Organisations in Transition

In the past decade increasing attention has been given to managing the human aspects of change an essential part of management responsibilities. Managers live with the challenge every day, the pace of business change is accelerating and becoming increasingly complex as significant improvements depend more and more on impacting every aspect of the working environment. The ability to change will therefore sift out long-term survivors from those that also ran. The challenge for managers is to acquire the competencies to implement change, whilst continuing to deliver day-to-day performance.

Change Management Frameworks

Most managers will now be acquainted with increasingly well known change frameworks. The concepts of sponsors with the power to legitimise change, and change agents empowered with actually managing change implementation are widely understood. So too is the notion that to move an organisation from its current state to some future state depends upon establishing enough dissatisfaction to make people willing to abandon the current state and enough attraction to draw them towards the future.

The phenomenon of resistance and the need to anticipate and explicitly plan for it is also widely acknowledged. Resistance to change is a natural reaction to disruption and loss of control caused by change. We feel comfortable with stability and predictability - change threatens that stability.

Three Steps

These frameworks and concepts must be translated into practical actions to have a bearing on the real world challenges of implementing desired changes on time and within budget. Here is a three step template:

Human Resource Enablers

Step one is to determine what changes to the way people in the organisation are managed are needed to achieve the desired future state. This means looking at Human Resource Enablers:

  • Is the structure to be changed? Are people to be organised differently? Are work groups to be reduced in size, or in some way rationalised?
  • Are the performance measures applied to employees to be changed? Are people to be changed? Are people to be set different objectives? Is their appraisal to be against different criteria?
  • Are pay and benefits arrangements to be changed? Will employees be rewarded differently, perhaps in line with new performance measures?
  • Are job profiles to change? Will employees need to develop new skills? Is new training a prerequisite for change is to be implemented successfully?
  • Is the management style of the organisation to change? Will people detect a change in the required behaviour, as modelled by their managers? Will managers adopt different roles (such as refocusing from controller to counsellor)?

    Inevitably, change will impact on at least one, and probably all, of these enablers.

Communication Strategy

Step two is to map out a Communication Strategy, which, given the impact on the enablers, answers the questions:

  • Which people are affected by the proposed changes?
  • When are they likely to be affected?
  • What information and messages do they need to be given and when?
  • Who is the most appropriate person (or people) to give them the information and messages?
  • How and when should that information on those messages be given?
  • Who else needs to be given some information about the changes, because they are indirectly affected?
  • How is consistency of communication to be managed, including the control of informal information sources?
  • How are recipients to give their feedback?
  • What reaction is anticipated and how is that reaction to be managed?

This process will identify which individuals need to fulfil the roles of Sponsor and Change Agent and provide them with specific tasks. Equally important, it will also test their commitment to the change.

Prepare Sponsors and Change Agents

The third step in the process is to prepare the Sponsors and Change Agents for their roles. This is likely to involve some or all of the following :

  • Defining the responsibilities and levels of authority of both Sponsors and Change Agents.
  • Agreeing the detailed Communication Strategy.
  • Determining which individual will take responsibility for each action in the Communication Strategy.
  • Investigating all appropriate methods of communication and deciding which should be used with each target group.
  • Providing training and/or rehearsals for individuals prior to delivering messages.
  • Constructing a comprehensive process to capture all feedback and to monitor the Communication Strategy.
  • Conducting debriefing sessions with communicators and agreeing the next steps.

People will always behave in unexpected ways. Planning and careful preparation will not prevent unpredicted reactions. However, the approach outlined here reduces the uncertainty in the change process and prepares you for the unexpected.

Sources and Recommended Reading

Kotter, J P, Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail, Harvard Business Review, Mar-Apr 1995. A brief and readable introduction form an acknowledged authority.

Conner, D R, Leading at the Edge of Chaos, Wiley, 1998. The sequel to Managing at the Speed of Change expresses the current thinking of an influential figure whose frameworks have been applied in many organisations

Frith D, Smart Things to Know About Change, Capstone, 1999. An accessible, well written and entertaining guide to give you instant savvy in this relatively new field