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By understanding the nature and dynamics of organisational change, managers will be able to channel the natural resistance from employees towards achieving success in sales and good work attitudes.
IN this age of new technology, changes are occurring each day in the workplace and in the industry. Standing still is no longer an option. Rapid changes require that managers re-evaluate how they may develop and implement change strategies.
The challenge for the manager today is to be able to deal positively with changes and endure the stresses that come with such changes. He must also help others to cope with the changes.
Change is inevitable in business as in life. We observe the changing of the seasons.
Traditionally, managers focus on planning, controlling, and directing the work of subordinates. Today, they empower trusted subordinates to do certain tasks and so have more time to plan ahead.
In the old days, workers are only interested in how much they are paid. They hate to take on responsibility and require close supervision. Nowadays, workers have changed: they seek new challenges and prefer little interference from their superiors.
Human resource managers have changed the way wages are determined. They prefer to base rewards on the skills and competencies of the employees and emphasise on group evaluations. The old way is to base pay on the job done and not on the individual doing the job.
Organisation structures have also changed with the times. The old structures have many levels of managers but over time, the structures have been flattened for faster decision-making and bottom-up participation.
Changes can come about when there is a merger with another firm or acquisition of the company by another. Major changes can occur when a new chief executive officer takes over. These changes are great as the new management may want to impose their corporate culture on the employees. Major changes occur when a company restructures or downsize.
Other changes not as drastic could be the introduction of new technologies, new systems or new products. Such changes mean that employees must adapt to new ways of doings things.
The success of any kind of change depends on the ability of the change agents who facilitate and provide support for the change processes. JM Wood et al in the book Organisational Behaviour, defines change agents as individuals or groups that take responsibility for changing the existing pattern of behaviour of a person or social system. Managers have to take on the role as change agents. They have to be open to new ideas, be aware of employees who resist change, and must assist in the implementation of new ideas and culture.
Dr Lim Peng Soon, president, Learning & Performance Systems, remembers being invited by the management team of a local small and medium-sized company to facilitate a two-day workshop on change and transition over a weekend. He says: "Initially, they were ambivalent about the need to address the human side of change, that is, the transitions that change triggers in people. The turning point came after the lunch break on Friday when they did an exercise to plot where people, including themselves, were in transition. That opened their eyes. They came away from that workshop with concrete steps and a new-found confidence to address the human issues on the relocaton of two factories from Singapore to Batam and the staff redundancies the change created."
To implement changes, one way is to use the top-down approach. In this method, managers depend on their authority to implement change. There is only one-way communication and the messages may be garbled. This approach is problematical and ineffective. It is used in the military services where ranks are respected. In the civilian environment, there may be resistance to cooperate.
Some change agents use their formal authority to implement change through threats of punishment or offer of rewards. Compliance under this model is temporary as long as the authority is there or the chances of punishment or rewards remain. Some agents depend on their special knowledge and the use of rational arguments to persuade others to accept change. From their knowledge, they convince subordinates that the benefits of the change are great and the change is for the good of the company and its employees. This model is based on the fact that people are rationale by nature.
Another approach to make changes easily acceptable is to involve others who will be affected by the change. Let them join committees that are involved in the planning and the making of key decisions for change. Since they have a voice through committee meetings they feel that they have some power to control changes.
Dr Lim believes that senior management, as change leaders, must adopt one set of strategies to address the "technical" side of change: the external issues like changing systems and structures, in response to the changing business environment. A change implementation plan is a critical piece of this strategy.
He says: "At the same time, they must also have strategies to address the "non-technical" aspects of change: the internal and psychological issues that are triggered by the change, that is, the transitions that people will experience as a result of the change, as noted by William Bridges in his work on transitions. A key strategy in managing transition is to recognise where people are in the transition process. Are they at the first, second or third phase? People in different phases of transition react differently to the change in terms of the emotions they express, their behaviour, and in their patterns of conversation. Therefore there is a need for change leaders to be flexible and versatile when dealing with people in transition."
A McKinsey Quarterly survey conducted in July 2008 highlighted several important tactics that organisations use to transform themselves successfully. Setting clear and high aspirations for change is the most significant. Another tactic is engaging the whole company in the change effort through a wide variety of means; a highly involved and visible CEO is important, but successful companies also use other communication and accountability methods to get the staff involved—far more methods than unsuccessful companies use. The survey found that "successful companies are far likelier to communicate the need for change in a positive way, encouraging employees to build on success rather than focusing exclusively on fixing problems".
The McKinsey survey found that a crucial role an organisation’s leaders can play is to ensure that communication about the transformation is as clear and effective as possible. The survey results indicate that respondents whose organisations emphasized building on successes, rather than focusing exclusively on fixing problems, are much more apt to consider the transformation successful. Half of the respondents were very successful in its communication about the transformation programme when they used an equal mix of emphasising both problems and successes.
Thirty-two per cent of the respondents were extremely successful when they emphasized on spotlighting where things already worked well and asking how to build on that success elsewhere.
The survey found that executives overall say that, among all the tactics their companies used to mobilise employees, they were least successful at ensuring that frontline workers felt ownership of the change—less than a third of all respondents say their companies achieved this goal.
Resistance to Change
Different employees react differently to change. Some like stability and fear change. They are happy to be doing the same tasks year in and year out. They may have reached the top of their salary scale but does not apply for promotional postings.
Other employees are always looking for something new in their job otherwise they get bored and dissatisfied. These employees are ambitious and may become negative in their work if they do not get the changes they clamour for.
Do employees really resist change, or are they resisting something else? Dr Lim says: "I remember one participant in a workshop who exclaimed: ‘They can change whatever they like in the organisation, but do it next year when I retire!’ People do not resist change but the transition the change triggers in them. The transition is about the losses people face as a result of the change. A restructuring in the organisation is necessary in the current economic times, but as a result of the reorganisation, someone or some groups will lose relationships, networks, influence, power, turf, and territory. The greater these losses, the greater will be the resistance to change."
Change leaders must first understand the process of transition. From an understanding of transition, a framework can be devised to "locate" where people are in transition. From this framework, specific strategies can be identified to address the different phases of transition people are in so as to facilitate their transition.
According to consultants Mark Dawson and Mark Jones in an article "Human Change Management: Herding Cats", contrary to conventional wisdom, "people resist change only when it makes them feel out of control—when change is foisted on them without their consent. The belief that it is human nature to resist change is the wrong starting point, because it creates an adversarial climate. Organisational change becomes a practice that must be forced on staff. Decisions are made by management behind closed doors without input from the very staff who are expected to change their behaviour. In today’s economic climate, most people understand that their job security depends on flexibility and adaptability. People are willing to change if they understand and accept the reasons, and have a say in the way their jobs are restructured."
Managers must provide information freely about impending changes. Unless full information is provided sincerely, the grapevine will take over. Rumours will help to build up resistance to change.
The common mistake we see time and again is that companies make a press announcement about impending retrenchment before announcing this to the employees. They are shocked to see it on prime time news and wonder if they are among those retrenched.
Another example would be the company advertises the vacancy for a new managerial post without announcing this to the staff and inviting them to apply. This shows that management has made up its mind that existing staff do not have the expertise for the new post. There is no harm announcing the position to the staff first. They are free to apply and compete with outsiders. The best person will get the job.
Management must give people time to express their opinions and support them if what they suggest makes sense. If staff must be let go, provide coaching, counselling, and all relevant information to assist them to accept the loss.
One way is to make the employees feel better if there is compensation for the loss in terms of money or benefits. For example, a supervisor who is transferred to another department will be saddened by the loss of the support and camaraderie of his loyal subordinates. One benefit management can give him is that the headcount in the new department will be four more than in his previous department. He may be satisfied with the added responsibility.
Given the rather dismal economic situation in the world currently, Dr Lim says that organizations must adapt and change. The types of changes that organisations will embark on can be grouped into three categories: structural, process, and cultural changes. There will be more restructuring and reorganisation, more streamlining of work processes, use of technology and outsourcing, and more demands on a workforce that can pick up new skills, behaviour and mindsets quickly. To handle these changes, managers should get the "technical" aspects right, and address directly the transition issues that will surface inevitably.
Dr Lim adds: "The transition issues are not some warm, ‘fuzzy’, touchy-feely stuff about people. These are real challenges facing change leaders. The quicker we address these issues, the quicker the organisation will go through the change smoothly, and with improved morale and performance among the employees—just what every change leader desires."
Copyright © 2013 Singapore Institute of Management.