HAVE YOU CONSIDERED? Change is a Challenge

Q I am the chief executive of medium-sized manufacturing company. We are strong exporters and thereby exposed to the full impact of “globalisation”. Consequently, we need to be constantly changing. I have initiated several change management programmes, all of which have failed dismally. What am I doing wrong?

A My sympathies are with you. Many change management programmes fail because they involve people and behaviour. But planned change is essential and inevit-able. Have you thought about how you and your management team are acting as role models for the changes needed? People are quick on the uptake when they see how their leaders behave. You may be very committed to the change but are your own direct reports supporting what you are doing? If they are not clearly demonstrating the future direction then any change management programme you try is likely to fail.
And do you have clear and simple vision of why the change is necessary and what is needed? If your people can’t grasp the reason for the changes quickly and comprehensively they probably won’t commit to doing anything about it. This is at the heart of the difference between management and leadership. Good leaders paint compelling pictures that show why something is needed. People then move quickly to implement it.
Check to ensure you have fully involved everyone impacted by the change. It’s more effective to invest time with people working through the needs and outcomes at the start of change programme. Do this well and you’ll spend less time later trying to implement it.
A final thought. How is all this being communicated? Managers often adopt quite formal processes for communicating needs and progress made. Look at how the informal networks are being used. For example, make sure the most influential people in the organisation are well informed. Your PA for instance. Get your managers talking about the vision for the change in their regular staff review meetings. This shows strong role modelling and simultaneously creates opportunities for discussion, understanding and commitment.
Yours is common problem in our constantly changing world. But there are some simple actions, often overlooked, that can make big difference.

Q I have 14-person management team. I can keep in touch with most of them but find our monthly review meetings chore. People either don’t contribute or contribute too much and dominate the group. This is particularly noticeable at our annual and half-yearly business review meetings. I plan to go on an overseas university-based executive management skills programme to help raise my team management skill level. Will this solve the problem?

A By all means go on high quality overseas executive management programme. If nothing else, it will give you access to excellent research and teaching methods and you will make contact with managers from around the world. However, I doubt it will solve your current problem. The issue is logistical rather than skills based.
The diversity of people delivers them with range of different needs and abilities. Your management team probably includes the gamut of behaviours and personality types, from extroverts to introverts, from big picture thinkers to practical, “let’s get on with it” types. You need this diversity in your team to create the dialogue and interaction that spawns new ideas and solutions. They also need the space to have their personal objectives met and to communicate effectively.
The issue is simple. Imagine inviting your 14 managers home for dinner. Let’s assume you have large dining table. Everyone sits down and you pour the drinks. The collective conversation starts but quickly moves on to number of smaller conversations between people sitting together. It is virtually impossible for everyone at the table to keep one conversation going. Now, imagine you invited say six or even eight of your managers to dinner. You would probably see different scenario. With this number they will likely maintain one conversation in which everyone is involved.
This is your management team problem. It is not possible for 14 people to sit round table and have dialogue that takes their different needs into account. You will, as you say, have some people withdraw while others hold forth.
Consider reducing the size of your management team allowing each member the space to contribute in their own way. If you can’t, for some valid reason, reduce the size of the team think about breaking the group up in some way. You might, for example, hold sub meetings on specific issues and shorter meetings of the overall group to communicate the outcomes of these smaller groups.
A large management team means communication problems that require more effort from you to ensure everyone gets chance to have input and impact.

• Kevin Gaunt, FNZIM, is CEO of NZIM Auckland and has been senior executive with, and consultant to, some of New Zealand’s largest companies. Address your problems to Kevin Gaunt or “my problem” at: [email protected]

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