Seamless Change

Is it complacency or have we just lost perspective? If we look at organisations that cope well with change, some interesting things emerge.
Some of the more successful organisations have moved away from managing change as special event and have integrated the key concepts into day-to-day operations.
The result is workplace where change is part of the norm and causes minimal impact on individual performance. The effect is seamless environment where performance and profitability is unaffected and in some cases can increase when faced with change.
So where do we go wrong? The most common mistake is forgetting the impact change has on individuals and their reactions – the part that has the greatest impact on individual performance!
Most change will meet with resistance – even when it can be demonstrated the change will be beneficial!
Imagine changes in environment like work hours, changing the make up of team or move to an open plan office. How about changing organisational structure – especially if it involves changing levels of resourcing?
In some cases these changes may become legal issues, especially in terms of union involvement, strikes or prolonged or dysfunctional contract negotiations. At other times the reaction to change may simply cause temporary loss in productivity.
The typical reaction cycle begins with denial and confusion about the change and then moves to exploration and renewal about the opportunity change presents. It becomes complicated because individuals move through this cycle at different rates and with differing degrees of intensity.
The key is to move people through these reactions as quickly as possible. The quicker the move, the less the impact on overall performance.
Those that manage change well ensure that techniques are put in place to move individuals through these stages as part of normal business. They give individuals no other choice than change although they go to some length to explain why it is necessary, the impact and the benefits. They also ensure that the change produces tangible impact on the bottom line. Incentives often help as will ‘big bang’ approach – it is easier to resist small change.
Another key is communicate, communicate and then communicate some more. Key points are simplicity, variety of vehicles, repetition, mechanisms for feedback and most critically, clear leadership by example. And ensure individual buy-in. It is hard for people to resist their own ideas.
Organisations can learn these techniques or hire in expertise to help them manage specific change initiative.
But look at the enduring success stories – AT&T Credit Corporation, Federal Express, Motorola, Atlanta Braves and our own Team New Zealand – for them change is not major event to be managed but seamless way of operating, change is part of the norm.
Management techniques such as open book management, high performing organisations and peak performing organisations have number of lessons to help increase sustained performance. Successful organisations have integrated these principles into their every day operation.
At the top of the list is the value they place on individuals. They create an environment where people enjoy their work and like to turn up every day – they also let people know how much an organisation values their contribution.
A distinguishing feature of successful organisations is that they all understand the importance of communication. They not only share an enormous amount of information, but they make sure their people have the skills to understand the information and know how they as individuals contribute to overall performance.
They have also been established around flexibility – established to cope with change. Individuals in these types of organisations tend to join the ‘organisation’ rather than particular role. Their roles are set up to allow them to be responsive rather than constantly assessing whose job it is to do something.
Lastly, but no less important, teamwork is an overarching principle of the success of an organisation.
It all sounds easy doesn’t it? Everyone knows it and already does it, right? The reality is that most attempts at these things are tokens and few really understand how the above link to performance and profitability.
When was the last time you looked at the impact change is having on your people – or is it too hard?
Not every organisation has the commitment, not every electronics company is Motorola and not every yachting syndicate can win and retain the America’s Cup!

Jacqui Tizard is consultant with the organisational performance consultancy, The Empower Group.

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