Hi Andrew! Can you start by telling us a bit about what you do and how you help organisations?
My professional background is Business Psychology and, over the last 20 years or so, I’ve specialised in the area of Talent Management. This ranges from front line recruitment right through to Board level succession, but a large part of my time is working with middle and senior leaders as part of performance, career or succession systems. This is a group acutely aware of change, leading and implementing change for their businesses, as well as dealing with it at a personal and professional level.
I also work with a mix of clients and consultancies helping develop online applications. One of these applications is around change leadership – it gives leaders a tool and a framework to guide them in identifying different change strategies and tactics.
Change is a constant in today’s environment – why do people find it so difficult?
You could turn this on its head and ask: ‘Imagine what it would be like if change was very easy’. Wouldn’t that make for a very confusing and bewildering life! Individuals would find themselves being pushed and pulled in any number of directions – by their manager, their peers, their organisation, their family, friends and so on.
Our brains are naturally hardwired to be resistant to change. The term for this is homeostasis; our bodies prefer equilibrium – they can’t recognise the difference between a ‘good’ change and a ‘bad’ change – they just recognise that change is happening and want to revert back to the starting point. An example. The temperature in the room increases. Our bodies recognise this and homeostasis kicks in to pull our temperature (adjusting our clothing, sweating, etc) to a tolerable level. For organisations trying to introduce and manage change therefore, they are up against a fundamental principle of human nature!
The other key factor is that change brings uncertainty and Psychology tells us that people don’t like uncertainty! Change is often quite vague, quite abstract and we don’t always know what it means for us. Often, we’re not sure exactly what we will gain from the change, but we’re pretty sure there is a risk of losing something, and generally this is not appealing to us. Naturally therefore we feel quite wary when change is announced.
For many, there is real scepticism around what we actually mean when we introduce change. Often, labels are used such as ‘Transformation Programme’ or ‘Project XXX’. People may have had a negative past experience where change has been introduced as one thing and turned into something else altogether. Many organisations are now paying the price for using inauthentic language 10, 15 or even 20 years ago.
Of course, change comes with challenges and any organisation embarking on change should not expect it to be an easy ride. However, in my experience, with clear thinking, awareness of how incentive systems help or hinder, and bespoke support it really does not need to be as difficult and arduous as many in the “Change Management Industry” proclaim. The often mentioned “70% of all change management initiatives fail” turns out to be something of an urban myth.
What’s the single biggest reason for the failure of change initiatives?
Lack of, or poor communication is a big contributor. Language and terminology used is often pitched at the wrong level. Organisations tend to talk about change in quite a rational, systematic, logical way that focuses on the process and project management of change. However, people aren’t listening to the words; instead the emotions of anxiety, fear, concern, anger are responding, and the logical message does not always get through.
We pull out the PowerPoint deck and tell the story about the reason behind the change, how it affects the business and our customers – and we think that’s enough of a ‘story’ to convince others of the change. We need to find a better way of connecting with people’s emotions and feelings
Is there anything organisations can do ahead of a change initiative to make it easier for their workforce
It very much helps if the organisation has a legacy of trust and integrity and of treating their people with decency. Employee engagement and a supportive and collaborative culture all create ‘credits in the bank’.
For organisations with little credit – low trust and engagement - the need for change is likely to be higher but the chances of success are much lower. Organisations who renew themselves regularly and keep their employees engaged in the process find that change just becomes a part of doing business.
What advice would you give to an organisation embarking on change?
Think it through. Not just from a ‘top down’ senior management perspective but also to see it through the eyes of the employee. That will shape the strategies and approach that you choose to take
What about the affected individuals themselves – is there anything they can do to support their personal transition?
I think this is very much about the programmes and support that the organisation puts in place for the workforce. Many organisations run workshops such as personal resilience and self-management, and these are genuinely very helpful. However, people can be sceptical as they may see this support as a ‘tick box’ exercise; the employer needs to be seen to be doing ‘something’. This can prevent employees from fully engaging with transition services put in place to support them.
How important is communication in the change process?
Sometimes employees are looking for clarity of communication that simply isn’t possible. They are asking questions but they are not getting the answers – perhaps the answers simply aren’t yet available, or there may be issues of commercial sensitivity. There’s a fine line between limited communication which results in whispering, rumours and people second guessing outcomes versus the official PowerPoint deck which tells the story but doesn’t really tell people what they want to hear. Maybe we’re back to leaders and managers acting with authenticity and sharing with their teams what they know and doing it in a humane and responsive way. More 1:1’s, more debriefs – that kind of thing.
What would you say is the biggest pitfall of change?
I would say seeing change management as a ‘one size fits all’ recipe, for example using a fixed model, framework and process – the kind of “7 must-do steps for successful change” - that creates a prescribed sequence of activity. Organisations are different, and organisational life is messy. Of course there are guiding principles to follow, but organisations must be prepared to adapt and improvise.
Many organisations don’t pilot enough. Pilot communications and processes with a senior team, or perhaps the HR team to see what works well and what doesn’t before rolling out to the whole workforce. This will give you a chance to see what works well and what doesn’t.
It’s so important to find a tailored, bespoke solution to fit your organisation rather than relying on a change management consultancy standard ‘box of tricks’. When it comes to change management, one size really doesn’t fit all!
To find out how Working Transitions can support your workforce please contact us on 01604 744100 / www.workingtransitions.com