Whether you are part of the executive team, a senior manager or a frontline supervisor, you will have experienced change in the workplace. With the increasing number of mergers, upgrades, downsizes, acquisitions, and re-engineering happening, it is difficult for any organisation or manager to stay up-to-date, to accurately predict the future, and to maintain constancy of direction.

In last week’s blog post we introduced our readers to workplace culture and how it impacts on staff retention and attraction.  In this week’s blog post, we follow up with part 2 of our workplace culture series and discuss briefly its relevance in organisational change.

Defining Change

Change takes place on different levels – the individual; the team/organisation; and the overall system. All these levels are interrelated. Culture is a crucial factor when it comes to change and how an organisation weathers it.  No one ever implemented a successful change management program by simply drawing up plans, putting in new technology and listing required behaviours. Change is a people issue – not a process issue and that means culture.

Change is inevitable and as you know some changes have a wider scope than others. As you begin to define the change needed for your organisation, you need to ascertain a couple of basic things first:

  • Object – Is the change to infrastructure, systems, people or culture (in acknowledgement that with any change culture is always involved)? In many instances this can encompass more than one objective. For example, implementing a state-of-the-art information system may involve changes to the financial accounting system, a new building to house the hardware and training staff in the new processes. Such changes may require removing, modifying or introducing new behaviours – and this is where many change programs fail. Workplace change initiatives that run into problems are usually because they target resources towards building new structures, redesigning processes and restructuring organisational units with little or no attention paid to the human element.

  • Duration – How long will the change process take to impact significantly on the type and magnitude of resources required and the degree of uncertainty in the outcome? Will this be over a period of days or weeks, or even years?  The longer the project, generally the greater the risk to achieving the change objectives and the more complex the people issues become. For example, changes in culture may require many years to complete and the tenure of key management may change also in between time.

Our tips to managers and executives to manage change in the workplace:

  • Improve communication – The prevailing communication system in most organisations is infrequent and one way in nature. In other words, people don’t get a lot of information or feedback about how they are doing or how the organisation is performing. Open up your communication channels and let your people know what, when, why and how these changes will take place. Involve them as your main stakeholders who will be impacted by changes.

  • Acknowledge and recognise – you won’t be able to convert everyone at once, start with people who have disproportionate influence in the organisation. Get them committed to the change, or, failing that, they’re not ones to be carried over into the change. Once they are committed to change, shine a spotlight on their accomplishments, so others get the message.

  • The realities of change – instead of just lecturing on the need for change, look for ways to get people to experience the harsh realities that make it necessary. For example New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, in the 1990s made his top people – including himself – ride the subways day and night, to understand why frightened New Yorkers had come to call it the “Electric Sewer.” Other companies have taken a similar approach, requiring managers to take calls from dissatisfied customers.

How has your organisation managed change in the past? Did you find workplace culture play a role in those changes?

Next Week:

In our final part of our Workplace Culture Series, we discuss culture on a whole other level and go into Workplace Diversity, another important aspect in Workplace Culture.

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