Management of Change – final research part – Enabling people to change

“Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organization is transformed; the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day.” Frances Hesselbein, The Key to Cultural Transformation, Leader to Leader (Spring 1999)

In the last post, I talked about the biggest positive impact in enabling change, Agility, how to recognise it and also develop it. This final article in this series is about enabling people to change by defining different behaviours to enable the change.

The role that a “change agent” plays in the organisational change is significant and should not be underestimated. Change agents do not have to be the leader of the change. Rather, change agents are people that are considered to be key supporters and enablers of the change. I have seen successful change agents at all levels of an organisation, not just in the “C” suite.

One method of change, is to talk about change as an event or a series of events that are led by someone who is specifically given the task within in the organisation. This approach will fail due to the fact that the change is though of as a task, or a physical activity, which it is not. You can not buy change as a product and expect people to put it on, somewhat like a number jumper.

Another method is concerned with getting people to buy-in to the change, almost like they are passengers on a “change bus”. Imagine a London red bus that you can hop on and off of at any point. Is that what you want your people to feel and engage in as part of the change? This method also relies on building trust, compliance and commitment. Again, back to the Red bus metaphor: you trust that the driver knows the route, is safe and considerate and will get you to your destination on time. You, as the passenger have to buy a ticket to get on the bus and conclude your journey – that is the compliance part and the commitment is that you will not get frustrated at the time the journey is taking, or get worried about the passenger that just got on, and get off before the journey ends.

The latest thinking on the right method of change, is built around an engaged set of change agents at all levels of an organisation, working together, where change as a constant theme. This method is about setting the context for the change in the broader world and market; seeking active employee feedback on the key changes that need to occur; prioritising coaching and support of the change, and where change is a constant integral part of the organisation, rather than change events on their own. As well as allowing the employees opportunities to try new things without fear of ridicule and rejection – it is concerned with positively allowing them to succeed as well as fail and in failing, not, and I repeat, not punishing them for any failure.

It is all about emotional engagement, rather than a sequence of tasks. You need to “get inside their heads” as it were. You can consider the following questions as a way to engage the employees in the change. I have used an analogy of a lack of new customers in a retail store to provide answers:

Q: What is the underlying challenge? A: Lack of new customers in the store.

Q: What is the business goal? A: Grow the number of new customers by x through increasing the number that both enter the store and purchase goods as a result.

Q: What type of business decisions do you need to make to help us grow the number of customers? A: As a shop assistant, I need to be aware of the broad range of our products and services and the benefits they bring when talking to customers.

Q: What information would you need to help you achieve that …… “awareness” A: I need product brochures and an understanding of the benefits. I need to know where in the store those products are, so that I cnaquickly direct the customer to the right location.

Q: How would you explain the benefits to someone  A: Think about describing it to your partner, mum, friend. The benfits of using product x

After all, it is about walking in the shoes of the people that in the front line of the changes in your organisation, rather than treating them as if they are a passenger on a bus. So the next time you are planning a major change event, reflect on the key messages from this short series of fives posts. They include:

  • How do you embrace change?
  • The time it takes to recover from a change event and the speed of the changes you want to implement?
  • What accumulated impacts are your people and the broader organisation going to experience?
  • How agile and flexible is the change programme you are developing?
  • Finally, how do you enable people to hange? How do you get into their shoes.

I hope you have found the articles of interest and have sparked your own thoughts on change.

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