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Organisational change: good news from the front lines

Organisational change: good news from the front lines

By Eileen Garger who can be contacted at www.blessingwhite.com

"Semper Gumby." Coined by the U.S. Marines during the 1991 Persian Gulf War to characterize the moving-target nature of their mission, Semper Gumby is the perfect battle cry for today's business environment, according to Betsy Blee, Senior Director of Leadership Development at Pfizer -- and a retired Marine herself.

Change is the only constant. Mantra or cliché, it's the truth. In a survey we conducted at a recent OD conference, 80% of survey respondents said their organizations experienced three or more major changes in the last three years. Highlights from Blessing White's Recent Survey of OD Professionals:


1. Changes Experienced in the Last Three Years

>> Reorganisation/restructuring 76%

>> New senior management team 57%

>> Downsizing/layoffs 36%

>> Merger/acquisitions 32%

2. Biggest Challenges to Successful Implementation

>> Equipping line managers with tools to effectively work change 31%

>> Keeping employees focused on the benefits of change 24%

>> Helping staff remain productive 17%

>> Managing rumors and misinformation 13%

3. What Has Been Most Helpful Personally

>> Support of my manager and/or team members 38%

>> Support of my senior management 24%

>> Formal education/training 17%

>> Taking personal time to re-energise %

We called a few front-line change agents to see how they're faring as they usher wave after wave of change through their organizsations. Would they be too battle-weary to even pick up the phone? Actually, what we found was very encouraging. Although change is still difficult to execute well, folks have found strategies that not only smooth the way for them but also keep them feeling downright positive.

1. Keep seniour leaders actively involved

"Leaders walking the talk" was cited as one of the most critical factors in successfully implementing change. Yet for a majority of respondents, there is a gap between what they know works and what actually happens: nearly 70% rated their senior executives as only "marginally" or "somewhat" effective at implementing change initiatives.

How can you keep seniour managers active owners of change? Steer them away from the "Our-Work-Is-Done" syndrome, suggests Maureen Gavahan, Senior OD Consultant at Fortis Health. She advises her senior leaders that they have to "slow down to go fast." It's a gentle reminder that just because they may have been planning, preparing for, and living with a change for months, it's still new to everyone else. They're not finished. It will take the constant and consistent involvement of senior management for the organization to achieve desired results.

At Selectica, a company that designs and develops customised e-commerce software applications, executive ownership of initiatives is purposely built into the change process. "Good change depends on quality of execution," says Russell Williams, Vice President of Human Resources. To that end, each initiative has an executive sponsor whose job it is to continuously "pave the way and educate the audience on the impact of the project."

2. Address the facts and feelings with formal and informal communication

"Ongoing and effective communication" was cited by 60% of respondents as the most helpful factor in implementing change. While most organisations readily buy into the value of ongoing (frequent and formal) communications such as e-mails and town hall meetings, "effective" is harder to pinpoint. For Gavahan at Fortis Health, it goes back to ownership by the senior team and line managers. If communications are "left to others [or the internal communications team] to figure out," she says, they can be "open to varying interpretations by the employee population" and lead to misinformation. When leaders drive the conversations from the outset, there is more credibility, less grapevine, and no need to go in and manage misperceptions down the road.

For Selectica's Williams, effective communications are inclusive, candid, and decidedly two-way. They "let people know where you are -- not just the good things, but the obstacles and hurdles, too -- and promote constant and constructive feedback." For people to see "the real benefits and why they should invest," he says, communication must support "a flow of dialogue" around how they are feeling about the information coming at them.

3. Culture Can Help

A strong company culture where leaders live the values can make changes in direction easier to swallow. In a world where "whatever road map you put out today will be obsolete next week," as Pfizer's Blee puts it, her company's established culture provides the bedrock consistency that actually helps people spin on a dime.

At Selectica, change is seen not as some "radical idea" but as something "fundamental to good -- i.e., profitable -- business," says Williams. His company's culture of inclusion makes sure every employee knows how his or her actions and decisions affect every revenue dollar, as well as how the company measures success. He credits this positive, effective culture to Selectica's collaborative, open processes and core values of "being authentic, promoting ongoing dialogue, and working at being honest with each other" with mitigating resistance to change and inspiring new thinking.

Culture aside, Fortis Health's Gavahan admits she is personally "energised by going into the new." What fuels her energy, change after organizational change? Besides embracing the unexpected ("You get to the same goal and there's less recovery time"), as she sums up in practical terms: "If you become complacent, you'll get knocked over."

Reprinted by permission of Link & Learn www.linkage.com


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Gary Watkins

Gary Watkins

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