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Managing change without pain


8 July 2012 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


What is change management? This is a question you may have heard from colleagues or co-workers in passing or in formal presentations. While many of us ‘know’ intuitively what change management is, we have a hard time conveying to others what we really mean.

In thinking about how to define change management, it is important to provide context related to two other concepts - the ‘change’ itself and ‘how it is managed’. This brief article attempts to show how change management has become a critical discipline to a variety of organisational changes to improve the likelihood of success and return on investment.

When you introduce a change to the organisation, you are ultimately going to be impacting one or more of the following four parts of how the organisation operates:
  • Organisation structure
  • Processes
  • Systems
  • Job roles
While there are numerous approaches and tools that can be used to improve the organisation, all of them ultimately prescribe adjustments to one or more of the four parts of the organisation listed above.

Why change?
‘Change’ typically results as a reaction to specific problems or opportunities the organisation is facing based on internal or external stimuli. While the notion of ‘becoming more competitive’ or ‘becoming closer to the customer’ or ‘becoming more efficient’ can be the motivation to change, at some point, these goals must be transformed into the specific impacts on processes, systems, organisation structures or job roles. This is the process of defining ‘the change’.

An effective change management model ensures that the end objective is achieved with proper planning, testing and implementation.  When a company is undergoing or planning to undergo change management process, some resistances are bound to surface. This should be considered normal. Proper strategies and timely planning need to put in place to get things in order.

The organisations tend to initiate change management programmes gradually with an objective to minimize or overcome resistance to such a change. Change management also helps in building consensus among customers and stakeholders if they are convinced that these particular changes are designed to benefit them too.

The organisations planning to implement change management should get their managers and supervisors to think and talk in favour of the process of change management. The first thing for the management to realize is that effective implementation of change management will not be possible unless the managers and supervisors buy in the rationale for the change. They need to support as well as are involved in the process of setting up change management processes.

The manager or supervisor needs to be made aware of the need for change. Desire has to be inculcated in them to participate and support the change management programme. Knowledge has to be transferred regarding the process of change, should develop an ability to be able to implement such skills and lastly, being able to successfully reinforce it to sustain the change.
Change management (emphasis on the ‘management’) begins with a desired behavioural outcome and works methodically toward that goal by re-shaping an organisation’s culture or way of doing business.
  • Change management — it’s hard to do
If you have ever tried to change your own behaviour—quit smoking, stick with a diet, exercise more, relax, spend more time with your family—you know it is a constant challenge even when the reasons to change are extremely persuasive. It is even harder by a factor of 10 when trying to change the behaviour of an organisation. But it can be done and managers have a significant role to play in making the change successful.
  • So, why is change so difficult?
It involves overcoming initial resistance or inertia and shifting or dismantling the existing ‘mind-set’. Defence mechanisms have to be bypassed, fears recognized and dealt with. For example, in 2010, in an IBM survey of 765 CEOs, more than 80 percent admitted their organisations haven’t been very successful at managing change in the past.

Changing corporate culture is more challenging. In the recent past, there were many sweeping culture changes in both organisational management styles and organisations in general. Or, the need to change may reflect new economic or social realities or the requirements of new organisational leaders.

When organisational leaders want cultural change, they look to their key staff, to get on board and support the change. They become change managers, too. Their roles require:
  • Brainstorming with their staff on methods, techniques and behaviours to come into compliance
  • Learning how the success of the cultural change will be measured and sharing that information with their individual teams
  • Understanding the required cultural change and its rationale
  • Developing plans that includes objectives, explanations, communication and measurable goals
  • Pushing gently in the new direction while acknowledging previous behaviours
Obstacles to change
While every change is different, the typical obstacles to change usually include some of the following:
  • Employee turnover. Even though change may be beneficial to the organisation, some employees will feel their values are no longer aligned with the company values and decide to leave.
  • Communication breakdown. This can include the full spectrum of communication issues, from no communication whatsoever to excessive communication that leads to confusion and frustration.
  • Employee resistance. This can sometimes be due to a lack of understanding of what is driving the change and the immediate or long-term benefits of making a change.
  • Employee morale issues. Often these are due to fear of how the change may affect them personally.
  • Insufficient or lack of training. Changing processes, work habits or policies often require significant employee re-training.
  • Budget restraints. Significant changes in an organisation can sometimes bear a heavy upfront cost, despite their long-term potential to save money.
In dealing with the obstacles mentioned above, this is what managers can do to address them in a very direct way:
  • Employee turnover. Managers should continuously gauge their team members’ motivation and loyalty, to ensure turnover is kept at reasonable levels. While some people have a difficult time accepting change, with appropriate coaching and attention, they too can be retained, even though they may require more work on the manager’s part at the beginning.
  • Communication breakdown. Communication – clear, concise, timely – is a crucial component of any change initiative and can have a huge impact on its success or failure. Communicating key information in a timely manner, providing feedback to upper management and addressing questions and conflicts right away can make a world of a difference during the implementation phase.
  • Employee resistance. To address employee resistance, managers can explain the rationale behind change initiatives and highlight immediate and long-term benefits for the organisation at large and the employees themselves.
  • Employee morale issues. By addressing concerns, questions and anticipating employees’ fears, managers can help improve morale during difficult transition times. Building the relationship with employees can also help in this area, as employees will feel more comfortable voicing their concerns if they have a good working relationship with their managers and peers.
  • Insufficient or lack of training. Providing training, feedback and supervising employees to ensure adherence to new processes are all key ingredients and represent a key part of a manager’s responsibilities.
  • Budget restraints. To ensure budgets are appropriate, managers should ideally provide input into budget discussions and give feedback along the way to the upper management, letting them know of any budgetary concerns and possible solutions.
Employees can successfully make their own personal transition when each of the managers and supervisors fulfils his/her role in the context of a holistic, planned change management approach. Interestingly, even positive changes can be challenging to manage since employees need to make changes and adjustments in their work habits.
(The writer is a corporate director with over 25 years’ senior managerial experience. He can be contacted on

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