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Surviving in times of crisis : Successful change management needs solid action plan

16 December 2012 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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In all business organisations, there are often two types of work. There is the normal delivery process, where the main business of the organisation is done. Then there are the change activities, whereby necessary change is made to the business and the way it is done. Change, although externally may appear to be about changing jobs, places, products, etc., actually occurs first inside ‘people’s heads’. And there’s the rub. When organisations try to change without understanding this invisible element, any change is doomed to serious problems and failure.

We are going through a period of crisis. The economy is changing fast and companies have to adjust to new ways of doing business. Business transitions are unwieldy and often yield unpredictable results. Successful adaptation to change, therefore, is as crucial within an organisation as it is in the natural world. Just like plants and animals, organisations and the individuals in them, inevitably encounter changing conditions that they are powerless to control. The more effectively you deal with change, the more likely you are to thrive.

Adaptation might involve establishing a structured methodology for responding to changes in the business environment (such as a fluctuation in the economy, or a threat from a competitor) or establishing coping mechanisms for responding to changes in the workplace (such as new policies, or technologies).

Witness the rapid and continual innovation in technology and the startling growth of the Internet and micro-devices, which are enabling much faster and easier access to knowledge. Add to this the increased expectations of employees as they move more freely between organisations. It is no wonder that relentless change has become a fact of organisational life.

In spite of the importance and permanence of organisational change, most change initiatives fail to deliver the expected organisational benefits. Research over many years indicates that well over half of major change initiatives fail.



Programme failure
Let us see why this failure happens.
  • Poor senior management support
Active and ongoing leadership from the top is an essential prerequisite for achieving change outcomes. Where there is poor communication from the management team, lack of real commitment and a shortage of allocated resources, employees quickly see through to the real story.
  • Lack of employee involvement
Executives and managers who can marshal the support of employees win the day. The principle of participation illustrates how people allowed a hand in their destiny show the highest commitment to the change goals.
  • Ineffective change champion
For change to succeed, a committed key person needs to be focused primarily on the programme, working on the ground and driving the change across the organisation.
  • Ad hoc approach to planning and managing
Successful organisations adopt a structured and formal approach to their change initiatives. In one study, almost three in four businesses that achieved their change objectives used a rigorous process for clearly defining goals and segmenting the programme into its various component initiatives.
Failed organisational change initiatives leave in their wake cynical and burned out employees, making the next change objective even more difficult to accomplish. It should come as no surprise that the fear of managing change and its impacts is a leading cause of anxiety in managers.

Tips to succeed
  • Understand your stakeholders
Whatever your change programme is, one key area requiring your attention is the identification and management of change stakeholders. (A stakeholder is any person with an interest in the change process or the outcome of the proposed change). They bring with them an amalgam of competing interests and often act to further their own power, influence and survival. The added difficulty for change managers rests in the fact that such political maneuvering is often in the guise of impartial and rational argument. Who are your major stakeholders? How will you get them on board and retain their support throughout the life of your change programme?
  • Set goals
Another essential activity often neglected by failed changed initiatives is the setting of clearly defined and measurable objectives. Goal setting done well engages stakeholders and commits them to the programme. Other benefits include focusing effort to where it is important and providing a yardstick for measuring programme success. Are your goals fuzzy and hard to put a finger on, or are they SMART goals? Do they link to the strategic objectives of the organisation and do they have widespread and genuine support across the organisation?
  • Clarify roles
People and only people, can make your organisational change happen. Programmes fail where roles and tasks are not agreed and clarified. In organisations with a low performance culture, many employees and managers will expend considerable effort in hiding from responsibility. What are the key roles and responsibilities for bringing about the change in your area? For any change initiative, we have identified four key change roles: Change Driver, Change Implementer, Change Enabler and Change Recipient. Who are the people that occupy each role in your change programme? Have the right people been selected for the right roles?
  • Develop teams
Whatever your change initiative, most likely the above-mentioned roles will not be working in isolation. More and more, results can only be achieved through people working in collaboration – in teams. Are your teams of the optimal size – not too small and not too big? Have you got the right team leader? Do they have the necessary technical and interpersonal skills? One reason why teams are much more productive than individuals working in isolation is that members may leverage off each other’s strengths and compensate for each other’s weaknesses. Do your teams have the right balance of natural working styles? At times, teams get stuck. What is your strategy in moving stuck teams forward?
  • Deliver training
Training is an indispensable tool for skilling teams and bedding in change. Many organisations, however, fail to benefit from the resources spent on training. Soon after the training is completed, employees continue to cling on to the old way of doing things. How successfully are you using training in your organisational change programme? Do you have a well-articulated training plan? Does the training focus on behaviour change or simply on content? Have you planned for back in the workplace support? Do your managers actively support the training?
  • Deal with resistance
No matter how good your training, some employees, customers and suppliers will resist the change. Unless you have a well-thought out strategy for dealing with resistance, resisters will wear your programme down till it grinds to a halt. Are your resisters out in the open or do they work from the underground? The stated reasons for resisting may simply be a smokescreen. Have you uncovered the real reasons for resistance to your programme? How have you helped people work through the psychological process of change? What is your strategy for overcoming resistance to change?
A well-designed change process anticipates stakeholders’ reaction and enables the implementation team to adjust their actions and arguments to match the same. This team needs to develop a picture of the future that is relatively easy to communicate and appeals to all stakeholders. The standard course of action is to formulate the purpose of change. What are we trying to achieve? What difference are we trying to make? How will it improve the bottom line? How will it make our jobs easier? Stakeholders want answers to these questions and rightly so.

(The writer is a corporate director with over 25 years’ senior managerial experience. He can be contacted at lionwije@live.com)




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