There are many different models and frameworks for embedding change and for me, the most successful have five core elements (or prerequisites) in common. Whilst identifying these pre-requisites may be simple, understanding and implementing them in your organisation’s culture can often be highly complex.
The prerequisites of change are simple, the complexity exists because they are applied to human behaviour.
The five prerequisites for embedding change are:
- Recognise the extent of the change required across the organisation to achieve the outcome desired
- Build a change story / purpose for people to believe in
- Identify effective role models
- Build capability in people
- Update reinforcement systems to be consistent with new behaviours required
Over a series of articles I will examine each of these five prerequisites examining them in more detail to understand how they impact the process of embedding change.
In this first article we will focus on the first prerequisite, Recognise the extent of the change.
Recognise the extent of the change
There are 7 elements within an organisation that should be considered when designing any change.
- Leadership Development
- Organisational Culture
- Performance & Reward
How well does communication work within your organisation currently? Is it a recurring concern identified in employee surveys? Is open, two-way communication part of the behaviours rewarded in your people managers? Your ‘starting point’ level of communication will have a profound affect on your ability to communicate the change to your people. Embedding change relies on the ability of people to have open, honest and courageous conversations with their colleagues and managers.
For many organisations people management is not a self selected career path, or even one that is recognised as specialism in it’s own right. Experts and specialists are told that to advance in an organisation they must become a manager of people. People in this role are often not given the support and development needed to succeed in this role. Employee engagement surveys reporting low engagement scores are often related to what is perceived by people as poor people management capability from their boss. Many change programmes require equipping people managers within the organisation new skills and capabilities around managing change, coaching and listening skills. People look to their manager and leaders within the organisation as role models of the change so leadership development will be key to helping these leaders ‘walk the talk’ with authenticity. Depending on the nature of the change the nature of your existing leadership development programmes may need to change especially if you are looking to introduce new behaviours.
People’s capability may need to change as a result of the change. This can be as the result of new technology that requires people to ‘up skill’ or the introduction of new ways of working that require people who had ‘back office’ roles to now be customer facing. These new capabilities may be soft skills or require professional development or training. New capabilities take time to learn, practice and build on. This could also require a change in organisation culture to support the ability to practice and learn new capabilities.
The culture of an organisation is often seen as an ethereal concept. “How things are done around here” or “What we do when no one is looking” are often used to try an articulate culture. It is a combination of the way people do things, the behaviours that are accepted (and rewarded) either explicitly or implicitly through promotions, pay, bonus and status. Cultures for instance that are very hierarchical may find it more difficult to introduce more innovative ways of problem solving or getting people to take ownership of issues than those cultures that are less reliant on hierarchy as the default structure for getting things done.
Performance & Reward
The way in which people are incentivised and rewarded for performing their role may need to be altered in order to reward new ways of working or behaviours. If for instance you wish your sales teams to work together on sales and collaborate, yet still reward sales people with 100% bonus that is related to their own performance you will be unlikely to see any long term change in behaviour. Similarly if you are trying to encourage a ‘pay for performance’ culture but give all employees the same percentage pay rise they will be unlikely to see the connection between pay and their performance. Some of these rewards mechanisms can be less obvious. If you want to to develop or encourage a culture of equality you may find it difficult if you award car parking spaces based on grade or length of service. It can be these more subtle messages that counter-act the core themes of the change you are trying to embed. Read more about these factors in reinforcement systems[hyperlink].
Process often need to change as a result of the change. These often go hand in hand with the technology change. Often organisations buy ‘out of the box’ software packages in order to save on expensive in-house software customisation but then try to bend their processes to the new software, rather than accepting that the process needs to change to adapt to the software (if that was the aim of buying the software). Process change doesn’t just mean a new way of doing things for people it can mean a change in the skill level required to do different jobs. This can often be seen in call / service centres or with the introduction of shared service functions where jobs or processes that required people intervention become automated, back office workflow tasks. This can also be combined with a move to get employees to provide better customer service, which coupled with the introduction of automated workflow means employees previously previously performing back office tasks are now asked to be customer facing, a role that they may not have the skillset or inclination to perform.
Technology change can be one of the biggest drivers for initiating change within the organisation. In my experience also the area that most under-estimates the activities needed to support people through the change. As mentioned in the Process section above, technology change can have a ripple effect across employees. At the simplest level this would be the necessity to train people in the new software (and associated process change). However, it is often more complex than that as new technology projects deliver their change over several deliverables and the first version can often result in less functionality and clunkier processes than the technology it is replacing. Only after a couple of versions will the technology offer the ‘all singing and dancing’ solution that was designed at the beginning of the change process. The introduction of new technology like the change to process can result in some groups of employees within an organisation perceiving that they have lost power or control. Whether through automated processes for underwriting, automated approvals in procurement systems technology can see the power bases within organisations subtly shift either between departments, from countries to regions, or from operating companies to group functions. If these changes are not acknowledged, talked about or communicated there is an increased likelihood your organisation will be just delivering new software and not embedding change.
Often there are a set of factors either internal or external to the organisation that either trigger the change or impact it in some way. I describe these as disruptors as they have the ability to increase the complexity of the change many times over. The relevance of these disruptors to your change will depend on a variety of factors unique to your organisation, market, industry etc. These disruptors are:
- Expectations of potential employees
- Consumer habits
- Levels of employee engagement
Find out more about embedding change
In the next part of this series we will examine the importance of building a change story as part of the embedding change framework.
In the meantime if you would like to know more or have any questions about our framework please get in touch.