The Challenge of Change Management

Change management is a difficult task – it requires individuals to shift their “mind-sets” in such a way that it enables them to change their behaviour. What is more, it requires many people within an organization to do this round about the same time so as to build culture change. To enable this, there is a need to change some of the “levers” which shape behaviour. In particular, the rewards and recognition structure, the ways in which performance is measured and evaluated, and the overall “conditions of practice” (e.g. access to technology supports, training, volume of work) which shape the way people work.

Many change management experts focus on just a few of these features at any one time, knowing that changing all of them at the same time is almost impossible for any organizations to do, especially medium to large enterprises. Where the focus is on what gets measured, rewarded, and what counts for recognition.

Where they should begin is in understanding the conditions of practice – the day-to-day conditions which make work possible, impossible, or “survivable”. Let us take three examples:

• A teacher who has a class of 38 Grade 8 students, four of whom have special educational needs (one Autistic child, one with Downs Syndrome, one with a severe speech defect and one who has a muscular disorder). Her classroom was built for 35 students and does not have the room to house all of its students. She does not have access to technology which would permit her to individualize instruction – the school does not have an adequate budget. She has access to a teaching assistant for four half-days each week. She has not received any special training in supporting Down’s or Autism.

• A General Practitioner in a very busy rural practice who finds that they have, on average, 5-8 minutes available for each patient each day and little local access to locums for relief or to fast turnaround medical diagnostic and assessment services. Broadband internet, on which medical practice depends for a variety of supports (medical records, for example) is patchy and unreliable. He has been able to keep a Nursing Assistant for no longer than 8-10 months before they leave for other opportunities and has gone 3-4 months with no in-house nursing support.

• A middle manager in a government organization who sees their workload steadily increasing, the reporting requirements of their position increasing exponentially while they are working with technology which, in the phrase of one of her colleagues, “Noah threw out of the Ark”. As colleagues retire or leave they are not being replaced – part of the austerity drive of the government – but the work still has to be done. “More with less” is no longer a mantra, it is a reality. Now there is a pay freeze for three years and cuts are coming to pension benefits. In these conditions, she is amazed to hear that the Head of her agency wants to see a real focus on happiness in the workplace.

Change management is never easy. For these three people, it will be exceptionally difficult. It needs to begin with an understanding of the conditions of practice which shape attitudes and behaviour. It needs to be driven by values and it needs to involve a focus on working directly with front-line personnel whose work impacts clients, customers, and citizens. Its not easy work, but our International Institute for Innovation (3i) is dedicated to making this work meaningful, relevant, and successful.

By Stephen Murgatroyd -