Prometheus Consulting - Organisation Development and Strategic Human Resource Consultancy

 Managing change 

 Ten key steps - a formula for action 

  1. Get the right top team in place.
  2. Say what managing the future needs to be like.
  3. Combine top-down and bottom-up energy.
  4. Realise a vision of the future.
  5. Put new behavioural norms in place.
  6. Tackle the process of decay.
  7. Use training alongside other interventions.
  8. Talk a different language.
  9. Communicate freely and openly.
  10. Monitor and measure.

 1.  'Change the people or change the people' 

You need a senior management team you can trust, with the necessary skills, shared values, fully committed to change. Colleagues need not share your views on all issues of 'how' or even 'what', but they must be fully aligned behind your agenda over 'why, 'whether' and 'when'. To establish who is part of the problem and who is part of the solution requires an audit:

Key audit questions

  1. Who is with you? Who is against you?
  2. Who understands what you are trying to do? Who doesn't?
  3. Who accepts the need for what you are trying to do? Who doesn't?
  4. Who can
    • shake things up?
    • actively lead change?
    • offer support with the change?
    • cope with the change?
  5. Who has the requisite skills for the necessary changes?
  6. Who has enjoyed career success under a previous culture's values, and has a vested interest in keeping the organisation as it is?
  7. Whom do you wholeheartedly trust and can work with? Who lacks your confidence?
  8. Who is supportive of change and well-intentioned, but holds views different from your own and should be listened to and kept on board?

If managers are unable to make the changes expected of them, remove them from positions of influence. The more senior they are, the more this matters and the quicker it should be done - for the good of the company and everyone in it.

This action sends a powerful message to the organisation. The symbolism kick-starts a new mindset around tenure and change. It links company and personal performance, and demonstrates that top managers have to bear pain as well as inflict it on the organisation. It also finely balances fear of insecurity with hope for a better future for the majority.

 2.  Competent future management 

  • How do your organisation's current management strengths and weaknesses map against your new mission, vision and goals? How does management collectively need to change?
  • What is the profile of individual manager your organisation needs in future if it is to be successful? Limit this to core skills, attributes and values. Leave maximum scope for diversity beyond this bare minimum.
  • What competencies are going to be less relevant - even counter-productive - in future? What new competencies will be needed? Which current ones will remain relevant and enduring? Ask "what do we need more of, and what do we need less of?". Focus competencies on change, not on 'motherhood' statements.
  • Where is your organisation in its life-cycle? What will enable it to remain youthful? Which managers have passed their peak in their own personal or job life-cycle?
  • What size management team will be needed in future? Limit the size and number of levels, especially in head office general management.

 3.  Top down plus bottom up energy 

Change is rarely neat and tidy. The dynamics of organisations are too complex for change to follow a precise plan. It is a somewhat chaotic process, with a mind of its own. But tell yourself that not being in full control is OK. Indeed, the organic nature of change spawns diversity - healthy for coping with an uncertain and complex environment.

Change is a process and an ongoing way of life more than an event or a period. So set a clear vision and direction, rather than a detailed plan. Then stimulate and license initiative and energy. Forces from within the organisation can help you and go beyond mere readiness, willingness and support for your exhortations. Stimulate dissatisfaction with the pace of change; this puts pressure on senior managers to change faster.

 4.  Realising a vision 

It is difficult for managers to change the status quo as part of their everyday job. That is why projects are needed to bringing about change. But most projects are designed to solve problems. Solving problems is a necessary, but not a sufficient, platform upon which to create something new. Change-management projects begin with a vision of how things will be. (To make the distinction clear, Britain's House of Lords was a problem for the Labour Government. By eradicating hereditary peerages, that problem has been solved, at least in part. But a new role and composition for a recreated House is no nearer.)

Create a compelling picture of how you really want things to be in, say, three years' time. Distinguish between the business and the organisation needed to support it. Get the (outwardly focused) business variables right first: right products, clarity about the customer, competitive prices, etc. Then consider the (internally focused) organisation variables; e.g. structure, competence and relationships needed to serve this business.

Share your vision. Get other inputs. Create as wide a discussion as possible. Generate excitement. Try imagining that you have arrived at your destination; then look back and ask what it was that you did on the journey that brought you here.

Define what you mean by future 'growth'. There are many ways to grow, not simply in size. There is growth in health, confidence, reputation, security, pride, quality, contribution, and so on. What will growth mean to customers, employees, investors, suppliers and the wider community?

 5.  What or who is 'norm'? 

Identify the current norms of everyday organisational behaviour in your company. How do things get done round here? Who is allowed to speak to whom? How honest are people with one another? How fast is the action? What happens when people get things wrong? What is the normal means of communicating? How good is 'good enough'? Express all such issues as current norms. Identify which are unsuited to the future. See what is holding these norms in place. Establish who are the chief 'carriers' of these norms; change them if necessary. Express your desired future norms. Plan how to replace old with new.

 6.  Arrest decay 

Entropy - nature's well-known principle of decline and decay that comes with ageing - applies to organisations too. Frequent interventions are needed to arrest the process and inject rejuvenation. Log the outwardly visible signs and symptoms. Examples: internal factions putting their own interest first, managers blaming things on 'the management', memos replacing face-to-face discussions, rampant bureaucracy, success-induced arrogance and complacency. Decide and plan how to combat such decay.

 7.  Use training along with other levers 

Training is a popular intervention. But if intended to bring about organisation change, it needs to be used alongside, and in support of, other reinforcing action.

Training for change: key principles

  • Realign structures, promotion criteria, objective-setting, performance appraisal, rewards and recognition, plus related systems, policies and practices.
  • Use training to support change by linking it with this other reinforcing action.
  • Design training that springs from a top-down agenda for organisation change.
  • Ground training in the real-life problems, opportunities and context of the organisation.
  • Decide if you need more change or more uniformity at this time. Distinguish between learning that unleashes potential and leads to healthy divergence, and learning that converges behaviour around a point of view or a model of best practice.

 8.  Speak a different language; see a different world 

A new organisation needs a new way of talking. You can't be different, yet continue talking in the same old way.

Make a clean psychological break between the past and the future. For example, if selling off unwanted businesses, talk about solving past problems. Get this problem-solving language behind you. Then begin talking positively about creating the future.

Use unfamiliar expressions to shock and cause people to notice that things are going to be different. Talk about 'change projects', 'centres of best practice', 'hot teams', 'diagonal slice meetings', or whatever terms challenge the ways things have always been done through conventional hierarchical management.

Use language to turn change into 'business as usual'. Change becomes the norm. Don't falsely promise a return to normality once the change is over.

Seek continual incremental change, rather than saving it up for a major upheaval and transformational change.

 9.  The medium is the message 

Make sure as many people as possible at the same time hear of, and can discuss, future plans for the organisation. This way you prevent messages being corrupted as they pass down hierarchies, you hear feedback directly, and you build a critical mass quickly.

Publish managers' e-mail addresses and encourage exchanges that cut through existing protocol and hierarchies. Speak directly to various levels, copying in those in the middle. Encourage wider dialogue.

Use an intranet to allow contrary views to be aired legitimately. Dissent contains energy; don't ignore it. It's better to keep it within the company and avoid being surprised.

Talk with those who actually know, not those whose role it is to know. Exploit networks alongside hierarchy.

Instead of saying, for example, "We will be merging", say "We have merged and are now consolidating."

When people have good reason to say they can't do something, add the word 'yet'.

  10.  How are we doing? 

Adopt measures for both the process of changing and what you want outcomes to look like. Focus on both business factors and organisation factors.

Monitor and measure what is important. Don't expect to be able to measure everything that's important.

Involve your various stakeholder groups in feeding back their views on progress; e.g. customers, employees, investors, suppliers, the community.

Aim for some quick 'hits'. Let people know how you are doing, and acknowledge success.

Look before you leap; try to anticipate unintended consequences. But don't miss the boat by perfecting your plans before you make a start.