Change management is one of the hottest topics within the management domain. Change impacts all companies, all the time. Consequently companies spend tons of money and resources into hiring experts that assist in the change management process. The goal of a change management process is to ensure that the process of change is a smooth one, with the least amount of employee dissatisfaction, and to make sure that employee productivity doesn’t fall.
Having looked at numerous organizations, I realize that they way in which change is managed, is fundamentally flawed. Most companies being to bring in the consultants, and trainers ounces they’ve decided to implement a significant level of change. This could be a merger, making cuts, or reorganizing the structure of the business. However it is my belief that, this is not the most efficient or the most effective way to manage change.
Starting the change management process after the senior management has decided to bring about a major change, defeats the purpose of the change management process. Since change management is about reducing the level of uncertainty, and consequently reducing the impact on worker productivity, then this system is not the best way to do things. Once senior management has decided to implement the change, employees find out about the process. By this time, the level of uncertainty has already increased. This makes the job of the change consultants, trainers, and experts a little more difficult. It also prolongs the time it takes for the change process to take place.
Instead if companies were to start to prepare their employees for change at a time of relative stability, I believe it will have a greater impact when a major change does take place. Hence, effectively I propose that there should be a preemptive strike on change!
Change is inevitable. We all know this, and also that that the only thing constant is change. Having said this, senior management only starts to prepare their companies for change when a major change is about to take place. However minor levels of change are constantly taking place within the firm.
Change is built into our DNA. Minor changes over generations have allowed early humans from Africa to move across into Europe. Recent research suggests that people with red hair and pale skin, came from the African bush. It was these constant changes that allowed humans to adapt to the environment that they move into.
Humans, as babies, are constantly looking for change, and desire change. At first, a baby is not satisfied with lying down, and attempts to sit up. Later this moves into the crawling strange, which leads us into walking. So early on in our lives, we want change, we crave it. The main reason being, we are looking for better and more exciting ways of doing things.
As we get older, the thinking process changes. Many kids get scared of the dark. While most outgrow this, the basic concept behind that fear doesn’t change, i.e. being scared of uncertainty. This fear of uncertainty later leads us to adopt set ways of doing things and to fear change.
Hence, as managers we are not preparing organizations for change. Our goal is to help our employees lose that fear of uncertainty.
The argument against providing this sort of training to employees at time of relative stability is the costs involved. Companies can argue that they don’t need this training, or may not need it ever in the long run. It could also be that by the time something warrants this nature of work, the employees that have been trained would have left the company.
We can look at this from two perspectives. First consider a fire test. We regularly have fire tests, and fire drills. These tests help us to prepare for a potential threat that can happen. In the case of a fire, most companies and employees will probably never experience a real one, and yet we still plan for it. A major change can at times be like a fire. If you’re not equipped to handle it it, can have a negative effect on the organisation. If you know how to handle it, you can put out the fire, and more on to doing your work.
Second, the overall costs involved in the change management, when something major occurs far outweigh the costs that would be involved in setting up change management as a part of regular employee development. Employees that are prepared will feel less stressful, and will be able to mange the change process in a shorter period of time, while being more effective.
To sum up, we need to preempt change. The best way to do this, is by making sure change management is thought of, and considered even when no major change is coming. Companies are bound to be more successful if they adopt this strategy to managing change.
Dr Osman Khan is the Director of the Institute of Customer Management.