Organisations currently find themselves in an environment where not embracing change can result in facing threats to their very existence. The headwinds of globalisation, disruptive technologies, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and even political and economic upheaval, have created a situation in which organisational resilience and agility is vital in the face of unprecedented change.
Not to mention, business mergers and acquisitions, leadership changes, organisational restructuring and aggressive team targets; there can be numerous catalysts for the transformation of a business.
Organisational change management seeks to position a business so that it has the capability, culture and strategies to meet the challenge of constant change. In some cases, this is nothing less than a business fighting for its life or, imperative to staying ahead of the competition.
Change management seeks to bring about change in the organisational structure, culture or processes of an organisation in order to increase its capabilities so that it is able to meet the challenges it faces and take advantage of new opportunities that the external environment delivers.
The change management process springs from recognising that, while having a vision of the new organisation and communicating it are important, it is the employees themselves who have to deliver the change. Sometimes, change projects can lose optimism and vision if not implemented thoroughly, so a well-handled process is integral to maintaining positivity and direction.
Let's be honest: employees in some organisations have been through one change project after another, with only a few resulting in lasting change. Many are suffering change fatigue. So, asking them to buy into another change project is asking for trouble, isn't it?
In any organisation, culture and capability are intricately related. An organisation with a culture of continuous improvement, self-development, optimism, resilience and confidence in the face of change, has the ability to constantly renew itself and flex its capability and resources in line with ever-changing needs and thus remain on the competitive edge.
For less flexible organisations, the challenge can be further compounded by top talent, the very talent that is essential to transform the organisation, leaving for more innovative and energetic workplaces.
Ensuring change is implemented and embedded effectively is central to any organisational change management process. To enable change to be embedded, it is important that people understand the need to change, can see the gaps between the current and the future and can grasp the implications of those gaps on organisational and individual success. This understanding acts as the catalyst for change and opens people’s minds to the benefits of adopting different behaviours. In turn, this enables the successful adoption of change as people willing move with it.
Organisational strategies are usually the prime movers in organisational development. Strategies formalise the organisation's goals within its particular governance framework and business environment. They are usually based on a medium-term view of the challenges faced by the organisation and the need to respond by implementing organisational development.
But strategy must be allied to an understanding of the organisation's culture. It's the culture that enables strategic goals to be incorporated into shared beliefs and values within the organisation. That leads to group norms, which support the new behaviours that have been agreed.
Organisational change management tends to be less effective when strategies are turned into redesigned business processes. For example, when employees are sent on training courses, new organisational structures or processes implemented or operations are closed down without those affected truly understanding the objectives and being engaged personally in the journey.
In many cases, those helping to deliver the changes may also be lacking a thorough understanding. This typically causes a degree of confusion in the business when even the most talented employees feel disengaged and the masses express their resentment daily, passively or actively.
In an article in the Harvard Business Review recently, Boris Groysberg and others examine the relationship between strategy and culture. They point to the fact that organisational culture is far less understood than organisational strategy, especially by leaders. High-performing leaders often find their plans for organisational change are confused by the culture of the organisation they are leading.
Given this, it's not surprising that the management guru Peter Drucker once commented that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. What he meant was, if you intend to implement a strategy without understanding the organisational culture, you're on a hiding to nothing. Similarly, cultural understanding without a strategy for handling the change management process will founder in a welter of well-meaning vagueness. It's the combination of both that is essential for successful organisational change management.
As organisations grapple with increasing levels of change, they are coming to realise that simplistic re-engineering of business processes repeatedly fails to deliver the change that is needed. Similarly, old-fashioned notions of ‘communication’ frequently fail to engage the workforce in any meaningful dialogue about the need for change. Culture can prevent the organisation from embedding change and developing resilience, flexibility and increasing its capability.
However, it doesn't have to be like this. Organisational change management can embrace the culture of the organisation and work with it, while formulating strategies that will enable the organisation to change in order to survive and meet the challenges it is facing.
Connor have over 20 years of experience working with organisations to embed change effectively. We’d be delighted to talk to you about how to implement and embed change for lasting success, please get in touch with one of our expert consultants to help you through the process. Or, if you’re looking for more resources, read our article on top tips for delivering successful organisational change.