by Leigh Ann Gowland, founder of Employee Driven Change
The old adage “the only constant is change” often flippantly quoted negates the importance of good change management. It is important to remember that not all change is created equal and the value of a good change management strategy lies in understanding and supporting unique change management requirements of the business. To demonstrate the importance of carefully constructed change management strategy we explore factors to be considered in three different business change scenarios and how change management could support these efforts.
Consolidation of businesses
In fast paced global markets mergers and acquisitions seem to be happening daily; either driven by cost saving, growth of offerings or to secure a competitive advantage. While corporate governance processes are carefully managed the impact of people change is usually underestimated. Unfortunately messages highlighting the benefits of being part of a global corporation or optimised cost to income ratio do not resonate with staff as well as these would with shareholders. This is where change management can be employed to facilitate the transition and elicit unassailable buy-in throughout the organisation.
1. Alignment of cultures: Structural shifts and functional changes disturb business relationships, loyalty and sense of belonging. If not sensibly addressed by leadership it results in higher prevalence of individualistic behaviour instead of team oriented performance. Do not assume the dominant culture will subsume other corporate cultures as a result of peer pressure or management authority. Change readiness and change impact assessments can provide insight into employees’ response to change, the intensity of resistance and any underlying issues. Based on in-depth understanding of the context of the change the process of defining and embedding a new culture can be facilitated through employee interaction and structured conversations.
2. Consolidation of management structures: In global corporations executive management are often based in head offices removed from local operations increasing the gap between senior and middle management and creating new challenges. People pursue what they think is right when there is lack of direction from management. Regardless of technology and processes employed in a company there is no substitute for direct engagement with employees and involvement in issues on the ground. Without infringing on necessary levels of work, change management could be used to implement communication strategies and align people management processes to support management and employees’ maintenance of cross-functional, geographical, integrated relationships. It is the responsibility of implementers and leadership to do the “rewiring of networks” to be fully operational.
3. Role clarification: Process and system standardisation supports alignment of business functions and input into renewed job descriptions but role clarification extends beyond a list of system and process related courses and an electronic logon. Change impact discussions, job aides and process walk-throughs could help staff gain an in-depth understanding of the planned changes. To facilitate integration and interaction across divisions, process mapping or service level agreement workshops are useful mechanisms to identify and resolve any issues and promote common understanding of expectations.
4. Transparent objectives: Structural changes are the quickest and easiest way to reduce costs or remedy previous bad decisions but it also causes immediate and lingering disruption if not managed constructively. Organisational restructuring is a journey which should include iteration of change to best manage the cost of lost expertise, on-boarding, up-skilling and the use of external consultant services. At each stage of restructuring, communication messages must be transparent and encourage collaboration to determine the optimal approach to change. Restructuring always takes place within an existing organisation therefore alignment to current people management policies and practices must be communicated and managed.
Business Process Outsourcing
A business case for typical business process outsourcing emphasises projected savings based on reduced resource and infrastructure costs, economies of scale and growth in productivity. However the estimated time to achieve return on investment may be longer than planned due to change management issues. All the expected benefits of business process outsourcing depend on how well the outsourced function fits with your business.
1. Alignment beyond standardised business processes: Activity level processes are often completed as part of the scoping or pricing requirements for business process outsourcing. The objective of these process maps is to determine capacity and responsibility requirements of the outsourcing company and provide input into the service level agreement contracts between the organisations. Unfortunately there are factors that may not be captured in these processes including, exceptions, error processing, country specific ways of working, customer expectations, report interpretation requirements and history of the process. Policy and procedure documents provide the framework for operating but require contextual understanding and hands on knowledge to effectively support business requirements. Knowledge sharing through job shadowing or discussion groups promoting users participation provide opportunity for users to interact and learn from each other.
2. Encouraging teamwork: Establishing healthy team dynamics amongst a team in the same office is sometimes challenging, but consider the effort required to align teams from two different countries, companies, cultures and languages. Lack of trust across teams may result in duplication of effort and minimise any projected business case benefits. Establishing common goals or metrics and effective open communication channels across teams are valuable tools to support teamwork. Educate teams on cultural differences, different working styles and conflict resolution skills to equip staff for building productive team relationships.
3. People management cannot be outsourced: Despite the fact that the outsourced team is no longer directly on your payroll and the daily house-keeping issues such as leave are no longer your problem, the interactive nature of teams extends people management issues beyond your team. Conflict management, communication and succession planning within both teams should be carefully managed by a joint management team because any significant changes or disruptions in the outsourced team or between the two teams could impact the productivity within both your organisation and the outsourced team which may negatively affect your customers.
As organisations become bigger and more complex there is a growing need for standard processes and standard systems to support compliance but should this include standard people? Integrating systems, processes and data across geographies, different statutory requirements and languages is a cumbersome and costly exercise but the change management budget is usually pulled when the project goes live.
1. Integration: Processes, data and technology are all important components of global standardisation projects but are not the complete solution. Throughout the project management process systems, processes and people should be managed in an integrated manner. One element like data quality should not consume the attention to such an extent that all other aspects fail. If integration is not applied peoples’ jobs either become too cluttered and unstructured including the old and the new or become too structured prohibiting incumbents from venturing beyond the new requirement. It could stifle improvement and optimisation.
2. Only people can manage people: Management’s inability to deal with the change themselves leads to them being absent in engagement where they actually need to facilitate the process of change. Global centrally managed systems are very effective in enabling standardised reporting and comparison across areas but these systems should never replace the managers’ role of managing their people. No push of a button will empower and motivate staff to achieve optimal performance. Focus on metrics may promote submission and compliance it is also likely to diminish staff trust in leadership and drive the wrong behaviours. Development of a change management strategy that integrates key business drivers with organisational values and the unique requirements of the business could promote trust between management and staff and enhance business performance.
3. Get it right the first time: Budget constraints and pressure from stakeholders pushes managers to implement projects quickly and fix problems later. Unfortunately numerous releases and project phases may cause confusion and change fatigue amongst staff. When planning global standardisation projects involve change management advisors in advance to plan the change journey to minimise the pressure on staff, identify important points to re-energise staff and promote momentum to maintain positive perceptions of the project.
Have we become too comfortable with living with the pain of change or are we bold enough to address key business change issues beyond the business case? Assuming ownership of the implemented solution is noble but does business have enough competence to properly embed and sustain a new way of working to get to improvement and optimisation where the real value lies. It is time to become serious about the role of change management.
About Leigh Ann Gowland is an independent change management consultant and the founder of Employee Driven Change, and assists companies with large change initiatives while making change work for individuals. With fifteen years of experience in change management, human resources, and workforce transformation, she understands individual and business change across industries, projects and corporate cultures. Her approach to consulting and coaching styles is informed by Systems Theory and her passion for empowering others to understand and drive change and apply these skills.
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