Change is inevitable, and, it is incumbent upon organisations to accept it as ‘BAU’ (Business as usual). It is therefore imperative for organisations to periodically evolve themselves in order to accommodate the flow that goes on within the ecosystems in which they thrive. With changing times, a "Big Change" becomes essential to better position an organisation for long-term success. For such times, a proper preparation is required. There has been an exponential increase in the need for organisational change in this last decade. Experts have estimated that three decades ago, the largest companies typically had only one or two simultaneous enterprise-wide change initiatives. Today, that number is about 25 changes! As change initiatives have become more frequent and widespread, the importance of managing individuals through change has gained greater prominence. Substantial changes can affect organisations across all levels. It has been admitted by many corporate leaders that failing to lead employees through change can prove to be costly. Employees who are dissatisfied with or are upset by change become less productive.
A change management programme needs to be dealt with extreme caution by companies, and, the employer should develop a detailed roadmap about the change initiative, an appropriate communication plan, and accurately integrated training programmes for the new phase. It will also help to anticipate a great deal of resistance, and it is only wise to be ready to tackle it in an efficient manner. It is important not to rush in to implement the change plan, and rather, take time with your change initiative. Doing it right can drastically enhance the chances of success. But, expediting it through the early stages may in fact derail you, since many of these concerns surface later in the project, simply killing the momentum when most needed.
Elements of a change initiative
- Detailed road map
- Appropriate communication plan
- Accurately integrated training programmes
You may have heard this before, but it is worth repeating here- people who help to plan the battle rarely battle the plan. While dealing with people’s concerns about change may seem like a lot of hand-holding, it is important for leaders to remember that they too had to process information and personal concerns before they were ready to discuss impact and implementation. People issues and concerns need to be identified towards the change initiative and handled appropriately by the leaders with the right information at the right time, and, this can substantially increase everyone’s trust and participation. This will allow people to refocus their energy on what needs to change and what they can do to help to make the change successful.
Impact of the VUCA world on change management
Achieving success with organisational change initiatives has always been difficult, and leading change in today’s VUCA world has become even more challenging. It is imperative for today’s leaders to be very agile and be ready for the scenarios that may suddenly hit them. Learning how to adapt and lead in a VUCA World, which includes situations of greater volatility and uncertainty in a globalized business environment has become the norm. The need to deal with scale, complexity, and new organisational forms often collide with the traditional organisational models and structures within which many leaders have learned to operate in the past. So, the basic assumption that past experience is the fodder for future leadership success is more open to debate than ever before.
In Quotes “Learning how to adapt and lead in a VUCA World, which includes situations of greater volatility and uncertainty in a globalized business environment has become the norm.”
The types of challenges a business leader faces today operating in a globalized economy is increasingly complex. In recent years, the world has continued to undergo a series of transformational shifts. ‘Survival of the fittest’ is the mantra in today’s dynamic environment. Organisations must ready themselves to change, if they are to stay relevant in today's hypercompetitive VUCA business environment. Rapid technological changes, a globalized economy, changing markets, the rise of e-commerce, and advances in computer and information technology while creating more threats, are also providing more opportunities for leaders.
Today, more and more managers must deal with new government regulations, new products, growth, increased competition, technological developments, and a changing workforce. In response, most companies or divisions of major corporations find themselves undergoing moderate organisational changes at least once a year, and major changes once every four or five years. Adjusting and flowing with the tide is the key to last through this phase. I would add a fifth element to the VUCA world i.e. ‘Failure Handling.’ As the number of changes is much more than ever, it is important for organisations to embrace failure with openness and learn from it. The fear of rejection should not come in the way, and, dealing with failure is becoming a key capability being sought in leadership. Dare to risk the change and going ahead with it without fear is the way ahead in the VUCA world of today and tomorrow.
Accompanying difficulties, challenges and communication breakdowns
Acceptance to change is the important ingredient for a successful change initiative. Success can be seen if the individuals are more receptive towards it, and failure often occurs owing to reluctance to change. Employees may also lack the specific behavioural traits needed to adapt easily to difficult changing circumstances, which could decrease their engagement and effectiveness and put organisational productivity at risk.
It is very important as to how you plan and announce the change, as people will have information concerns. Most of the time, it is noticed that leaders usually make a general announcement about the change without much explanation on why the organisation is moving in a certain trajectory, and why the change is a good idea. However, it is not the ideal way to communicate about the change initiative. If there is no proper understanding shared then there will be no acceptance of it by the people impacted. They would never be able to understand why the change is good for them. Hence, leaders should share information as simply and as completely as possible. In the absence of clear, factual communication, people tend to create their own information about the change, and rumours become facts.
A good communication plan that involves interactive sessions will ensure a good buy-in and the chance of success would multiply. The worst thing that can happen in such situations is that the decisions about major organisational changes are percolated in an unstructured way - decisions are made at the top management level and then they trickle down to employees. Therefore, employees are completely clueless about the agenda or reason for the change and its impact on them. Transparency, clear communication, and intent over content are the key ingredients. Due to basic human tendency, if there is a huge change in environment then people are primarily interested to know how the change will pan out for them. The immediate thought is if they have the required skills and resources to implement the change. It is important to remember that as the organisation changes, people may think their existing personal and organisational commitments are being threatened.
In Quotes “It is important to remember that as the organisation changes, people may think their existing personal and organisational commitments are being threatened.”
Other common obstacles include:
1. Limited employee participation
2. Lesser time allotted for training about the change
3. Attrition during any change phase
4. Dynamic environment of the market
5. Shorter implementation timeline
6. Technological malfunctions
7. Exorbitant costs towards change
Change management experts have suggested that unsuccessful change initiatives are often characterized by the following: -
1. "Big picture": The organisation's leaders have a vision of the change but no idea of how that change will affect the individuals who work there.
2. “Drilled Down”: Leaders relate their vision of what the end result of the change initiative should be, but do not give direction or communication on how the managers should make the change happen.
3. “Outside In”: Most organisations do not seek outside help with change initiatives, but businesses may need objective external input or assistance to accomplish major changes.
4. “Non-linear”: Managers work the project plan from start to finish without making even necessary adjustments.
How organisations treat employees during a change initiative determines how successful the change—and the organisation—will be.
Market consolidations, mergers and acquisitions
Organisational change comes in many forms. It may focus on creating new systems and procedures, introducing new technologies or adding, eliminating or rebranding products and services. Other transformations stem from the appointment of a new leader or major staffing changes. Still other changes, such as downsizing or layoffs, bankruptcy, mergers and acquisitions, or closing a business operation, affect business units or the entire organisation.
Until and unless, the contracts are agreed and signed upon, nobody openly talks about the ongoing mergers and acquisitions in the company, it holds true for most of the organisations, it is discussed publicly once the deals are final. So, it is hard for employees to mentally prepare themselves for the change. And then, the massive – and abrupt – disruption happens which puts people on edge, creating a flood of questions. “What else don’t I know?” “Is my job safe?” etc. They look for stability but are filled with a cloud of uncertainty, fear, and rumours. Sounds like a hard environment to work in, right?
‘Flight, Fight, or Fear’ is a common response for many employees, a merger or acquisition generally signals the need to look out for oneself. It is an obvious initial reaction from individuals to feel that their position or relevance might be unstable, given the uncertain environment. In the interest of personal gain and self-preservation, employees go heads-down into their own work with little regard for others.
Employees are sometimes asked to part ways with something during a merger or acquisition. Their friends may leave the company, the culture and love they had experienced could rapidly dissolve, or their own job role could change overnight. Considering the fact that they spend a significant amount of their lives at work, it is understandable that these changes can really impact employees’ psychological health, both in the office and at home. It is usually seen that one entity is more dominant than the other during an acquisition. This can lead people to believe there are “winners” and “losers.” In this case, emotions like pride and superiority can easily be spotted among the few who are a part of the acquiring organisation. Not all emotions around mergers or acquisitions are negative. Consider how you manage the emotions of those employees who are thrilled about the change. Some employees detest change while others will be motivated as they see the potential that lies ahead.
Is HR solely responsible for cultural change?
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