Updated: Mar 28, 2019
Andre Degreef was lucky enough to be the first subject in the series of 'Kim's HR Insights', by Kim Keating, (Volume Assessment and Transformation Lead at Randstad).
She will be focusing on the challenges that organisations undergoing major change and transformation face in regard to their people. I sat with Kim for about half an hour and here's what she asked me.
KK: When you think about change management as a whole, what area do you think organisations are typically getting right and why?
AD: Organisations are generally good at identifying that there is a need to change and identifying the need or problem that requires solving. They are typically not so good at forecasting and predicting what will or could impact them in the future.
While not necessarily getting it 'right' yet, we are also getting better at identifying and developing an understanding that change hinges on the people and their engagement.
KK: What areas are they typically getting wrong and why?
AD: It is still the people component and specifically managing emotions and relationships.
Change plans typically assume logic and rationality in the stakeholders – they provide information and fact, focusing on perceived benefits and outcomes, but they don’t always address the 'emotionality' that is at the heart of change reactions.
Similarly – They tend to listen to respond, rather than listening to understand. The consistent focus of change plans is what are our key messages to the stakeholders, however there is little real formalisation in change planning in relation to what change managers can actually learn from their stakeholders beyond what is their resistance to our plan.
KK: What is the biggest lesson you have learned in this area?
AD: The most effective change manager in any organisation is the CEO or the leader of the division or team engaged in change. Transformation must be driven from the top and the leader must be able to drive a cultural message of 'join me on this journey' and then lead the journey. Organisations who rely on or expect HR or a change manager with no relationships to stakeholders to spearhead and be the face of change are likely to find the journey a lot more difficult.
KK: What do you think the key areas of focus should be in any change management program?
AD: There needs to be absolute clarity around why there is a need for change. What is the real problem, what are they going to improve and where are they wanting to get to? What does success look like? Stakeholders will see through such things as cost cutting exercises loosely disguised as service improvement initiatives.
There also needs to be transparency from the outset – be honest and early with the messages, often there will be resistance because the people involved don’t believe you or trust the reason for the change.
Finally I think we need to start moving away from 'change programs or projects' and start to focus on cultures of change – where every process, every system, every structure is open to change, where the title of change manager does not exist and where every manager is an HR manager and a change manager in their own domain. The reality is that change is happening every day and has to happen every day.
KK: Can you give an example of something that has surprised you in your experiences implementing change/transformation strategies?
AD: Two things - The willingness of people to accept bad news and disadvantage if they clearly understand the reasons behind them and can see and understand the greater good. Conversely it can also be surprising to see someone react badly to something that is actually going to benefit them. People are not rational and change managers can’t expect them to act in a logical sequence that can be influenced by the right messages.
Then there are those (both individuals and organisations) who simply can’t, don’t or refuse to see things that are obviously heading their way. Keeping your head in the sand and hoping change will pass you by does not work, the oncoming train at the end of the tunnel just keeps getting closer.
KK: What advice would you give an organisation that has just found out they have to undergo a major change in their workforce?
Take time upfront in the planning process and allow realistic time-frames for change. Don’t just focus on the current change project – it is an opportunity to start to move towards a change culture, building capability and understanding across the organisation. Recognise that resistance is a form of engagement – it may reflect things you haven’t considered. Apathy is the true enemy of change
KK: What are some of changes that you believe need to be made in how organisations approach major transformation projects?
They need to be more thoughtful in terms of the emotional journey of all involved. Put people first – don’t be afraid to tell the truth when you know it. I find that when management holds on to inevitable information for 3-6-12 months it can cause immeasurable damage, people get scared, rumours fly and the cultural hit is huge. Spend time on scenario planning to predict environmental changes and to pre-empt and pre-plan more, don’t wait for it to arrive. Don’t just view change as a single project or program, no one can afford to stand still – take the time to look at how you can build change capability across the organisation.
KK: What advice would you give to an employee who has just found out that their organisation is about to face a major transformation project?
AD: Be proactive and look after yourself. Don’t expect or assume that the organisation will look after you. Be active and be part of the process if you can, be part of the solution.
Consider all of your options and start making a Plan B and even C. Look for the silver lining -change can be daunting but it can also be extremely positive and can lead to opportunities you may have never thought possible.
Finally change is the new normal (or in fact has probably always been normal) it will not go away – so embrace it!