Changing the workplace is easy; changing people’s mindsets is not. But with the right approach, it’s not impossible
NO ONE likes change.
At least that’s the theory. But the reality is that some people do. And some don’t.
Companies, looking to win over all their staff, perhaps just need to change their approach.
The master of management, the late Peter Drucker, was very clear about the best way for an organisation to implement change.
“You have to infuse your entire organisation with the mindset that change is an opportunity and not a threat,” he said. “People are secure if they realise that this time of sudden, unexpected and radical change is a time of opportunity.”
Someone who understands that change can cause emotional upset – and lead to a dip in performance – is Dr Fred Wadsworth, a medical director at UK-based Corperformance which has worked closely with INEOS in the past.
“Poorly-managed change processes can be seen as a threat and cause classic stress responses,” he said.
But he said the fear of implementing change should never deter a company from seeking change.
“An appetite for change needs to be present and developed but that can be achieved by setting members of staff effective goals, in which they believe,” he said. “Those threatened by the journey are usually the hardest to persuade.”
But even those, can be won over.
John Reh, a senior American business executive and author, said understanding what – and how – things needed to be done, was half the battle.
“You have to help your people understand what the change will be, when it will happen and why it needs to be done,” he said.
Roberta Katz, an Associate Vice President for Strategic Planning at Stanford University in America, described change as an iterative process.
“Individuals within an organisation will get on the change train at different times,” she said. “The leader will have to keep repeating the vision and repeating the strategy so that when everyone is finally on the same train, they will have heard the same message, and will understand the goal to which they are all working. If you are the leader expressing the change, you are bored, you are ready to move on, but you have to remember to keep saying it because even if someone has heard it 10 times, you may not get them to understand until the 11th time when something happens in their life to make it meaningful.”
Resistance to change can often spring from a fear of the unknown.
“We resist change but fear of the unknown can result in clinging to status quo behaviours, no matter how bad they are,” said Dr Stan Goldberg, a former clinicalprofessor at San Francisco State University.
That fear is often based on staff perception. And perception matters because it is their reality.
The good news, says Dr Wadsworth, is that perceptions – just like personality – can be changed.
“Personality is a fluid thing,” he said. “Values may be set in our teenage years and be like anchors on a seabed but the way we behave is more fluid, like buoys floating on the sea. They remain connected to our anchors but are open to change. That is why goals which are linked to our values are more likely to be achieved than those that are not.”
The late Mr Drucker said if a change looked like an opportunity, a company should put one or two good people to work on it.
“You need someone at the top who enjoys the unexpected,” he said. “That is crucial because there will be a great many surprises, and if every surprise is a threat, we won’t be around for very long.”
Mr Drucker said rapid change could be achieved without upsetting people if the staff trusted the company.
“Building trust is not rocket science,” said James Hec, a member of the faculty of theHarvard Business School. “It should be pretty simple, in fact. Don’t create expectations that can’t be met. Share knowledge. Hire, recognise, and fire the right people. Be consistent and predictable and avoid large-scale layoffs as much as possible.”
Dr John Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor, has written almost 20 books about leadership and change.
Last year he launched Kotter International Center for Leaders, a firm of world-class experts in helping organisations change.
“The rate of change is increasing faster than our ability to keep up,” he said. “Yet we expect leaders at all levels to deliver ever-better results – and sooner.”
David Carder is an engagement leader at Kotter International in America.
“We have seen many companies that are unable to truly capitalise on technology and change the way they want to because they are held back by their hierarchy and structure,” he said.
The bottom line, said Mr Drucker, is that change is painful, risky and requires a great deal of hard work.
“Unfortunately, you cannot manage change,” he said. “You can only be ahead of it. You can only make it.”
Top 5 tips for a company wanting to implement change
1 Keep staff in the loop – people like to know what is going on, especially if their jobs are directly affected
2 Inspire your staff – appeal to people’s aspirations and desires. Goals that are linked to their own values will be more achievable
3 Think ahead – changes should be made in the long-term best interests of the company, not simply to save money in the short-term
4 Be understanding – staff are more likely to accept change if they fully understand the reasons for it
5 Be realistic – Unrealistic goals increase fear, which increases the likelihood of failure