Moving Beyond Classic Change Management
1. From the hard truth…
Change (and its management initiated by company management) leaves employees – more than – cold. They often associate the word with the trite “do more with less” and imagine it would only bring limitations and a downgrade in their quality of life at work. Company management doesn’t properly address these feelings: how would they feel about it? Actually they announce fatalistic messages in their internal communication campaigns, seemingly preparing the staff for imminent change: “we are faced with unavoidable changes in our strategies, because our environment is always evolving”. But employees understand the real meaning: “you should prepare for negative impact on your working conditions”.
2.… to the easy way out
Today’s management sometimes takes the easy way out. There is no question of the accuracy of their analyses of the environment. The method of confronting change in the new circumstances gives rise to animated discussion. The less resolute among them are happy to reproduce (to put it crudely) a strategic discourse abounding in superiority. They record it on video for internal use and hold rambling discussions with a small group of employee representatives. For all that their efforts are mainly self-defeating. The worst managers make reference to the cycle of change for Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and tell themselves that in the end employees will accept things “serenely” … and just like in Hollywood there will be a happy ending. So they apply a project approach. In this way managing change becomes almost a mechanical process focusing on communication choreographed in a few steps.
3. It’s not enough to talk or even to listen!
This belief, which is widespread, is based on the fact that every hierarchical line tries to communicate and to listen. But even though listening is indispensable, it is not enough! So management delegates the problem to middle managers as intermediaries, expecting them to transform their strategic talk into concrete working approaches. However these managers are not necessarily equipped to come up with the necessary skills, and in any case they are not specifically asked to do this…
No goody-two-shoes: the interests of management and employees are often at odds. The former tend to reward great effort with minimal pay rises. The latter aim for the highest pay rises for least effort (psychological, financial and legal). This explains the reluctance of management to confront change properly. They tend to be cowed by difficult decisions up ahead. But these differences should not be allowed to stand in the way of effort at all levels: after all no one in the company wants it to go to the wall.
4. Involve everybody in change management
We are proposing some food for thought in linking teams to the changes. It takes time and effort from all levels of the hierarchy, an attitude of cooperation, a good dose of teaching and guidance based on performance.
Management not being content with announcing change; they drive it. They arrange lots of follow-up meetings with middle managers to access the pulse of the organisation and adapt their guidance. They pay attention to “human” time. When they themselves have “digested” the concept of change, they need to be aware that the lower levels of their company don’t have even the first idea. So they adapt their guidance and continue to demand specific results and progress from their managers, without thinking everything is settled (even if the board is already making a start on the next change). Unrealistic? Think over, before you decide, the number of far-reaching changes that have been shipwrecked by bad planning… It’s too easy to be smug!
Managers implement changes. As they speak to the teams, they start by putting things in context: the classic question is: “what does the change mean for me, for my team and the company?”. Then they have to “teach” it. They enable their teams to come up with knowledge, skills and techniques to match the change. They set in motion, propose and promote innovation. Cooperating this way, everyone does their bit and has a role to play. Teams, guided by their managers, adapt working procedure, actions and behaviour.
Almost 70% of change in companies ends in failure. We could argue about the overall figure, but just the proportion sets you thinking…
5. Change tends to be permanent
Promoting teamwork and innovation might seem to be a tall order: “the managers are the first to oppose change: how could they set the ball rolling?” They could, if management considered our reasoning as above. In addition the latter have every reason to say the change is now almost permanent. Let us equip them both, helping them to help their teams. What a great way to sort out working parties that have often been hamstrung by short-termism.