Is your change management strategy a spectator or an active player?

 In Articles and case studies, Lindsey Phillips, Project & Change Management

When I am a spectator at a football match, I am always in awe of the players on the field and their advanced skills as well as how we, the spectators react to the team(s).

The players have specific positions (defence, mid-field, striker, goalkeeper etc.). They all have a role to play in defending and protecting their goal post. The spectators are restricted to designated areas. When the team structure breaks down, the opposition break through, opening the door for them to score. It is the regrouping response that provides key insights on how the game will play out; do they give up or keep trying?

Put differently: did COVID-19 provide organisations any insight into how change plays a pivotal role in any type of change or disruption? It certainly did for me. Here are my observations below.

Some changes are out of your control

You must adapt, and quickly. I am talking about people adapting in the first instance, and then organisational adaptations. Why? People are always at the heart of change, no matter what the reason or objective. Working from home was not an approved project or a digital transformation. It was about health and safety; therefore, it was mandatory.

There were no choices to be made or initial feedback on personal preferences; that came later. It was about regrouping, thinking on your feet to ensure that your most important human capital asset was safe, and that business could continue ‘as usual’ with minimal disruption.

Every person responds to change differently

One size does not fit all. Assuredly each organisation quickly realised this as they encountered individual and personal requests, and the individual management of those requests. This is no different to any change initiatives that take place (technology, organisational or other types) in an organisation. This is the concept of the ‘change curve’ that remains relevant even today.

Each person has a role to play to succeed

The sudden shift to ‘work from home’ required the whole organisation to make it happen and work effectively; regardless of the role each person played (including the “spectator”). For a change initiative to succeed, everyone needs to understand what it is and their role in it. Step outside the plan and things begin to unravel.

Organisations have had to regroup and retrace their steps and invoke their previously implemented plans as a result of the second wave. People’s  response to change will become even more important due to continuous and disruptive change (‘change fatigue’) coupled with uncertainty.

In John Kotter’s book  Accelerate (2012), Kotter talks about the role of hierarchies and networks in achieving organisational longevity. Kotter introduced the concept of a well-organised network of volunteers to assist an organisation in more rapidly and nimbly adapting to fast-changing external and internal factors. Organisations need hierarchies to “run the business,” but networks can help “adapt and change the business.”

Kotter explains, ‘hierarchies are the product of nearly a century of management science. Their effectiveness in the day-to-day managerial needs of organisations has been proven to be unmatched. Hierarchies do not pivot well. In many ways, they are designed to resist change, as most change introduces inefficiency and uncertainty –both of which hierarchies seek to minimise. Networks, conversely, excel at tackling uncertainty and change. To get the best of both, the equation must be “both and” rather than “either or.”’

Obviously, not all change is as radical as what we have experienced in recent times; however, change is not going away and, in some industries, it is going to be transformational.

Does your organisation include change strategy as a pivotal player in achieving successful strategic outcomes? Business re-orientation will continue and require strategic change participation to facilitate future outcomes.

Planned change requires people’s attention

Often, the ‘change’ team is brought in to rescue something. Usually change is not recognised when things go well. Change is not fluffy; it is real and involves people; regardless of whether it affects one person or the whole organisation. The working from home government directive would have brought unique insights on how each organisation responded. How did yours fair? I hope that change is seen for the value it brings, no matter how intangible it may appear on the surface.

At Churchill we back our change management strategy with facts and peg it back to the people and their associated processes.

I leave you with the same question I started with: is your change management strategy a spectator hoping to get in the game or an active player with a strategic role?

Our change framework focuses on 6 core areas that, when applied, will see an increase in workforce adoption, realised benefits and increased likelihood of achieving ROI.

Meet the author

Lindsey Phillips Churchill Consulting

Lindsey Phillips, Manager

Lindsey Phillips is a Manager in our Digital Transformation team who has over twenty years of industry and consulting experience.

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Project and Change Management Government Health Authority