Managing Change Through Developing People
Putting people at the centre of our thinking about managing and leading change is neither irrelevant or flaky. It is probably the only certainty we can rely on, in a world where risk, chaos, and the unknowable are part of everyone’s lives.
Seeing organisations as collections of individuals becomes harder the bigger you get. Just how do you put people meaningfully at the centre of your handling of change when there are 120,000 of them? On that scale you naturally want rules and systems to help cope with such size. No wonder therefore that the larger corporations often struggle with creating change strategies that are based around people and puzzle how they can “roll out” programmes from the centre.
Managing change through developing people is probably the only sure way that in the future, companies will be able to have some real influence on their destiny. Instead of lip service being paid to “people are our greatest assets” this will have to become a reality. Why? Because not much else will work, or work for long. Only by developing individuals to contribute creatively, flexibly, and take responsibility for results can companies expect to respond rapidly enough to the ever shifting environment, in which what was predictable last week is now no longer quite so certain.
The shift to managing change through developing people also reverses some of the traditional approaches that once stood companies in good stead. For example, planning ceases to be something done by just the “experts” or even the top team. Now it means that a far wider constituency must be involved in deciding what is both desirable and possible. Old style arguments that the “minions” simply don’t know enough to take part in such exercises won’t wash. Instead new forms of sharing crucial and perhaps sensitive information need to be devised.
Strategic thinking too works differently when developing people is the main driving force behind change. Instead of strategy being the “how” of implementing plans drawn up by some small company coterie, now the issue is “what sort of company capability is needed?” and from there the realities of strategy begin to emerge as more meaningful change plans.
Or take for example the advice usually given to managers about communicating major change, the kind that happens every five or so years, rather than normal operational change. That advice usually boils down to doing more in respect of values, mission and vision. Supporting these are the traditional videos, publications, large public meetings and executive road shows. Yet all the evidence suggests these approaches are flawed.
When you manage major change through developing people, communication alters. A study in the US for example, found that while seventy per cent of companies had revised their corporate mission statements during recent re-structuring, only 9% felt that these actions helped them to achieve the objectives of the restructuring.
The best way to communicate a major change to front line people is face-to-face. Better still do it through those who daily deal with the front line troops, such as supervisors, rather than through large meetings and corporate “theatre.” Secondly rely on facts, not esoteric concepts like vision, mission or values.
Underpinning the view that managing change through developing people is the only sensible way forward is the realisation that the burden of change typically rests on so few people. That is, the number of people at every level who make committed, imaginative contributions to organisational success is simply too small. Far more people need to take an active role in the business and to care deeply about success.
To achieve the required shift in commitment and input to managing change means a different approach in which “people development” is a central strategy, not an add on extra. When Managing change through developing people, the process is “inclusive” and no longer exclusive.
Putting people development at the heart of change management promises to transform how we think and approach managing change. Again in the US research has shown that while the top companies had nearly all implemented at least one major change programme over a fifteen year period, less than a third of these initiatives produced an improvement in bottom line results, and only half led to any increase in share price. With that kind of wasted effort there seems little choice but to try a better way.