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Human Resources: change needed to make change work

Every Issue

Cite as: (2008) 82(12) LIJ, p.87

To ensure effective workplace practice development, firms must first alter how they implement changes and improvements.

Change in your firm can include anything from the simplest implementation of a new technology to a department or firm-wide restructure.

Change is necessary but it is often done ineffectively. Poorly managed change costs firms in terms of lost productivity, employee job stress, absenteeism and increased office politics; therefore, it is important it is done well.

When implementing any change in your firm, you are asking people to adapt and change their behaviours.

As a result, the focus needs to include the human element of change and not just the setting up of systems and processes. Firms need to invest in bringing their most important resources – their people – along with them.

If an employee challenges or resists change it usually means that they care about and feel a sense of ownership over their work, which is a good thing. Suddenly being told to do their jobs differently can be insulting and people will often react in defence. This is human nature. There is also a biological explanation for this.1

To effectively implement change:

Lay the ground work
Be clever about the way you prepare your staff for changes. Create a trusting environment, build strong working relationships with your managers and staff, and give staff small pieces of information slowly that will lead them to believe in the need for change.

Communicate
Share as much information as possible as soon as it is available. Use all channels of communication. Hold meetings, send all staff emails and make information available via the intranet.

Ensure all employees are fully informed of the reasons and the need for change, the vision and objectives, the process that will take place and how it will affect them. This will prevent misunderstanding or people making up their own stories and becoming negative and sceptical.

You want your staff to have complete trust in management. If they feel that you are being open and honest, they will trust you and trust that you have their best interests in mind. Once there is that trust, staff are more likely to cooperate.

Strong leadership
The success of any change initiative relies on leadership. The role of partners or senior managers is to establish a clear vision for the firm. Marketing the change process positively so that it is attractive will encourage buy-in from staff. Leaders must then model the new behaviours and actions. If you don’t walk the talk, neither will your people.

Employee involvement
Involve as many of your staff members in the change process as practicable and from as early as possible. Provide open forums for group discussion. Outline the business objectives, ask staff how they would go about getting there and encourage them to share their ideas and suggestions.

They will most often come up with the same ideas you had, but because they have had the initial insight themselves, they will feel a sense of ownership over the process and are much more likely to support it. It is important for these ideas and insights to come from groups as there will always be internal leaders who, if they are involved in making the insights, will naturally bring others along with them.

Alignment of systems to reinforce change

Once your people are on board with the changes, it is important to reinforce the need for change. You can assist by reminding them of their ideas and following up on actions taken.

You can also set up changes so that your people experience some early wins, reinforcing the reasons for the change.

It’s also important to reinforce the changes through your policies and procedures and actions, such as performance management and reward and recognition programs.

Offering the right incentives to bind corporate goals to individual career objectives is critical.

If you are telling staff to do one thing but rewarding for doing something else, they will be confused.

Measure and reward for performance in accordance with the new expectations to ensure consistency. It is important to keep in mind that what motivates one employee won’t necessarily motivate another. Find out what motivates your people and offer a range of incentives to reinforce change efforts.

Some approaches taken to influence people to change, such as the use of fear and intimidation, are destructive.

It can be a tempting way of yielding prompt results, but ultimately it will be hurtful and the changed behaviours will not last.

Long-term motivation comes from people motivating themselves, so your employees need to share the vision, understand the objectives and the need for change and be involved in decisions around how to get there.

KELLY DERMER is the LIV’s human resources consultant. For further information on this column and other HR issues ph 9607 9548 or visit https://www.liv.asn.au.au/members/hr.


1. See Christopher Koch (2006), “Change management – understanding the science of change”, http://www.cio.com, for more information on the science of change.

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