Remind Me: How do you Manage Change?

'Change can deliver great workplace productivity'

Picture the scene. You are driving out to meet a group of executives in a financial services company to discuss ‘change management’. They have a reputation for being tough and you’re preparing for a grilling. What will you say to secure the business? Well, when you have 10 minutes to make a sale, you have to cut to the chase. Perhaps focus on the 5 key lessons which underpin successful change programmes. Here goes…

Step # 1: Why? The first big question in managing change is why does the organization need to change? What are the ‘today’ problems that need to be tackled? What would the creation of a better tomorrow look like? Is the message emotionally appealing? Does it tune into WIFM (“what’s in it for me”), everyone’s favourite radio station? If you can’t answer the ‘why’ question, fold up your tent and go home. People can only support what they understand. You need to make the rationale for change programmes crystal clear.

Last week we had a painter in the office. I was intrigued that he spent about 20% of the available time doing ‘preparation’ – patching up holes in the plasterwork, taping up glass panels to avoid splashes. Those in charge of organizational change projects could take a lesson from our painter.

To Do: Don’t just start changing the organization. Get your preparations done first and then execute relentlessly. Working on the ‘why?’ is the first step.

Step # 2: What? Deciding exactly what you are going to do is the critical next step. What are the key elements which you are going to change: Example: Our Business Imperatives are….

1. Grow commercial lines
2. Reduce claims costs
3. Grow personal lines business
4. Improve cost ratios

Upbeat Message: Where fear/negativity exists in an organization, you need to build in elements of a ‘positive future picture’ to aim towards. But you also need to be able to say, concretely, this is exactly what we are going to do NOW. And the senior team has to be ‘on one page’ with this stuff. Mixed messages unravel the belief that it can be done. Managers who do not want to lead on this, have to be confronted head on. There are no managerial spectators on this pitch.

To Do: Change your title to: ‘Director of Fog Clearance’ and make the immediate steps crystal clear.

Step # 3: How? Top down versus bottom up? There is an emerging orthodoxy that all change needs to be bottom up i.e. people need to be fully engaged and ‘buy in’ to change. This is management by staff survey. Our experience conflicts with this. Where an organization is in crisis you need a ‘slash and burn’ approach (with the rebuild phase coming later). Where there is less immediacy, a more robust engagement strategy can work really well. The method should not be decided a-priori, based on political philosophy. The situation dictates the route chosen.

To Do: Decide the optimum method to change your organization and have the guts to follow this.

Step # 4: Execute: Strategic implementation is the Achilles Heel of organization change projects. It’s the ‘hard bit’ where some managers want to chicken out. Managing change is a full contact sport. It’s not something which can be done alongside a busy day job ‘as time permits’. The best-managed organizations set up dedicated teams and war rooms and measure progress (‘Vital Signs’) relentlessly. Follow through is not left to chance. In the words of Stephen Sondheim: ‘Having just a vision is no solution; everything depends on execution’ (he could have had a successful career in management consulting, if he wasn’t busy writing all those musicals).

To Do: Put your best executive in charge of this. Someone with sufficient clout to get things done.

Step # 5: Invest: Like great marketing, change requires an up-front investment. Do you like the Guinness ads? The clear central message and the way they engage customers? Most people do. The real news is that you can’t do great marketing on the cheap. Change management is a form of internal marketing – with communications being the oxygen of successful programmes.

To Do: Put a sufficient budget in place to guarantee success. It will be a tiny fraction of the overall savings you’ll make.

So, there you have it. The elevator speech on successfully managing change. Ignore any of those 5 steps at your peril. Good hunting!

Paul Mooney

PS Tandem Consulting got the gig.


About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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