Change Management: A Behaviour, Not a Role

Change Management: A Behaviour, Not a Role

Insights | 20 March 2019

Dedicated roles to support change management have been around for some time. We’re all familiar with them and have probably worked directly with a change specialist. In many ways, working with an individual/team of experts in change management can help cement success, especially when an objective point of view is needed.

But change itself is not a role.

Managing change is about behaviors and it needs to be everyone’s job, regardless of role, tenure or industry. This is especially important as few organisations feel equipped to handle change properly.

An example is when the Australian Public Service Commission sought to assess the maturity of their organisation’s change management abilities. They discovered only 37 per cent of its agencies said change was managed well. Furthermore, employees described change as “poorly managed”.[1]

The inability to manage change properly robs businesses of the ability to “read disruptive changes in markets, identify new opportunities and to adapt.”[2]

Here are three critical ways we’ve found that will help you successfully navigate change:

Engage every level of leadership

The Centre for Workplace Leadership at the University of Melbourne and its annual study of Australian Leadership (SAL)[3] says that while senior leaders must certainly set the strategic vision, it’s really the mid-level managers who are the ones forming the true “experience of work” for employees, and this includes change. Leaders should lean upon this group for “creating a positive climate for innovation and performance,” the survey says. This group will be the ones who truly impact change management on a day-to-day level.

There are tools all managers can use to reinforce behaviours, from top-down feedback to mentorship and long-term coaching. Above all, though, give people time. There are a lot of headwinds when it comes to change. Be focused, but patient.

Get down to the 1-to-1

If effective change requires engaging every level of leadership, it’s also the time to engage individual employees. According to the SAL report, leaders must start considering their followers as “‘co-producers’ of leadership”. This shift allows leaders to understand that work—and change—is filtered through a “more complex set of interactions between formally designated leaders and their followers, and among followers working interdependently (in teams) with each other.”[4]

During these 1-1 conversations, paint a vivid picture of the new behaviours you’d like to see; don’t assume a team can just intuit what functionally needs to stay or go given these new parameters.

Finally, frame things in a positive way (when you can). For example, if an activity has become irrelevant due to automation, stress that the worker herself is not irrelevant. Describe exactly how this frees up time to now do more creative, strategic work – the kind no computer will replace. Make sure she has the training and ongoing motivation to be successful.

Don’t be afraid of external help

As much as we’d like to think professionals can separate business needs from interpersonal fears, we are all human, so it pays to keep this fact top of mind. We’re all guilty of reading the tea leaves when confronted with major announcements—who’s in, who’s out, and how does this affect me?

External players who are emotionally detached from these situations can sometimes act as better catalysts for new behavior patterns. What they lack in that cellular-level understanding, they can more than make up in providing clarity and focus. A few key benefits shared among change management professionals are: diverse experience, broader, more objective views of the organisation and its problems, and potentially more technical knowledge or skills/competence than can be sourced internally at that time.[5]

Change is never easy, but every company needs to change to stay relevant and competitive, especially as commerce gets ever-more global and our political and environmental systems strain to cope with new realities.

What is certain is that no one role can act as a “silver bullet” to managing change. Engage everyone (individual contributors, mid-level managers, outside experts) in the behaviours you know will reinforce the new (and hopefully improved) reality. By encouraging the smallest changes in that behaviour, change can become a lot less scary and a whole lot easier to manage.

Does your business require assistance with organisational change management? Contact us today on +65 6818 5771.

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