The change management process, stakeholder engagement, the benefits of the pit and the liberating power of workplace amnesia once it is all over
Change is increasingly part of our work world and managing change is one of the greatest challenges for organisations today. The only greater challenge is to stay in business.
Workplace change is partly driven by economic factors: the pressure to reduce space and costs. But it is also driven by ever-evolving new technology; by the increasing importance of a responsive workforce and, most recently, by the expectations of a younger generation who expect working flexibility and work-life balance.
Change is often viewed by the workforce, at best, with suspicion and at worst with blatant hostility. Ironically, change, once implemented is usually accepted quickly and barely referred to again. Resistance to change seems to be a natural feature of the human psyche. The way to implement change with the support, co-operation and acceptance of the workforce is a major challenge for many organisations regardless of whether they are public or private sector, large or small.
People are resistant to change because they cling to the familiar and the unfamiliar makes them feel insecure. The perception is often that change is part of a rationalisation of the workforce and that redundancies will inevitably ensue. Change imposed on a workforce without taking their views into account results in a disenfranchised group of people who feel undervalued and unimportant because their opinions and concerns were not considered as part of the process. Like all of us they want their seat at the table.
The easiest way to smooth the introduction of change is to consult those affected by it in an open and collaborative way. Sometimes it does not prove essential that the change plan is modified by their input – it is simply enough to consult them, involve them in the process and afford them the opportunity to understand the rationale behind the change. After all they have a personal stake in what is good for the organisation as the organisation’s survival is usually good for them as well. It is also possible at this stage to develop and agree other changes that will please the workforce and mitigate the impact of the main change programme.
The people affected by the change will have the greatest understanding of the impact of that change and will have valuable input on how this will affect the organisation’s operational effectiveness. Organisations should never ignore their own cost-neutral in-house team of experts.
The best way to manage change successfully is to appoint a good change management professional. This person may be an internal employee or an external person brought in specifically to manage the change. An internal person will be familiar with the organisation and be known to the stakeholders. However, the internal person is also likely to have a day job and to be distracted by the demands of that role. He or she may also not be able to see the wood for the trees. His or her personality and their standing in the organisation will also have an impact on the success of the change management process.
An external change manager charges a fee which can be saved by using an internal person but this may be false economy. An external person is usually viewed as an “expert” by everyone in the organisation and is generally treated with more respect and courtesy, even in difficult situations, than perhaps an internal candidate would be. An experienced change manager brings that experience to the table and is aware of the pitfalls of the change management process. An external person will also look at the organisation and the concerns expressed by the staff with a more detached and clinical eye than someone who is part of the status quo.
The most successful change management projects are managed by a collaborative team comprising of an external change management specialist and an internal multi-disciplinary team with knowledge of the organisation and the issues.
It is important to ensure that the change manager has the skills to lead the whole process – the initial review, the agreement on how to proceed, implementation of change and the important review and tweaking post-implementation. The change manager needs to have good communication skills and empathy. He or she also needs to be comfortable working as both a consultant and as a project manager as these are very different skill-sets.
The change management process:
- Appoint a change manager
- Review the existing status quo
- Form a change team
- Define what the organisation wants to achieve
- Engage with stakeholders
- Review findings from the review and engagement period
- Agree change measures to implement
- Secure management team buy-in
- Plan the implementation of the change
- Publish and promote the plan
- Communicate, communicate, communicate
- Implement change
- Review success of implementation, gather feedback and tweak
Also added to the above list should be the statement: “Get out of the pit”. Every project has a pit. This is the point in the process when it all seems really difficult and everyone is wishing they were not involved. No-one can see how it is going to end well (except perhaps the external change manager who will have been in the pit many times before). People begin to mutter darkly about calling the whole thing off or going back to the drawing board. In fact, the most successful change management projects are often the ones who were in the deepest pit. A good change manager will get you out of the pit and ensure that sight of the end goal is never lost.
The change cycle begins with resistance, anxiety, gossip and uncertainty – the fear and loathing phase. It then moves on to partial, slightly begrudging, acceptance of the change proposed. Next there is a more widespread acceptance particularly if the stakeholders have been consulted openly and have been granted some changes of interest to them personally. Lastly, once change has been implemented, there is collective amnesia and the move onto the next concern. Change is assimilated quickly, the greatest novelties quickly become commonplace.
Apologies to Hunter S. Thompson for the appropriation of his brilliant title. May he rest in peace.