How to manage change

A recent CIPD podcast discussed the need to avoid a scattergun approach to change in the workplace.

Image of people at work in the background with technology overlay indicating techposter syndrome

 

Employees are utterly exhausted by constant change after the last year and senior managers need to recognise that if they want to add to their workload they need to take something away, according to a leading change management expert.

Speaking on the CIPD’s podcast, Melanie Franklin, Director of Agile Change Management, said “people are utterly exhausted” and that they often function on adrenaline during emergencies, but it is harder to climb out of the hole than fall into it. She stated: “I keep reading interviews with CEOs who are very proud of how their organisations have changed at pace. The theme is that they will continue to change at this pace. Everyone I know is saying they need time to catch their breath.”

Companies need instead to pick and choose what changes they make. Franklin argued that there are two levels of change: change at the senior executive level and more broadly among employees.  Senior executives, she said, need to focus on which changes they want to implement. “There are so many opportunities for change. It takes personal discipline to take decisions about what to focus on. There is a level of skill about decision-making and prioritisation that I am not seeing and it scares me,” she added. “What I am seeing is that people are trying everything, but a scattergun approach leads to exhaustion.” She added that leaders often have more ambition than resources – whether that is time, people or money.

Those experiencing change – employees – need practical guidance and simplicity, said Franklin.

Nick Williams, a member of the board of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said senior leaders need to understand and align with the purpose of the change being implemented and get employee feedback. He said HR’s job is moving from an administrative to a strategic function – and should link senior leadership and employees. Franklin said HR should challenge leaders who lack focus about the direction of travel and what is expected of staff and should be the voice of employees and speak up for how they should be supported.

Overcoming resistance

The podcast also covered resistance to change. Williams said there would always be a small number of people who couldn’t be won over. Franklin said resistance is to be expected because changing how things have been done is “mentally draining”. Too often, she said, people think decisions about change have been taken before they have been involved and responsibility for implementing change is simply added to an existing workload which already involves working overtime. The benefits of change are therefore outweighed in people’s minds by this feeling of overload. Instead senior managers should look to reduce people’s workload, for instance, cancel meetings, to buy people more time to adapt.

Franklin also advised that, due to the volume of change facing employers, it is important not to rely solely on external change management experts and to build internal capacity to manage behavioural change. “That will be the defining leadership skillset in the 21st century,” she said, adding that employers who think they can avoid change are just not going to be able to cope. She also stated that managers need to be evaluated on their ability to manage change, for instance, through reinventing their and other people’s jobs, in order to encourage them to keep getting better at it.

 

 



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