This article provides an introduction for anyone planning to implement a change programme in the workplace. Its key aim is to assist in the planning process by covering the basic building blocks of change.
change is inevitable and change matters. While the pace of change may vary within organisations, there will be no remission in the extent of change in the world outside. This factsheet is intended to help organisations accept change as an integral part of the management agenda, whether such change be driven by external forces such as economic or market trends, or internal forces, such as those accompanying a total quality management programme.
What is change?
The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines change as "making or becoming different". While this may be too vague most management dictionaries do not attempt to tackle a definition.
Managing change involves accomplishing a transition from A to B and handling the problems which arise in getting there.
Change will result as a consequence of the interaction between equipment (technology), processes (working procedures), organisation structure and people. A change to one of these four elements will inevitably lead to changes to the others, because the organisation is a living, evolving system.
An action checklist for change in the workplace
1. Think the change through
Read a book which tackles change management; for example, John Kotter - A Force for Change or Rosabeth Moss Kanter - The Change Masters. Reading a book will take a day or two - the change process itself that you are trying to manage will take longer and cost a lot more - especially if you get it wrong.
Ask what kind of change may be involved from a broader perspective. Will it include job content, responsibility, new - unknown - tasks, new methods of working, new skills, new relationships, threats to security, new training, re-training?
Will it be something on a broader scale that involves re-thinking what the purpose of the organisation is, or should be?
2. Build the change culture
Build commitment by:
- sharing information as widely as possible and communicate clearly and confidently
- allowing for suggestions, input and differences from widespread participation
- breaking changes into manageable chunks and minimising surprises
- making standards and requirements clear
- being honest about the downside
Develop a culture that supports change by:
- recognising prevalent value systems
- creating a blame-free culture of empowerment and pushing down decision-making - but clarifying decision boundaries
- breaking down departmental barriers
- designing challenging jobs
- freeing time for risk and innovation
- focusing on the interests of all stakeholders
Get the people right by:
- recognising staff needs and dealing with conflict positively
- being directional without being directive
- involving everyone
- earning commitment and trust
- developing relationships
- understanding how teams work
- recognising one's limits and others' strengths
3. Appoint a champion for change
Change programmes benefit from a 'champion' to galvanise the plan and the action. The champion's credibility is of paramount importance, as is sufficient seniority and a proven track record. The champion must also be lively, energetic, passionate and committed: if you are not the right person to be leading change, recognise it now!
4. Build the right team for change
Select a high performing team with a mix of technical competencies and personal styles, not necessarily all at senior levels. Most members should be respected individuals from within the organisation, not outsiders. You need 'movers and shakers' whose commitment is not in doubt, but temper them with a few known cynics. All should have earned respect within the organisation and be widely trusted and credible.
5. Build the case for change
Develop an outline of what the organisation will look like at the end of the culture change programme. Include structures and culture: will you move from a hierarchical to a team-based culture? What will the implications be? You might know why the organisation needs to change but you need to persuade others; everyone must be convinced of the urgency of the
need. Draw up a clear, compelling case, which marshals both quantitative and qualitative arguments. Spell these out in terms of business objectives linked to a vision of where the organisation will be if change is successful. In reality, persuading people of the need for change can be a complex and sensitive business which can appear odd if it comes 'out of the blue'. It may be useful to bring someone in from the outside to act as a catalyst but this needs to be managed with care and sensitivity.
Given that the changes are best owned by the people implementing them, it is most practical to get a group of staff to identify the change factors themselves - then they see and understand the need for change. A health-check of the key factors in mapping change includes:
- Leadership - Does the leader set an example and foster learning and development?
- People - Do people think naturally about what's coming next? Or will
- the next change be met with the same old shock and horror?
- Control - Do measurement and procedural control stifle creativity?
- Integration - Do we have a business of people in separate boxes or do we mix across areas and responsibilities?
- Processes - Which are the key activities which give us our strength?
6. Define the scope of change
To be successful, a change programme must have the right scope. Define its coverage and limits rigorously. To be fully effective change needs to operate in six dimensions:
- markets and customers
- products and services
- business processes
- people and reward systems
- structure and facilities
7. Draw up an outline plan
Plan for change in the way you would for any major project. Cover:
Vision: what is the 'big idea' behind the change? What is the organisation striving to achieve? This must be clear and compelling.
Scope: what needs to change if the organisation is to realise its vision?
Time frame: what will change when, and in what order? Radical change takes time, especially if attitude change is involved.
People: who will be most affected by change and how? Who will play prominent roles in implementing change (the change agents)?
Resources: how much will the change cost? Will there be offsetting benefits?
Communications: will you need new mechanisms and structures to communicate with front line employees?
Training: have you allowed for the training of managers and front line employees in both hard and soft skills associated with change?
Organization structure: will changes be needed, for example towards a flatter structure?
8. Cost the change programme
Change can be expensive, particularly if it is associated with plant closure or redundancies. Recognise this and draw up a separate budget. Don't underestimate the 'softer' costs of training, or the communications the programme will require.
9. Analyse your management competencies
Senior managers need to be fully committed to change programs to guarantee their success. Establish from the outset whether the management team is signed up to change, and address honestly the position of those who are not enthusiastic supporters. Make sure that senior managers are included in those consulted for proposing change factors.
10. Identify the driving and restraining forces
In any organization, there will be forces driving and forces restraining change: you need to identify both sets. Plan to reinforce the drivers, or add new ones; and to weaken or lessen the restraining forces, through education. This will usually be a slow process, but it can be helped by frank discussion, and even more by positive success.
11. Outline the change program to line managers
Use your plan to outline to line managers the likely impact of the program on structures, people, processes and products. Seek criticism and feedback and use them to refine the plan and build consensus in favor of change.
Communication with clarity and impact is the key to successful change. Communicate continuously with stakeholders - employees, customers, suppliers and owners - as you plan and build the program. Be open and honest with employees about the likely extent of change. Don't allow rumour to circulate: be frank.
13. Identify change agents
Although change is initiated at the top, and led by a change team, it has to be driven through the organisation by change agents. These need to be the organization's own employees, not external consultants. Select people who are committed, enthusiastic and who can command respect. Plan to train them and use them to champion and cascade the change program throughout the organization.
Dos and don'ts for effective change
- Think big: many change programmes fail to deliver the expected results because their ambitions are too narrow, or not radical enough
- Tap diversity: find out the opinions of newcomers and 'outsiders' within the organisation and tap the views of customers and suppliers
- Be patient and persistent; change takes time
- Underestimate the cost of change: build in costings for repeated communications and training efforts
- Embark on a major change programme until you are convinced you have the absolute support of the top management team
- Bulldoze through resisters to change; instead listen and persuade
How to be Better at Managing Change
D E Hussey
London: Kogan Page, 1998
Create that Change: Readymade Tools for Change Management
Steve Smith, ed.
London: Kogan Page, 1997
A Real Life Guide to Organizational Change
George Blair and Sandy Meadows
Aldershot: Gower, 1996