Managing Change Effectively

It is always fascinating to engage with a cultural change process, and a recent encounter was no exception.

Some three years ago, I developed a new business strategy for a not-for-profit organisation which, faced with on-going austerity measures in the UK, wished to focus on the longer-term on sustainability and income generation. They are a relatively small organisation with a regional reach regarding members, clients, and corporate donors.

The new business strategy necessitated an organisational restructuring, which they handled internally, with the support of some expertise from their Board of Trustees.

I was recently asked back, a year on from the completion of the restructuring process, to revisit the business strategy and help the staff team develop and refresh it. An additional part of my task was to meet with staff, individually and in groups, to secure their insight on the restructuring process, its outcomes, and how things felt and worked now.

During our discussions, the staff revealed the following six common pitfalls had impacted on their change process. I am interested in sharing them with you because, despite all our writings, theories, and examples of change and how to lead and embed it positively, people and organisations keep making the same mistakes.

Their top six pitfalls were these:

1. Combatting the impact of individuals’ cynicism, especially when exacerbated by an apparent lack of buy-in from middle management.

2. Ensuring that there were no competing priorities for training budgets when proposed changes necessitated significant reskilling for some staff.

3. A lack of ‘Why’ and ‘Can Do’ modeling, especially by leaders and managers.

4. Poor implementation of agreed-upon, standardised working definitions and practices aligned with the new business strategy.

5. Uncertainty and confusion on the part of managers tasked with handling "sensitive material."

6. Insufficient time allocated to the cultural change process and its chance to develop and embed.

In countering these six common pitfalls, the staff also identified that these occurred early in the process; and, ultimately, the organisation put in place eight effective solutions to remedy change obstacles and their impact.

Those eight effective solutions were these:

1. Continually communicating the new vision, mission, and values in a variety of formats.

2. Actively listening to staff feedback and then actioning those ideas and suggestions, where appropriate.

3. Developing a shared focus on becoming a "learning organisation" and actively managing its cultural change.

4. Developing positive expectations of all, linked to vision and values, which started small and then grew.

5. Expecting and planning for conflict, which eventually enabled a smoother transition than that experienced in the early stages of the process.

6. Identifying and supporting change champions from among trusted and respected colleagues, who then led the smoother transition process.

7. Revisiting standardised definitions and practices in conjunction with the staff team, and re-negotiating on them and then putting them into place.

8. Planning and integrating IT requirements, linked to new definitions and practices, as a parallel process.

It may be that any of these pitfalls or solutions resonate with your experience of cultural change. If they do, I would be delighted to hear your stories, too.

For this staff team, what started out poorly ended very positively, judging by the response to my review process.