Much of the focus in the business world currently is external. New technology, the uncertainty of markets, and global health and social phenomena are garnering the lion’s share of this attention in many cases. Interpreting these challenges and what they mean for a business is a constant necessity. It requires leaders to take a hard look at the internal state of their organisations.
For organisations to withstand the ambiguity of today’s business climate, leaders need to objectively review how change-able they and their organisation are. They need to create a climate and culture where organisational change is part of the DNA, not an irritant to be endured. This includes identifying cracks in the organisational system that need attention to prevent them from expanding under the strain of more significant or higher frequency change.
People are an element of the organisation that cannot be overlooked. People live in and constantly shape the environment. If it's true that "nothing changes unless our people change," what are the significant people-related cracks in the system and to what extent have we historically papered over them?
One such crack is communication, which is often cited as a key contributor to change implementations that don’t deliver the planned benefits. How might organisations think about communication differently so it doesn’t become a barrier in what are now complex and ambiguous working environments?
Degrees of engagement in the change process
Two common characteristics of organisational communication are:
- The quality and frequency of day to day communication between managers and their teams is poor. Although they might be following established communication processes, the rating of managers on employee surveys regularly demonstrates that there is significant room for improvement in many cases.
- When something new is happening in an organisation, there is a heightened focus on involving and communicating with employees. These spikes are periodic.
For some employees this frequency and quality of communication is enough. Those who are self-sufficient, motivated and closely connected with what is taking place don’t require greater levels of interaction. They create their own engagement with the organisation. But this is not enough for the large proportion of employees who have less control over their day-to-day role.
The best organisations foster an environment where all employees are engaged with, rather than communicated to. Environments like this help employees respond to the constant change impacting them. They help employees make sense of the change and what it means for them, rather than stopping short at telling them what the change is. Organisations need to develop a culture of engagement where employees can share opinions and ask questions. This will make change communications more successful.
Leadership plays a crucial role in creating an environment where employees find it easy to engage. It’s as much about taking away the obstacles as it is about providing meaningful opportunities to connect at organisation, team and individual levels.
Engagement before and during change
By having conversations and sharing information with the team about the change, a leader will create a more engaged and change-ready team before undergoing the change process - a team that:
- has recognised the need for the change
- understands the goal or vision of the change
- understands the initial steps and anticipates ongoing updates as more is known
- believes the change is achievable
- feels involved or has participated in the change
As the change is implemented, communications are usually factual: why the change is happening, what the change is and the expected impact on people. It’s usually top-down and reinforced by the line manager.
However, those leaders and managers who have created an environment of trust and engagement with their team are likely to take the conversation a step further. What they are doing is helping the individuals through the change curve, even if they don’t know the model or use that language.
They are the leaders who want to know their team's reactions and concerns. They give them space to make sense of the change, answer questions and help them to work out what the future looks like. They provide encouragement as people recalibrate and re-engage and help those who are struggling.
The overlooked group in change management
Just as much engagement is required for a group of people who are often overlooked - those who are directly involved in planning and designing the change and those with a key role in delivering it.
In larger change efforts this might be a project team or change team as well as key Subject Matter Experts. It may also include the leaders with a governance role. Their engagement is important, not just in order for them to undertake the role required of them but to help the quality of their input and decision making.
Organisational change is about behaviour and leadership
What Kotter said in 2002 (Heart of Change) still stands true today: “…People change what they do less because of an analysis that shifts their thinking, than from a truth that influences their feelings…”. A leader who engages with their team and creates an engaged environment is much more likely to achieve this.
Anna Davis is the managing director and founder of Crossing Jordan® Limited, an independent change management consultancy. With specialist expertise in change management, organisation design and strategic capability development, she works with senior leaders across a range of industries and cultures to deliver high performance.
Crossing Jordan® Limited has designed and developed Change Dimensions® – a practical change management business tool delivered as three leading-edge intuitive Change Apps®. These apps help you manage change, on the go and on any device – change at your fingertips.