Leading Change And The Future Of Work

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3rd Mar 2014

10 min read

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Photo Source: Sean MacEntree

Change management is a term that is bandied about freely. Sometimes it’s a scapegoat for less than stellar results: “That initiative failed because we didn’t focus enough on change management.” And it’s often used as a catch-all for project activities that might otherwise get overlooked: “When we implement that new process, let’s not forget about the change management.”

It’s a noun: “Change management is key to the project.” It’s a verb: “We really need to change manage that process.” It’s an adjective: “My change management skills are improving.” It’s an expletive: “Change management!”

BUT WHAT EXACTLY IS IT?

Change management is a structured approach for ensuring that changes are thoroughly and smoothly implemented. However, it is an approach which goes deeper than just the look and feel of doing things differently.

It is most powerful when it touches individuals to bring about collective behavioural change in order to realise desired business benefits.

As such, the focus is on the wider impacts of change, particularly on people and how they, as individuals and teams, move from the current situation to the new one.

The change in question could range from a simple process change, to major changes in policy or strategy needed if the organisation is to achieve its potential and remain relevant.

In today’s workplace it can also include the ability to adapt to the changing norms and rewiring an organisation to focus on more non-traditional methods of getting work done.

BELLS AND WHISTLES OR SILENT WHISPERS?

As they say change is inevitable and it has a life force and pace of its own. In organisations based on some of the systems or tools that we aim to put in we can predict change and manage it, but by and large we are left venerable to unseen or silent forces, markets-competitors, social trends that will force us to adapt and change our ways of working and respond to the new needs and demands.

Theories about how organisations change draw on many disciplines, from psychology and behavioural science, through to engineering and systems thinking.

The underlying principle is that change does not happen in isolation – it impacts the whole organisation (system) around it, and all the people touched by it.

In order to manage change successfully, it is, therefore, necessary to attend to the wider impacts of the changes.

As well as considering the tangible impacts of change, it’s important to consider the personal impact on those affected, and their journey towards working and behaving in new ways to support the change. In order to achieve this there are many models and frameworks that are readily available.

Change management is, therefore, a very broad field, and change management approaches vary widely from organisation to organisation and from project to project.

Many organisations and consultants subscribe to formal change management methodologies. These provide toolkits, checklists and outline plans of what needs to be done to manage changes successfully.

MAKING CHANGE HAPPEN

When you are tasked with “managing change” (irrespective of whether or not you subscribe to a particular change management approach), the first question to consider is what change management actually means in your situation.

Change management focuses on people, and is about ensuring change is thoroughly, smoothly and lastingly implemented. And to know what that means exactly in your situation, you must dig down further to define your specific change management objectives.

Typically, these will cover:

Leadership or Sponsorship:

Gaining buy-in for the changes from those involved and affected, directly or indirectly.

Buy-in:

Ensuring there is active and visible sponsorship for the change at a senior executive level within the organisation, and engaging this sponsorship to achieve the desired results.

Involvement:

Involving the right people in the design and implementation of changes, to make sure the right changes are made. Assessing and addressing how the changes will affect people.

Impact:

Telling everyone who’s affected about the changes.

Communication:

Getting people ready to adapt to the changes, by ensuring they have the right information, training and support.

Readiness:

Regardless of the content or type of implementation, the areas above serve as the staple for change management.

However, for the purpose of this article I’d like to focus on a more organic change which is occurring in the workplace with regards to work preferences of Generation-Y and Millennials.

Slowly but surely, the shape of the Malaysian workforce itself is changing. Younger, more digitally savvy employees are altering the very character or culture of organisations.

IS THERE A CASE TO CHANGE?

Let’s take a look at what is happening in the world. Automattic, the multi-million dollar company and the creator of WordPress, is one of the many unique companies around, powering almost 19% of the Internet with only 230 employees, almost none of whom work in the same office, or even the same cities. According to Matt Mullenweg, CEO – it all comes down to a unique view of what work really means.

He gives a perfect explanation of why most companies get work wrong in a speech given at the Dec 2013 Lean Startup conference, adapted into an article for the Harvard Business Review:

“In a lot of businesses, if someone shows up in the morning and he isn’t late, he doesn’t sleep at his desk, and he’s dressed nicely, it’s assumed that he’s working. But none of that takes into account what he’s actually created during the day.

“Many people create great things without living up to those norms. We measure work based on outputs. I don’t care what hours you work. I don’t care if you sleep late, or if you pick a child up from school in the afternoon. It’s all about your output.”

Focusing their hiring practices, management style, and employee rewards on performance has helped make the company’s distributed model successful well beyond what people assumed was the tipping point for growth.

At Automattic, as it’s a fairly new and lean organisation, great emphasis is placed on hiring as a lever to make sure the right people get in.

In fact they look at the hiring process more like a trial employment period whereby only 40% of those hired are actually confirmed.

This may seem extreme for most Malaysian companies, but it has proven effective for Automattic as they only want people who can be productive within unstructured work schedules and be held against deliverables (quality of output).

Not all Malaysian organisations are in a position to flip their culture to suit the needs of the younger generation; however, we can see it coming.

For a population of just under 30 million, research reveals that we have 18 million Internet users and 34 million mobile subscribers. The access to instantaneous information and ability to reach each other (collaborate) at the touch of a button are huge influencers to shaping the future of work in our country.

Many HR practitioners are up in arms trying to balance traditional systems and processes of managing people with new norms and preference of the younger generation and the results are sometimes painful.

There may either be a scenario where high potentials are fed up and leave as they have a different take on productivity of that they are subdued into submission and follow the culture of the organisation thereby giving less of themselves than they can.

There are also challenges when you have multi-generations in the workplace and balancing needs and preferences become more complicated.

In the case of Automattic, age or generation is not so much the issue as the common denominator is that they see that the traditional office isn’t something that has some magical effect on productivity.

They believe that when done right, many people are more productive and happier working on their own schedules.

When remote work doesn’t function well, it’s because people aren’t held accountable.

CHANGING WORKPLACE TO UNLOCK REAL PRODUCTIVITY

As Malaysians, especially for those of us who live in the city, traffic jams are the norm. I don’t know of any working parent who looks forward to the daily commute, which involves not just going to work but having to manage multiple drop-offs and pick-ups. Surely, all that time on the road can’t be beneficial to one’s state of mind.

While Gen X-ers may be more compliant with the traditional office norms, the generations to come are questioning the meaning behind there rules as they see success in more open and collaborative models that do not place so much emphasis on showing up somewhere at a certain time as a measure of productivity.

In fact, where there have been changes to work times (flexi hours) it has been predominantly due to requests from employees rather than management proactively offering this option to employees.

So rather than tackle this problem in a reactive way, how can Malaysian organisations prepare for the future of work?

The first thing to look at is obviously, designing the human resource levers to support the future of work such as target organisation, reporting lines, hiring practices, work hours policies, performance measurement instruments (right measurements), rewards and recognition practices.

Once this is completed it is time to implement this change to the organisation.

Let’s apply the basic tenants of change management with regards to this implementation.

Leadership or Sponsorship: Select the right group of leaders to defend and advocate this way (accountability based) of working. There may be resistors in the organisation who are unsupportive and the change leaders will have to step up and assist to overcome the objections so that it does not get out of hand.

Buy-In: In this case buy-in will come from the person who is ultimately accountable for the delivery of work. If his team is working on smaller pieces of work, then the ability to slice accountability to smaller pieces and peg it to different individuals is a good way to foster buy-in. For the team members, it’s an easy sell as there are less rules to follow but the quality of output is more important.

Involvement: Involving the right people at design is very important as unforeseen gaps may be highlighted and proper and more realistic planning can be put in place. For example, if work shifts to accountability-based and work hours on or offsite are of no importance, then the ability to communicate, agree and document expectations become critical.

It’s almost as if a manager is treating his staff like a contractor and needs to manage the relationship as a project. For this, once the manager is involved in the design stage he is able to highlight the need for more clarity (procedures) around this area and some training on how to give timely performance feedback, as an example.

Impact Once the design of the new way of working is in place, there needs to be an assessment to determine how people are impacted. For example, it may be the case that not all roles in an organisation can be based on accountability of output.

Some roles may still be about being at a desk at an appointed time, especially so for face to face service providers or production based roles. So the degree of impact will vary with other colleagues and there needs to be communication or specific actions to be taken to address these impacts.

Additionally there may be adjustments to rewards to link to output as opposed to hours of work. Someone may be losing overtime claims and this may be a huge impact that needs to be addressed.

Communication It’s important to ensure there is clear expression of the reasons for change, and help the sponsor communicate this. For example, communication content could be positioned to reinforce new criteria for accountability and what behaviours will be valued – proactiveness in overcoming obstacles to ensure outputs are achieved within specification.

Being available, clear and realistic in interacting with others is crucial. Communication, especially if the change is largely behavioural based, will have a big part to play in the implementation success as it is always harder to be descriptive on the intended changes.

To migrate from a traditional office to an accountability-based model entails a huge mindset change for employees – how they are managed, measures and rewards will be affected.

If readiness level is not in place then the implementation can fail. This model does require the workforce to be at a certain level of maturity, have access to the right tools especially if offsite, and most importantly, the integrity and trust it takes to work outside prescribed structures.

The employee must be naturally passionate and motivated about getting the work done, otherwise there may be risks to achieving the desired outcome. Readiness can be quantified through focus groups or a targeted survey asking the right questions.

These are just some typical change management activities. Others may be required in your specific situation.

Equally, some of the above may not be within your remit, so plan carefully, and coordinate with other people involved.

WHAT GETS MEASURED GETS DONE

Ultimately, for the Malaysian workplace it’s how well these initiatives are measured and sustained upon implementation that will determine their ultimate business benefits.

With every change there will be resistors and sceptics who have to be involved and managed. Strong leadership will is also key in shifting and organisation to meet the needs of the future of work.

The consequence of not shifting is clear – Malaysia is already witnessing some early symptoms – untapped resources in stay at home mothers, disengaged Gen-Y employees, and brain drain because some organisations were too slow to leverage on non-traditional platforms to collaborate and deliver work.

We’ve all heard the saying, “What gets measured gets done”. It means regular measurement and reporting keeps you focused – because you use that information to make decisions to improve your results.

With the future way of working there is an opportunity to really reconnect with our inner creative and innovative energy and work when we are at our most productive. It is just a matter of time before this become a reality for most Malaysian organisations.

Rupa Sivanoli is an associate consultant with Leaderonomics. To find out more about our corporate programmes, email people@leaderonomics.com. Click here for more articles.

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