Continuing the first of our new series of essential mini-guides, Steve Macaulay and Sarah Cook look at effective change managemnt.
Part four: The manager’s role in change
For change to be successful, a lot rests on the shoulders of managers, who should be seen to be a critical catalyst in contributing to the implementation of change. The front-line manager during a period of change must address the following elements:
Recognising the need for change in their area and then taking active steps to bring everyone along with them through the change process.
Spreading the change message and listening carefully to themes.
Managing the team
Creating a high achieving team when it is undergoing change involves the manager in dealing with a change agenda through the following areas:
- Managing resources – including people, information and money.
- Creating the right conditions for performance – including setting objectives and giving feedback, and pay and incentive methods which give a fair reward for effort and achievement.
- Managing the Interface outside the team – how the team relates to others is reinforced or eroded through its day-to-day contacts, so managing the team’s ability to be helpful and responsive is important, especially under change conditions.
- Developing individuals – business environments are constantly changing, but they also provide a wealth of development opportunities. The manager in such a situation needs to keep everyone, including themselves, up-to-date. Personal development can build resilience to handle change and is a powerful motivational factor for many people.
L&D’s role in strengthening a team during change
HR and L&D can do much to support managers and their teams in times of change. Here are some suggestions to assist the manager in the development of a team operating under conditions of change:
Keep people informed through regular communications. Give regular feedback on performance. Examples might be the results of attitude surveys, letters received from customers on the quality of service, costs for the month, output from the team. Many organisations find a physical or social media electronic notice board useful, with regular performance and information updates.
Encourage knowledge and understanding of each other’s jobs to give you flexibility but also build cooperation and break down individual focus at the expense of the team. Set up small task or project groups to get tasks done as well as building team cohesion.
Occasionally organise out-of-work events to cement team spirit.
Encourage everyone to know their contacts outside the team and their needs. Where necessary arrange visits or introductions. This keeps a focus on internal or external networks.
Encourage suggestions and ideas for improvements.
Agree standards and objectives and monitor individual and group performance against them; involve team members in these.
Deal with conflict openly and fairly. Encourage a cooperative, supportive approach.
Keep a close watch on team morale, which is prone to dip in pressured change environments.
As conditions change, L&D can help team leaders to facilitate team reviews using these questions, perhaps away from the normal work environment:
- What is the purpose of our team, and who belongs to it?
- What are the values by which our team will work together?
- What are the main objectives and goals that the team is working towards?
- What are the roles, critical resources and decision-making processes by which our team will deliver these objectives?
- Who will deliver what, and by when, and how will individual activities be coordinated and aligned?
If each of these questions is clearly answered and communicated within the team, then there is a high probability of success.
The role of the manager as team leader is to provide a framework for the team to deliver change, which involves co-ordinating its efforts, ensuring good communication, creating a motivating climate, and assisting in the resolution of problems and conflicts that arise. Effective teams implementing change need to constantly review their performance.
Part five: Implementation of sustainable change
The announcement of a new change strategy is often followed by insufficient follow-through. Yet this is necessary to ensure that any change is long lasting and sustainable. Putting insufficient investment into sustainable performance makes it much harder to recognise and correct fundamental problems which may inhibit the long-term success of any change.
This guide spells out what line managers and L&D professionals must be alert to, and what steps they must take to ensure implementation will work for the long term.
Develop a change implementation plan
It is important for managers to develop implementation skills and to know how to translate a company’s change aims into individual areas of responsibility and accountability. Disappointing results from change management initiatives can often be tracked back to poor execution.
To increase the chances of success, managers should approach implementation in a systematic and a planned way. It is particularly important to carry people along with you, so be aware of issues such as team spirit, rise and falls in energy levels and responses to setbacks and successes .
Putting together a comprehensive change implementation plan requires the manager to think ahead and take decisions about the nature of the implementation and the context in which they are making their decisions.
This planned approach to implementation is more than a set of techniques; it inevitably requires flexibility and attention to organisational culture, individual and group attitudes and the development of measures and processes to make change stick.
It is a necessity to equip those involved to understand how to execute change successfully and how to take the initiative in making change stick. In particular, there needs to be emphasis on enabling managers to develop implementation approaches tailored to their organisation’s context, rather than to a standardised recipe.
They must understand:
- The difficulties and pitfalls of implementation
- Strategies to manage implementation within their organisation
- The importance of focused measurement, coupled with regular communication, feedback and involvement
Managers need continuously to keep asking three important and probing questions and to take action on the results:
- Where are we now?
- Where do we want to be?
- How do we close the gap?
Targeted performance measures are vital to provide some of the necessary information. Also required is a measure of honesty in assessing whether early success is being maintained and taking action accordingly.
How L&D initiatives can strengthen sustainable change
- Coach people: Coaching allows people to work through solutions and changes themselves using skilful facilitation and this is undoubtedly valuable in arriving at high quality solutions and engagement with the required changes.
- Build participation: Change can be effectively driven by employees at all levels in the organisation and front-line employees are the best people to identify problems and opportunities within their departments. This is an effective way of getting to the root of what works well and what does not.
- Encouraging people to feel that they are part of the solution creates a favourable climate for individuals to work with change and take responsibility for the outcome. Don’t neglect motivational aspects in the long haul towards the main goal: recognising success and reaching milestones is a good time to celebrate and keep up morale.
- Encourage individual authority and responsibility: Set up structures for employees to be valued for their contribution, for example, through open Q&A sessions, feedback forms, away days – these are ways which give expression to examining existing ways of working and to develop ideas on how things should change.
Also, L&D should support leaders to enhance the skills of all those involved, so that they apply techniques which allow them to do their job better. Encourage people to take a fresh look and to review processes and practices in their department and devise new approaches by working in a collaborative way.
The full story of change needs to take account of how to handle events down the track, as practice spreads and the change programme develops and adapts.
Implementation is more than a set of techniques; it has ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ aspects and inevitably requires flexibility and attention to organisational culture, individual and group attitudes and morale, as well as the development of measures and processes to make change stick.
Part six: The importance of communication in change
Organisations that successfully deliver change will typically undertake regular and relevant communication with everyone involved. Yet all too often, employees feel left out of important changes – even when management say they are giving plentiful updates and listen to feedback. It is critical to ensure the genuine involvement of employees in communication.
Experienced change leaders never underestimate the amount of communication that needs to be carried out. People can easily create rumours and fill in the gaps if things are unclear; this can be damaging and make the whole change process take much longer and resistance run deeper.
Prepare early for change
Communicate the purpose of change, what it involves and the impact for employees. Give regular updates and offer opportunities for question and answer sessions if appropriate.
Tailor the message to different groups. For example, middle management is often identified as the main obstacle to improvement, yet often they are not sufficiently involved in the development and maintenance of any initiative.
Surveys show that individuals in organisations overwhelmingly want to be kept in the picture and have a say in any changes that affect them. Paying particular attention to the information needs and contribution of important opinion formers is essential in bringing about any necessary substantial changes. Effective communication also involves plenty of informal communication by leaders.
Communicate a vision of the future
One of the most important things to do as a change leader is to develop and communicate a clear and attractive vision of the future. Resistance and confusion frequently develop during organisational change because people are unclear about what the future state will be like.
Talk and actively listen
Supporting people through the worst can require counselling skills that most managers do not possess and there is a tendency to manage what can be measured and ignore someone’s deeply personal, subjective emotional experience in favour of performance management. You need to take the time to talk to people and actively listen to them.
Steven Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People describes the required levels of listening as follows:
“When another person speaks, we’re usually “listening” at one of four levels, we may be ignoring another person…we may practice pretending…we may practice selective listening…or we may even practice attentive listening. I mean listening with intent to understand”.
As well as the quality of the listening, the quality of the talk and outward behaviour is critical too. The change leader needs to be consistently behaving in the way that they would like others to follow.
Seek and communicate feedback
Change initiatives provide a useful opportunity for organisations to seek feedback on all aspects of the way they work. Such feedback needs to be passed on to all employees. Regular research should be used to support initiatives by checking changing needs, both externally and internally, and to act as a benchmark by which to measure the effectiveness of the initiative.
The results of research should be used to recognise and reward required new behaviours at regular intervals. Research can play an important part in developing an initiative only if actionable changes are proposed as a result of surveys.
Customers and competitors are constantly changing and companies need to continue to improve to remain ahead.
Review of progress
Measurement of customer satisfaction or employee opinion can provide the starting point for a review of progress with a change initiative. Are the original objectives of the initiative still valid? What are the successes of the initiative – both tangible and intangible? Have our expectations of standards changed?
As many key groups as possible should be involved in the review process – employees, customers and suppliers – and a further plan of action should be developed as a result of the review.
During change, the principle has to be: communicate, communicate, communicate. Provide a compelling vision of the desired future state. Explain how people will be impacted by the change and the benefits it will bring. Listen and seek feedback and be sensitive to others’ views and opinions.
About the authors
Steve Macaulay and Sarah Cook are development specialists and performance coaches who focus on helping leaders and organisations to achieve sustainable change. Steve can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org; Sarah, at email@example.com