Everyone agrees that managing change is tough, but few can agree on how to do it.
--BY SUJIT MUNDUL
“Change is inevitable” – there is no argument about it. The only thing is how it’s creeping into our lives. When we look around, we see changes have happened and are still happening. Perhaps, they are all happening on their own – a natural process, with its own momentum and irrespective of places and fields. We are all connected with these “changes”. Now let us look at the changes in the commercial world.
Everyone agrees that managing change is tough, but few can agree on how to do it. Harold L. Sirkin, Parry Keenan and Alan Jackson had studied the “change initiatives” of 225 companies and they found a consistent correlation between the outcomes of change programmes and four hard factors, which they termed “DICE”, comprising – project duration, particularly the time between project reviews; integrity of performance or the capabilities of project teams; the level of commitment of senior executives; and the additional effort required of the people (employees) directly affected by the change.
Over the last few decades, an incredible amount of research has taken place on “Managing Change”. Many management gurus have showered praise on the leaders who communicated a vision well and walked the talk to make “change effects “successful. They have emphasised on the importance of changing organisational culture and employees’ attitude. There has been no difference of opinion on the fact that at the heart of any “change efforts“ lies people– who work to ensure a successful “change”. Nevertheless, research carried out by Harold L. Sirkin, Parry Keenan and Alan Jackson shows that change projects fail to get off the ground when companies neglect the hard factors.
Management of change needs a strategic approach. There are four steps:
Determining the need: Core Mission, Culture-values, Market Conditions, Customer’s Competitive advantage, Resources, Capacity, Profitability, Timing, Risk and associated and external factors.
The next step deals with:
• Defining the future
• Articulate a vision
• Create Involvement
• Establish Milestone
In the next stage, it will be required to:
• Develop a change strategy
• What does/does not need to change
• Determining Resources & Information Needs
In the last step, the following should be performed with utmost care:
• Implementation stage
• Separate from the past - create a sense of urgency (i.e. time bound)
• Support a strong leader
• Plan the project
• Communicate and involve
• Reinforce and institutionalise
However, these four major steps with their elements cannot be taken as a blueprint for faultless change management. As a check list and used flexibly, they are likely to help avoid the worst mistakes that arise from leaving things the same, changing for little purpose or just managing good change badly.
Human beings are poorly equipped to adapt quickly to new situations. So, change creates uncertainty, anxiety and stress. It would not be out of place, to briefly touch upon the sequence of stages, which a recipient of change normally experiences, in reacting to new circumstances. Each stage can last for moments or for a longer period. The stages are:
Stage 1: Loss
It is associated with a sense of loss and fear in respect of the unknown.
Stage 2: Denial
When confronted with change over which they believe they have little control, individuals will often avoid responding at all by denying or ignoring evidence, problems or options for change. This is a kind of defence to avoid having to deal with a new situation and face up to these worst fears of the future.
Stage 3: Initial Adoption
As changes become more imminent or their effects more concrete over time, so reality intrudes. Now people must begin to face new tasks, work with a new team and possibly use new methods or equipment. The individual becomes aware that (s)he must come to terms with a new way of working or perhaps a new way of life. This can lead to feelings of frustration or anger as the difficulties of grappling with the new situation emerge.
Stage 4: Discarding
There now emerges a process of discarding. The previous stages have focussed powerfully on the past. Now people begin to let go of the past and look forward to the future. The analogy of composting would be a good one. The past is discarded but not destroyed.
The key to this change of heart from being past- oriented to being future-oriented is the emergence of a picture (eventually an acceptable picture) of what the change means for the individual. As the new picture emerges, new possibilities can be considered. Now the individual can begin to feel some involvement and even ownership of the change.
Stage 5: Planning
Individuals will begin to ask questions, and in all likelihood, talk constructively about the implications of the change for themselves and others.
At this stage, the former passivity or rigidity is overtaken by new energy.
Stage 6: Implementing
Often the new situation can’t be planned in detail. Frustrations and set backs are likely as individuals experiment in the changed conditions. It is important to build with small steps, acknowledging successes and learnings from failures while maintaining focus on the vision of the future.
Stage 7: Integrating
In the final stage the individual has become a part of the new system, process or organisation. Things are back to normal!
Managing organisational change remains a constant challenge. The source of change can be imposed on individual managers as organisations restructure, change processes, introduce new technology, develop new products or improve service. In these cases the manager is often expected to implement what has been decided elsewhere. In other cases, the manager is the initiator and seeks to create something new, better or different.
As we have seen earlier the prospect of any change can cause strong reactions from those who believe they might be directly affected. How people react inwardly (with enthusiasm or hostility) depends mainly on their perceptions of how the change will affect them- both in the near- term and long-term.
Critical to the success of a change programme is the willingness of the people to embrace the new ideas and practices and support the sprit and intention as well as the procedures. Hostility and resistance will make thinks delayed and expensive, sometimes, impossible to implement.
It is well-known that project teams handle a wide range of activities, resources, pressures, external stimuli and unforeseen obstacles. It is of critical importance that they must be cohesive and well led. Sirkin, Keenan and Jackson have opined that it is not enough for senior executives to ask people in the corridor if a project team is doing well. They must clarify a member’s role, commitments and accountability. They must choose the team leader and most important, work out the team composition. Top management makes public the parameters on which it will judge the team’s performance and how the evaluation fits into the company’s regular appraisal process.
During my long journey with an international bank I have had encounters with a variety of obstructions while handling projects of various dimensions. One theme came out loud and clear- people management to ensure the success of a “change project”.
The writer was a Member in the Board of Directors of Standard Chartered Bank Nepal Ltd.