Sunday, August 22, 2010


(“Nature’s mighty law is change”- Robert Burns)

Organisations and their managers must recognize that change, in itself, is not necessarily a problem. The problem more often than not is less than competent management of the change situation. Why is this the case ? Possible, and many pratcising managers would concur, the problem is related to managers’ growing inability to appropriately develop and reinforce their role and purpose within complex, dynamic and challenging organizations. This problem can be compounded by failing to address and adapt working environments in the face of impending change: the organization exhibits inertia which in turn leads to the direct targeting of working practices for change. According to Burns change is now an ever-present feature of organizational life, at both an operational and strategic level. Managers must realize that one cannot separate strategic change management from organizational strategy, both must work in tandem. The importance of the human side of change cannot be underestimated, one must identify and manage the potential sources and causes of potential resistance and ensure that “motivators” are built into new processes and structures.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s organizations, both national and international have striven to develop sustainable advantage in both volatile and competitive operating environments. Those that have survived, and/or developed, have often found that the creative and market driven management of their human resources can produce the much needed competitive “cushion”. This is not surprising. People manage change, and well-managed people manage change more effectively. Buchanan and Hucynski identify the key managerial competence of both the 1990s and 2000s as being the ability to handle change, which in turn creates an increasing demand for the development of associated competencies. This once again places change at the centre of today’s managerial competency framework. Change leaders are seen as being a key feature in organizations. They both set the tone and are indeed part of it, they create and live within the social dynamics of the enterprise placing change at the heart of the organization

Managing change is a multi-disciplinary activity. Those responsible, whatever their designation, must possess, or have access to a wide range of skills, resources support, and knowledge, for example:

- Communication skills are essential and must be applied both within and outside the managing team
- Maintaining motivation and providing leadership to all concerned
- The ability to facilitate and orchestrate group and individual activities is crucial
- Negotiation and influencing skills are invaluable
- It is essential that both planning and control procedures are employed
- The ability to manage on all planes, upward, downward and within the peer group must be acquired
- Knowledge of and the facility to influence the rationale for change is essential

The list of competencies, or attributes, could be further subdivided, or indeed extended, as there is no such thing as a standard change event

Organisations over the past few decades have been moving towards flatter, leaner and more responsive structures. This has undoubtedly made many of them more efficient, in terms of their resource utilization and more effective in terms of their responsiveness to market demands. Technology has played a major role in ensuring that a coherent business approach and managerial performance can be maintained from a reduced resource base. The key to success in such moves has been the mobilization of the human resource. The revolution in organization design has been achieved by creating responsive working environments which emphasise the need to cooperate across and within functions; focus on service and quality, and search for holistic and integrated responses to trigger events; while encouraging participation, ownership and shared accountability

Will the 2000s be any different ? One would expect not. Managers and the organizations they serve will continue to strive to remain competitive in an increasingly global and complex market place. They will achieve sustainable growth only by embracing the power of communications technology, developing devolved supply chains and strategic alliances, and maximizing the return they receive from their accumulated knowledge base-their human capital. The knowledge they seek to exploit will be embedded across their supply chain and the barriers will be many, but ultimately success will depend upon their ability to tap into the human resource and release the potential. As ever the 2000s will place the leadership and the human resource, in particular their alignment with organizational vision and strategy at the heart of successful change management. Employees must be on “top form” and this can be achieved by considering their well being, stress levels, motivation and organizational loyalty. In today’s complex and challenging environment only by considering the employees “well-being” will organizations ensure productivity and alignment of interests during periods of change.

Responsibilities increase as the team matures and gains confidence. Teams are being asked to participate in the process of innovation and change, employers are seeking, and ensuring that they get, enhanced performance through greater involvement and empowerment.

For the manager this has led to an increasing emphasis being placed on project and teamwork, communications, customer awareness, auditing and quality procedures. The need to supervise, provide individual direction, motivate and control has diminished. Managers and leaders are being asked to facilitate events rather than direct; share responsibility and accountability rather than shoulder the burden; shape behaviours while building trust; and, develop and administer participative planning and control systems that build capacity.

There may be a danger that managers, amidst all this activity, lose track of their key responsibility and reason for being there in the first place. Managers are there to ensure that both they, and the processes and activities, for which they are responsible, add value to the organization as a whole. Managers of the twenty-first century are busy; they face challenging operating environments, multiple tasks and cross-functional responsibilities. In addition, they are increasingly encouraged to empower others and facilitate success. Ford and Greer suggest that we now may be in a situation in which organizations are failing to fully utilize traditional formal controls when managing change. It is becoming less clear who is actually responsible for adding value. Is it the organization as a whole? Is it systems ? Is it a combination ? Is it the manager ?

Successful change requires adherence to three key managerial rules – the holy trinity. The religious metaphor is merely intended to convey the importance of adhering to the rules. Those at the centre of significant change events must “buy in” to the process, without of course losing their objectivity , and believe with passion in the course of action about to be undertaken. If they don’t approach their task with commitment others are unlikely to be convinced, resulting in apathy and discord. Senior Management’s role in ensuring visible commitment and direction is pivotal. It is their role to set the tone and show belief

All so often the process, or the activities associated with a change, assume more importance than the change itself. It is often far easier to “talk good game” and plan for a future event than to focus the mind on ensuring successful implementation. The first rule of the “trinity”, maintain your focus, highlights the need to address such questions as: Why are we changing and what do we expect in return ? It takes effort to maintain the focus in a dynamic managerial and business environment. Attention and commitment will diminish as time elapses. Interest can be maintained by forcing the pace, organizing special interest events, recognize the core management team, employing “creative” communications strategies, and above all else ensuring continued senior management support.

No less important than maintaining focus within the “trinity” is the second rule of role awareness. Understanding the nature of the term “value added” assists not only in clarifying managerial roles but also in maintaining the focus. Change for change’s sake seldom results in any meaningful improvements. Change is costly, disruptive and potentially dangerous; it would be unwise to embark on the journey without first establishing that success would be both probable and beneficial.

The third rule of the “trinity”, maintain your goal, may seem obvious but it is often overlooked. Given that both the focus is maintained and roles remain clear, why raise the issue of goals ? The effective development and achievement of business strategies, as described in numerous texts, depends upon successful implementation, which in turn is dependent upon the effective management of the resulting change. Focus and roles apply to the change at hand, but by considering goals the discrete change is placed in the wider context of policy and strategy. There is little point adding value to a system that is at odds with the strategic direction of the enterprise, or in maintaining focus on a target set between moving “goal posts”. Change, whether strategic, tactical or operational, must be set in the context of general corporate strategy.

Excepted from CHANGE MANAGEMENT – a guide to effective implementation by Robert A Paton and James McCalman.

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