Put managers and employees to work on the change to reduce resistance

Involve Managers and Staff in the work of change management

Many Change Managers assume that if the rationale for change is made clear to the organisation then they will go along with it. In the process of demonstrating the need to change and an understanding of the impact (on themselves and their group) employees will buy- in and thereafter work actively to realise it. There is an assumption behind all this that ‘Change’ is negotiated and develops over time and that the change agent’s task is merely to make clear the imperatives and the people will fall into place.

Whilst this approach has been criticised for ignoring political and social aspects within organisations it is also inaccurate when talking about major system changes, outsourcing or mergers/acquisitions where we are faced with transitioning organisations against a strict deadlines. Here the degrees of freedom are limited and failure to successfully implement can result in stiff penalties for time and cost overruns. In such circumstances our room for ‘negotiation’ is constrained, the change outcome is a given and the people affected are faced with a forced change.

Also we see that the complexity of change is increasing as many major programmes consist of several, in their own right, substantial tasks. For example, in one major change programme I worked on the client was disentangling from a parent company and implementing an IT system with new standardised processes. All of these forcing substantial changes in role and responsibilities right across the organisation – and this programme also included the outsourcing of substantial parts of the finance function!

As well as the staff managers are affected – with perceived loss in autonomy and the need to acquire new skills key concerns. In another change programme in which the author was involved the financial controller had a significant change in job scope as a result of a system implementation and outsourcing which involved the loss of fifty percent of her staff. This resulted in prevarication and concentration on detail, non-acceptance of the rationale for change and question/problem raising that came over to the central project team as structural resistance.

The focus of our intervention in this case was on a country unit that had specific change issues that made their changeover have high perceived business risk. This unit for example had already gone through several changes of ownership in the last few years and was heavily impacted again. Our first step was to understand how the change impacted on the group, department and individuals within the business. Change needed to be thought through and the changes in role and task for these three areas were worked through in detail.

The intervention strategy we considered was based around thinking through to what the changed organisation would look like when we were finished. The patterns of communication, the new roles and responsibilities, and the impact on individual jobs were considered then the transition needed to bridge from the current situation to the future mapped out. This defined the necessary training and coaching for the individuals over and above that already covered in the formal training programmes. The transition management was trickier and this was handled by facilitating the cutover planning at group level. This acted to involve the organisation in the changeover (it’s on ‘its’ way) and engaged them in participating in the design of the move process itself. Defining in detail the roles, tasks and timings during the cutover were key aspects of this intervention. Further, interviews and group meetings around the changeover allowed ‘voice’ to be given and concerns and issues to be fully surfaced – they raised the resistance and helped solve them.

Key learning points

Do not interpret all resistance as opposition to change. Opposition can often be a sign of interest in the outcome and an expression of legitimate concern Capture the concerns and rationale. It may be that someone has identified a flaw in our reasoning and may have identified a route to possible failure, perhaps from the last time this occurred. To find out why it did not work last time may reveal some interesting lessons. However, be cautious about agreeing with an issue as this may be interpreted as a sign that the change can be negotiated – capture without judgement.

The assumption that all employees will go through the same cycle of resistance is false and too simplistic. Often there are winners in a change process. Identify these and build coalitions to build a success culture. Also some departments or groups of people are more successful with handling change than others – building on these winning groups can help bring the whole organisation along.

We all know the value of clear communication but do not forget to include the need for relevancy. Exhortations of the value of the change at a high level are useless unless made clearly relevant to the people affected. The communication must be tuned to the hearers specific needs – general broadcasts are discounted and people will provide their own rationale for change processes.

Avoid the ‘Englishman on Holiday’ change strategy – ‘if they don’t understand speak slowly and more loudly!’ At a feedback meeting for research into the situation at a French plant the consultants gave a withering overview of the impact of the various initiatives, changes and improvement programmes a major high technology company was imposing on the factory. The response from the senior team – ‘the management have not explained this clearly enough therefore “they” do not understand it – they must do it again’. People in change need focused information – how does this new system affect me. Will I still have a job? Will I be able to cope – will they train me? This means communications must be relevant, focused and bespoke aimed at a segmented audience – don’t treat people as the same with the same vanilla information requirements.

Some interventions

Local briefings at department or group level to strengthen team feelings of unity and develop focus on the task in hand.
Cutover process – form well managed meetings to act as a resolution point for raising and solving problems.

Tighter linkage to the changeover (particularly for the management) to expose the organisation to the task and encounter change.

  • Activate processes to resolve/close personnel issues — close these issues managers often have difficulty in handling these.
  • Mentor the management to actively participate and lead change via the consultant is an essential task.
  • Visible presence of change manager to emphasise the company’s commitment to making the change.
  • Reflect listen but not judge issues — allow self-reflection.
  • Ensure communications is done (Watch for gate-keeping in one project when I checked the communications had got no further than the secretary)
  • Provide recognition of improvements ideas and try to push upwards any ideas the team have that have value however small.
  • Recognise that resistance is a legitimate concern for the well-being of the business.
  • Ensure communication channels are open and deployed (again this is sometimes not done).
  • Hire consultant to act as change focus (reflecting with support but not judging or leading)
  • Tighter engagement of the organisation into the change process — they will switch to solve mode.

Finally don’t assume managers know how to manage change or know how to help their people change – because often they do not. Special training and development is necessary. Also be sure that the management has bought in, in one case the stiffest resistance came from a senior leader whose scepticism fed the resistance of the whole team.


How to Make Outsourcing Work

Moving non-core activities performed in-house to specialists outside the company helping the  business to focus on core competencies and improve performance standards is the main premis of outsourcing. The growth and rewards of this practice can be quite high but the downsides are daunting.

So what are the pros and cons of outsourcing?

The potential from outsourcing and BPO related activities:

  • Savings in terms of cost from labour arbitrage
  • Productivity improvements from access to experienced and up-to-date skills
  • The potential to focus on the core business without the distractions of a difficult function in-house
  • Enhanced access to expertise (but at a cost)
  • Operational cost control as the cost becomes very transparent and controlled
  • Improved accountabilityas you know who is responsible for what service
  • Flexibility to reallocate resources and meet company goals
  • Improved Human Relations management in terms of career development potential for peripheral functions.

As for the downside of outsourcing  the list would include the creation of a dependency mentality coupled with a  lack of innovation and integration with the core business – along with a loss of competitive edge. Outsourcing can garner these ill-effects mainly when used as a short term technique to reduce costs.  To avoid this Outsourcing has to be planned carefully going beyond mere cost control and with carefully thought-out strategies and logistics in place to ensure success. A productive nurturing culture is imperative, especially in the beginning, to set the backdrop for a successful relationship.

How to make the most of outsourcing

Apart from reducing the development time and the cost for example new services  an outsourcing relationship can free up resources and orient them towards innovation that can really add value to the core business. It is this potential for the sources of innovation to be focused on the core business competitive needs that is at the heart of the aphorism ‘to focus on core competences’ – In fact it means to build the core. There must also be good communications and systematic tracking and measures in place to help understand how the service is evolving and how improvements can be made. This goes well beyond simplistic SLA types of measures and is in fact an example of proactive innovation.  An outsourcing provider who is willing to learn and understand the business drivers of the client organisation and who can provide the right kind of expertise to a client at the right place can be a company sttrategic asset. The type of proactive innovation can make all the difference to an outsourcing partnership.

Tips for the Outsourcer

  • Treat outsourcing as a strategic investment, clearly defining goals, strategies, objectives and time lines.
  • Choose a firm that has goals you can identify with and a track record that you can use productively in your industry.
  • Set up control processes to manage the interface between the two organisations – treat them as part of the business which is in fact what they become.
  • Once you have outsourced a service  trust the service provider to do the job – heavy handed control or excessive monitoring can get in the way of good service and can only add to costs.
  • Build a contract that has concrete objectives performance measurement strategies and incentives in place – this will clarify things for the provider and provide sustained motivation.

Tips for the provider

  • As with the outsourcer outsourcing is a strategic investment – define goals, strategies and objectives.
  • Build a contract with the client that spells out performance measurements on the basis of concrete objectives – use it to streamline processes
  • Develop an open rapport with the client build a relation that aligns the interests of the outsourcer, the vendor and customers.
  • Build a measurement system to montitor progress and make sure robust management processes. are in place – use it to negotiate changes and upgrade performance responsibilities.

The paranoia surrounding outsourcing is slowly waning and being replaced by a grudging acceptance and recognition of how both sides can benefit. Reports are coming in that well crafted outsource deals restate the value of outsourcing – and add to the stability of the concept. According to a Global Insight study sponsored by the ITAA (Information Technology Association of America), the benefits of offshore IT outsourcing added $33.6 billion to real gross domestic product in the United States in 2003. During 2008, real GDP was expected to be $124.2 billion higher than it would be in an environment without IT software and services offshore outsourcing.

There is value to be achieved by Outsourcing what is needed is a well crafted management strategy to deliver the promise that Outsourcing offers.


How to manage remote staff – tips and guidelines

How to manage remote staff – tips and guidelines

Clarify types of remote working:

  • Home-based
  • Satellite offices
  • Mobile
  • Client based
  • Part or full-time remote.
  • Professional or clerical staff

Are different issues.

Myth 1– employees can take care of themselves
Myth 2– trust and control are easy
Myth 3 – unless I can see them they are not working

Successful virtual/remote working requires radical new approaches to evaluating, educating, organizing and informing workers.

Staff worry – that they will be forgotten, that they will lose promotion prospects, that they will not be trusted, that people will think they are not working when they are. Evidence is, may be benefits to both organization and individual but there really can be isolation, reduction in promotion, tendency to overwork and reduction of intra-organization communication, identification and (potentially) commitment.

Remoteness does have implications, don’t assume you know how to manage. As employees move away from office managers need to change their managerial style. There is a risk that managers can slip into communication patterns that are totally task oriented and miss verbal cues that let them know that these patterns are demotivating the staff.

Three different styles may be appropriate in different circumstances:

  • At hands reach
  • Collaboration
  • Relationship and trust

Issues include: trust, identification, socialization, control

Remote/virtual staff must clearly understand why they exist and be able to translate their purpose into actions. Research suggests greatest problem for staff and managers is still communication. Managers must become results oriented, shift from being a controller to a leader or coach. Need to develop specialised communication and planning skills, including the ability to communicate well electronically.

Managers and supervisors should:

  • Establish a relationship based on mutual confidence and trust.
  • Ensure well structured, relevant and regular communications.
  • Be available for consultation and advice – set expectations for response times (same day preferable). 
  • Ensure technology and support easily available
  • Enable and encourage good communication with other workers
  • Jointly establish precise goals and objectives (and ensure resources available)
  • Evaluate and feedback on a regular basis
  • Ensure staff participate in organizational activities and are kept informed – don’t assume they have seen the intranet notices.
  • Make sure managers and employees are clear on performance objectives and measurement.
  • Pay close attention to peer relationships, set up buddy systems and agreed forms and frequencies of communication.
  • Plan to communicate by f2f as well as telephone.
  • Set up socialization events and/or drop in facilities, ensure these are genuinely encouraged.
  • Certain areas demand f2f – particularly appraisals, salary reviews.
  • Don’t just e-mail – think before you send. Relevance and impact in particular – how will the other party respond to this? Do they need to know?
  • Re- educate managers and employees for a virtual culture, when and how often to communicate, when to talk vs. type, what to say etc.
  • Ensure staff are trained in time management and how to establish effective off-site/client-site office.
  • Set up a knowledge management/repository so staff can find out who can help on different issues.
  • Set up mentoring and coaching programmes for new or inexperienced personnel.

Practical guidelines on monitoring

  • Communicate goals clearly
  • Set priorities
  • Assess on results (set project milestones, hold periodic reviews, establish check-in periods and frequent updates)
  • Agree on results indicators and how to track these
  • Make sure/check that communications are clear and understood
  • Get regular feedback from employees co-workers and customers
  • Collect specific examples of performance related actions and results to facilitate objective performance discussions.

And do this all with an air of trust and confidence its a  balancing act for sure!

Need to focus on key areas such as communication, trust and control and expand on these.
Perhaps need to assess current mindsets and explode the myths etc.
Start by asking what problems they have in managing remote staff (if they think they don’t have any, ways to explore?)

So communication…

Consider aspects of office that technology not (yet) replaced:

  • Corporate culture and socialization opportunities
  • Creation of loyalty and identification
  • Unplanned and f2f communications – can give additional information and assess attitudes or concerns.
  • Control by observation
  • Access to additional materials
  • Symbols of corporate structure and political workings

Topics that may need addressing include team leadership, work-life balance, orienting new employees to culture and managing performance.

The nature of the information needs to be changed, as well as the medium.

It is recommended that companies:

  • Institute new information flows to replace current ways of communication.
  • Ensure all understand the strengths and weaknesses of various technologies for communicating in specific circumstances – aim to make communication more rational and considered.
  • Educate all employees on how to be more effective providers and consumers of information.