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Encouraging teams to invest in organisational change

Professor Julie Hodges, Associate Dean for MBA and DBA Programmes had an article on organisational change published recently in AMBITION, the magazine of the Association of MBAs (AMBA). The following article is published with their permission.

Increasing volatility means businesses that are agile and proactive in terms of organisational change, are those that will be successful. Julie Hodges shares insight on how to engage teams across businesses with a culture of change.

The success of organisational change (OC) in a world of increasing volatility is highly dependent on the engagement of employees. Only by engaging employees does change have a chance to be successful. When individuals are engaged with OC they tend to feel optimistic about it and are more receptive to the need for change. They are also more focused and will invest a lot of their energy in participating in the change. When employees are engaged in change they can observe the influence of their contributions so everyone is invested in its success.

Conversely, when change is imposed and employees feel unable to influence change within the organisation, this may lead to them withdrawing which can then result in a decrease in their engagement with OC. When people are disengaged, they have little or no emotional attachment to change, do not care about the rationale for the change or its goals, and rarely participate actively in the change process. Disengaged individuals are more likely to feel apathetic, cynical or detached and to perform tasks in a robotic manner without putting in any effort, and they will tend to be negative about the change. A key differentiator between an engaged and a non-engaged employee is the degree of personal investment they have in OC.

So what drives individuals to engage with OC?

Leadership and management play important roles in creating a culture for effective OC engagement. To do this effectively requires traditional leadership styles (such as top down leadership) to be dismantled in favour of distributed and collaborative styles. By distributing power and decision-making about OC more widely, and particularly among those who have the most to gain, organisations can respond to the complexity and uncertainty of change through collaborative leadership. Enacting this style of leadership can be deeply uncomfortable for some people and can even produce feelings of vulnerability, particularly for leaders who are used to knowing the answers and being in control. Creating the momentum for this requires investment and a shift in the practice of leadership so that it is collaborative and incorporates a stakeholder perspective of OC engagement based on mutual reciprocity.

Engagement with change also requires positive support from management. It is managers, given the nature of their role, who are in the best position to directly affect engagement on a daily basis both at an individual and a team level. This requires the reversal of traditional command and control approaches to management. It means that line managers have to create the motivation and energy a team needs for engagement and must make space for employees to effectively engage. It also involves translating the rationale and purpose for OC into what it means for front-line staff, identifying the implications of the change and developing the capability of the individuals and teams to deal with changes. As it is mainly, though not exclusively, through managers that employees have a relationship with the organisation, managers need to focus on building mutuality and social support. How line managers manage people, and the relations they build with them, impacts on levels of OC engagement. Line managers play a key role as facilitators of OC engagement in making it possible for other people to do what they must do and what they want to do and in boosting engagement levels of the people who work for them.

So while effective leadership of OC engagement is about enabling it to happen, management involves making it happen in a mutually beneficial way. Both play a vital part in fostering OC engagement which can be done in a number of ways including the following:

Reviewing and redefining the role of the leadership of OC engagement

Leaders need to show the way in engaging with OC in what they say and how they behave. This requires Leaders to address the following questions: How, and to what extent, do you ‘show the way’ in a change initiative? How do you help others to pursue it? What do you understand about engaging others to pursue the change? How do you do this? How effective is it? How can you do all this better?

Creating meaningful change

This requires connecting the rationale for OC to the activities and meaning of it for all employees. The rationale and purpose of change can contribute to OC success if they are orientated towards the embodiment of concrete activities that employees can use to choose their own actions and construct meaning. Leaders and managers need to consider how they can improve this.

Understanding and practising effective management of the OC engagement process

This comprises understanding that OC engagement is a long-term and on-going process that requires continued interactions over time in order to generate obligations and a state of reciprocal interdependence. It also comprises finding out what resources and support are most desired by employees and most likely to create a sense of obligation that is returned with greater levels of OC engagement. Leaders and managers need to consider: How well do you do this? What do you need to improve? How can you achieve this? What do you need to do to resolve any areas of doubt?

Identifying whether and how employees are engaged in OC

This requires reviewing whether and how people are involved in the change effort by influencing, motivating and inspiring them to want to do what needs to be done, and to devote discretionary effort to it willingly and eagerly. This involves leaders and managers considering the following: To what extent do you know what motivates and inspires each of your team members, both collectively and individually, in their everyday work and in times of change? How do you use your position and personal power to effectively engage employees in change? How can you do all this better?

Be clear on negotiables and non-negotiables

There is a need to be very clear with employees about what is within their power to shape with OC, what is not up for negotiation, and why. This will help with managing expectations and help people understand and accept the decisions which need to be made without their input. This requires leaders and managers reviewing how they engage stakeholders and what they can do differently.

Employees should be given the space and support they need to be able to speak up and share their views, ideas and concerns. Leaders and managers need to review how they engage people through various forms of communication (not just emails), such as via staff meetings, and drop-in sessions and give people the space to ask questions and get answers. This also means taking time to listen and to feed back to employees about what they said and responses to it. For example: ‘You said . . . We did . . .’. If it is not possible to take action based on views and ideas, then reasons need to be given.

Identify relevant behaviours

Managers need to identify behaviour that indicates a lack of engagement or opposition to the change, discuss these behaviours with the individual/s concerned and address the issues which may be concerning individuals, such as job security, financial impact, work relationships, levels of responsibility and learning and development needs. It is vital to identify the root causes of opposition to change.

Review personal concerns and reactions of people to the change

Employees at different levels of an organisation have different experiences of the organisation. Managers should not just assume that employees will view the need for change in the same way they do. Because of the knowledge front-line staff hold and because of their experience, they may have very different perspectives and ideas about what needs to change. They need the opportunity to share these views in OC conversations. Managers should consider ways they can stimulate conversations about change both in formal and informal settings.

The above are some suggestions that can help to foster OC engagement so that it is not thought of as something else that has to be done, but instead, it is seen as crucial to how change in organisations is agreed, implemented and sustained.

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