A. Many things cause organisational change. These include:
1) challenges of growth, especially global markets
2) economic downturns and tougher trading conditions
3) changes in strategy
4) technological changes
5) competitive pressures, including mergers and acquisitions
6) customer pressure, particularly shifting markets
7) learning new organisation behaviours and skills
8) government legislation/initiatives.
B. Certain key issues have a negative impact on effective change management.
Individual change initiatives are not always undertaken as part of a wider coherent change plan, for example through considering linkages between strategy, structure and systems issues. Therefore a change that considers a new structure but fails to establish the need to introduce new systems or processes to support such a structure is less likely to succeed.
Lack of effective project management and programme management disciplines can lead to slippages in timings, achieving desired outcomes and in ensuring that the projects do deliver as planned. Insufficient, relevant training, for example in project management, change management and leadership skills, can all impact negatively on the effectiveness of any change initiative.
Poor communication can be linked to issues surrounding the effectiveness of change management in achieving effective change in various ways. For example, imposed change can lead to greater employee resistance (see section below).
Change initiatives can also be over-managed, with too much energy spent on project management and too little on enacting change.
Finally, lack of effective leadership is an inhibitor of effective change.
C. Individual/group resistance to change
Resistance to change can be defined as an individual or group engaging in acts to block or disrupt an attempt to introduce change. Resistance is not necessarily negative, as it may be a clear signal that the change initiative requires rethinking or reframing (see below). Resistance itself can take many different forms from subtle undermining of change initiatives and withholding of information to active resistance, for instance through strikes.
There are two broad types of resistance:
Resistance to the content of change. For example to a specific change in technology, or to the introduction of a particular reward system.
Resistance to the process of change. This concerns the way a change is introduced rather than the object of change in itself. For example, management re-structure of jobs without prior consultation of affected employees.
Proposed reasons for resistance include: loss of control, shock of the new, uncertainty, inconvenience, threat to status and competence fears.
It is important not to assume that resistance is negative, and to try to diagnose the cause of employee resistance as this will help determine the focus of effort in trying to address the issue.
D.Making change management more effective
It’s clear that change is complex and there isn’t a single solution to managing it. However, a number of key areas of focus emerge. RResearch, in collaboration with the University of Bath, has explored these issues in the report Landing transformational change. The research identifies ten techniques, across three themes, which can be applied to a variety of change management scenarios to enhance the effectiveness of change programmes.
Designing the transformation:
Reading and rewriting the context
Leaders and designers of change need to be able to ‘read’ their context; to evaluate it to identify aspects that hinder change. They then need to design change programmes which first put in place initiatives to rewrite or rewire their context in a way that overcomes obstacles to enable the desired change.
Aligning strategy and culture
For transformation to succeed, designers of change need to align strategic and cultural aspirations. Using the new strategic goals of the organisation as a starting point, they need to identify a new supportive and goal-consistent culture in terms of beliefs and behaviours.
Radical change opportunistically
If open discussion and debate is encouraged in the top team this enables more proactive, opportunistic change to happen, as executives become more open to breaking with the past and transitioning out old business models as they become irrelevant.
Techniques for building understanding
Ambiguity and purposeful instability
Transformation can be facilitated if a change vision is ambitious yet also presented in ambiguous terms, with the deliberate intent of encouraging individuals to actively question and attempt to make sense of their situation.
Narratives, storytelling and conversations
Narratives and stories can be used as devices to make the content and implications of new strategies easier to understand, enhancing individuals’ ability to translate change into meaningful actions for themselves.
Physical representations, metaphors and play
Use of objects, metaphors, symbols and pictures – maybe as part of playful design as an alternative to traditional and often rather dry change workshops – helps to engage individuals and to enable them to translate change rhetoric into meaningful change-related actions.
Managing the transformation
Rather than implementing change through authority and control, in new forms of leadership transformational change is achieved through negotiations and social interactions with organisational members.
High levels of trust will deliver the enabling conditions in which significant change can thrive. Change leaders need to emphasise their trustworthiness by demonstrating their competence to design change intelligently, and their benevolence and integrity in the way they attend to the needs of the business, employees and the wider community. HR and L&D systems and processes designed and administered in a fair way, help foster trustworthiness in the organisation.
Voice, dialogue and rethinking resistance
In our more democratic workplaces, the actions of employees who raise concerns about change should not be labelled as resistance, but instead reframed and reinterpreted in terms of legitimacy of employee voice.
Emotion, energy and momentum
Change is often an emotional process and so emotional awareness by those leading and designing change is required to anticipate and plan for reactions. Those managing the change must also maintain levels of energy and momentum throughout the change process.
HR and L&D’s role in managing change:
Research demonstrates that people management and development professionals have a significant role to play in any change management process. They often act as ‘stage directors of change’ playing a critical role behind the scenes – appreciated by all, but not front of stage. HR professionals should – Be willing to work as the ‘hidden hand’ of change, highly relevant to its success. Work in partnership with the CEO/business leader and their executive team and as ‘back stage’ support for their ‘front stage’ activity.
Facilitate translation of the overall vision through mass communication, use of relevant techniques, and changes to interactions and entrenched systems.
Create change advocates, remove obstacles, act on measurement and ensure leader visibility.