrong speed of change. Change may be introduced so fast that people can’t internalise the change and come to terms with it or so slowly that it causes unnecessary worry or grief. Introduce the change as quickly as you can, complete a robust analysis of the need for a change, make the necessary decisions and formulate your plan while considering how easy or difficult the people affected will find it to come to terms with the 
proposed change.

Not being treated like adults. Tell the truth; people can handle it and respect you for being honest with them.

Dithering. Nothing’s wrong with taking as much time as is required to arrive at the right decision. However, people resent persistently being told that something is ‘on its way’ or ‘going through channels’, so avoid these approaches where possible.

You may sometimes be involved in introducing changes in your workplace that cause you to feel like you’re swimming with sharks: everyone seems out to get you! People often get emotional when major problems are being experienced in their organisation that result in the need to make significant changes such as a reorganisation of the structure, removal of overtime or bonuses, redundancies and so on. 

When people experience such situations they often need to: 
Express their views strongly. (Listen to them sincerely and, if necessary, make 
some notes.)

Ask questions that may be difficult to answer. (Listen and ask time to answer. You should give them answers as soon as possible, if necessary, checking with your 
superior officer.) 

Criticise senior managers. (You must not encourage it. Tell them that you would arrange a meeting with the senior managers to discuss 
the matters.)

When everyone is directing their frustration and anger at you, don’t fall into the trap of taking the whole world upon your shoulders. By all means be committed to contributing to improving the situation but don’t allow yourself to be downhearted or drown in a sea of emotions.   

Once you understand and manage these barriers to change management, it will be easy to implement the change. In the end, everyone in the organisation will be comfortable to embrace the new change.    
(Lionel Wijesiri is a retired corporate director counting three decades of senior management experience. He is now an independent consultant and a freelance journalist. He may be contacted on

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