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Leading Change – People Matter

Leading Change – People Matter

This is not a new post but I thought it was worth re-posting because the message holds good for all time 

I’ve just seen an advert for a “change management lead” for a multi-national facilities management company – they provide everything from reception services to construction.  It asks for Prince2 (project management skills) and Six Sigma (improving the quality of process outputs) certification.  It mentions the enterprise management system used by the organisation and says the post-holder would be required to set up and document SLAs and define KPIs.  Sadly, beyond asking for the candidate to have strong interpersonal skills, the one thing it doesn’t mention is PEOPLE and leading people – this from a company in the heart of the services sector!

Makes you wonder doesn’t it?  If a services organisation doesn’t know enough about change to know that people, and the leadership of people, are at the heart of any change then we really do have a long way to go to spread the message! But something else strikes me as well!  If the applicant is required to lead change then this company doesn’t really know much about leadership either and that has much wider implications!

Wendy Mason is a career coach.  She helps people reach their goals and aspirations, without sacrificing their home and personal life.  Before working as a coach, Wendy had a long career in both the public and private sectors in general management and consultancy as well as spells in HR.  She now divides her time between coaching and writing. You can contact Wendy at wendymason@wisewolfcoaching.com and find out more at http://wisewolfcoaching.com

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Alice down the rabbit hole – or customer service and schizophrenia in the downturn!

I’m reading ‘Surviving Change – A Manager’s Guide’ from Harvard Business Press. It advises on managing in the downturn and opens with a discussion of different survival strategies – hard and soft!  In fact, most change is a mixture of the two and the strategy chosen usually reflects the underlying culture of the organisation!   How the mix works is critical because if it is not well managed it can become fraught with conflict and demoralising for people in the organisation; it can lead to a schizophrenic approach to customers.

The ‘hard’ approach to change is usually short-term and about economics  – cut costs and increase cash flow! If a unit, or an employee, cannot demonstrate how they add financial value, out they go with very little ceremony or concern for personal well-being. The change is usually hard driven from the top with little wider engagement.  Often consultants advise the magic inner circle and HR consultants deal with casualties that might cost the organisation.

Soft change focuses on developing the organisation to meet new conditions with high engagement across the piece from the leaders. Employees trust in the informal contract they have with the organisation and work towards its well being.

Sadly experience shows that neither soft or hard approaches work in isolation.  The hard approach works in the short term but with that alone you are usually left with a demoralised and disloyal workforce – your best employees probably left at a rate of knots when you started the change.  The soft approach can take years to embed and the market doesn’t stand still!

Most successful change is a combination of hard (rationalisation well managed) and soft (employee engagement and encouragement to learn new skills).  But if change is a reflection of underlying culture and that has conflicts within it, a change can put the whole organisation out of kilter.  What I’m thinking of here is an organisation that pays lip service to soft but is really hard.  I believe in the downturn this is likely to be an increasing problem, particularly in the service sector.

Clients of service companies, particularly in the UK public sector, like to hear how well the company manages its employees.  A tender panel may take great interest in training and development approaches but, of course, the final decision is usually made on the keenest price.  In the present climate the client is likely to continue to seek cost reductions, which mean lots of change to be managed.  This can lead a company into a kind of schizophrenia.  It flags up all the good things its HR team would like to do but finds itself increasingly having to make hard, and very short-term, decisions.  As a consequence, its own employees and its middle managers in particular, become confused and a little cynical!  In turn this impacts on the service delivered to the client – so the client pushes harder!

What is the answer.? Well maybe it starts with a little more honesty on both sides!   Perhaps clients should start being more realistic about how they expect their service companies to manage for the price they are prepared to pay.  Perhaps the companies should be a little more honest with clients, and  with themselves, about the real costs of delivering ‘cuts’  At the end of the day, a client gets what they pay for and it they want to see services well managed with employees committed to the services they deliver, they need to recognise there will always be a cost even in the downturn!



To change an organisation most pundits are agreed you need a visible leader who has a consistent conviction that fundamental change will have a major impact on the organisation’s survival.  That person needs to believe not only that change is necessary but they need to have a vision for what the organisation will be after the change – theirs must be the dream.    But people will not buy into the dream if they cannot see that the pain and effort of the change will result in a future that is tangibly better for them than the alternative!

Successful change leaders can form a vision that is  both compelling and easily communicated.  And they communicate it with conviction!

Oh and by the way they will then need the ability to sponsor and see through the management of the change – they need the people skills and the organisational know-how to implement their vision!

So I am left wondering about change in the UK public sector and why it so often fails!  Don’t get me wrong there is much to admire in the UK Civil Service,  and I should know I was a Civil Servant for many years.  They are, for the most part, far more committed and hard working than most journalists would believe.  Most still do believe in public service and they really do care for the public they serve.  But on the whole (despite, or perhaps as demonstrated by, the ruthless, smoothness of the prime ministerial change), theirs is still a world where tradition holds sway!

But if you think about where the vision for change in our institutions comes from it is not from Civil Servants but from Ministers.  Ministers have the vision of the change, they wish to bring about which Civil Servants – faithful to the last  – then go on to implement.  But in leading their departments senior Civil Servants may well be leading a change for which they have little, or no, real sympathy.  Beyond Ministerial whim, they may very likely not believe that personal or organisational survival depends upon the change they are required to make.

In these circumstances where does the fire in the belly, that is required to lead large scale and fundamental change, come from.  Ministers have the fire but they are not responsible for leading the Civil Servants! These days Ministers are unlikely to have the people and the organisational know-how to implement their vision – many have been professional politicians for most of their working life!.

The issues are  challenging given a world in which on-going large scale organisational change is likely to be a way of life.  Am I arguing for  political leadership at the top of the Civil Service,  as in the US?  I don’t think so – we would lose a lot in the process – not least we would have to cope with the huge scale and expensive disruption that changes of government would require.

But I do think the challenges need to recognised and we need to discuss the consequences  and risks!  It is not enough to be able to write policy papers arguing how your Minister could go about implementing their manifesto pledges  – you need a slick ability to move your organisation towards the Minister’s vision and changing vision.  It always was a challenge but it just got, and will continue to get, bigger!

I would very much welcome your views. You can contact me using the form below.



If you are going through major change the last thing you need is a key supplier to fail! Follow this link to a useful post on the G&W Consulting Blog  “Making Performance Meaningful” http://tinyurl.com/MPMReviews2 .  It will help you work out  whether your suppliers are at risk of failure.  Wisewolf and G&W have depth of experience in managing change and managing complex supply chains.  Geoff  Edmundson ( the G in G&W) has managed change and challenging supply chains in both the public and private sectors!  So have I!  We will be very happy to help with a risk and resilience review!  Follow this link to contact us for further advice



If you had any doubts about the value and potential of  using social media, check out 30 Interesting, Useless and Pointless Facts on Jeff Bulla’s blog at the following link!  Don’t be put off by the title!

You begin to understand why you can’t afford not to know to about Social Media whether you are in the public, private or community sectors!

Here is just one example and three facts!

Generation Y awareness of the Ford Fiesta before Ford started their social media program was 0%. It was 37% as of a month ago and stands at 58% at 3 December 2009.

25% of Ford’s marketing spend is on digital/social media!

Ford is the only US Auto company not to take a government grand!

Now you begin to see the possibilities now that using LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook may bring?  We have some tips for developing a Social Media Strategy at this link



There is a website called goodcharacter.com that provides educational resources for children.  It works on the principles that

  • Your character is defined by what you do, not what you say or believe.
  • Every choice you make helps define the kind of person you are choosing to be.
  • Good character requires doing the right thing, even when it is costly or risky.
  • You don’t have to take the worst behavior of others as a standard for yourself. You can choose to be better than that.
  • What you do matters, and one person can make a big difference.
  • The payoff for having good character is that it makes you a better person and it makes the world a better place.

This is what it says about HOW TO BE A FAIR PERSON

Treat people the way you want to be treated.

Take Turns.

Tell the truth.

Play by the rules.

Think about how your actions will affect others.

Listen to people with an open mind.

Don’t blame others for your mistakes.

Don’t take advantage of other people.

Don’t play favorites.

As managers we talk a lot about being “fair”!  Indeed there is significant amount of legislation aimed at trying to make sure we behave in a way that is fair.  But I wonder what we are really thinking when we use the word?  Would everything you have done over the last week or even over the last day at work and at home, really stand the test set out above.  Isn’t it clear that our customers, as well as our friends and family, might think better of us and return more often, if we acted in accordance with these simple rules for children!  If you do happen to be someone who doesn’t think  this approach actually works, then all I’m asking is that you try it for a while, just try it!  You may be surprised!



“Change hurts. It makes people insecure, confused, and angry. People want things to be the same as they’ve always been, because that makes life easier. But, if you’re a leader, you can’t let your people hang on to the past.”  Richard Marcinko

“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” George Bernard Shaw quotes

An article in Strategy + Business from Booz Allen & Hamilton, The Neuroscience of Leadership, way back in 2006 , described how change hurts and how people respond to that hurt. Generally people respond to change with resistance even when it is a matter of personal survival,  This is because the brain works by relegating routine tasks to a part of the brain that requires little energy – freeing up the more energy-intensive part to process new things.   Dealing with new things can be a  very intensive and tiring experience. The same is true with organizational change. People become used to a routine at work and fall into using the equivalent of auto-pilot.  When you introduce change you engage the more intense part of the brain

But that is not all – there is another force at work in the brain that resists change. The brain is very much wired to detect “errors” in its environment – perceived differences between expectations and what it is actually finding. When it thinks an error has detected, it triggers the fright and flight mechanism.  This is one of the most primitive parts of the brain and was used to protect us in earlier stages in our development..  This fires up our reactions – the heart begins to pump blood ready for us to run away!   It hijacks our thinking.  We can become emotional and start acting impulsively – our protective animal instinct takes over.

So when you ask people to engage in change – their brain will start sending powerful warning signals  that something is going wrong.  They may well become uncomfortable and feel stress.  But if you can get them to focus on something – a particular problem or process – they will be distracted and start to develop new neural connections.  If these are reinforced enough they will become part of their subconscious.  If you can get them engaged in actively imagining the change – the fright effect will soften as the other parts of the brain take over.   But  If you start forcing actions on them without engagement you will increase the negative reaction.

So what is the best way to approach change.  Well the same study found that if the brain has a “moment of insight” coming from within (coming to a solution/conclusion by itself),  there may be sudden adrenaline-like burst of high energy. This is conducive to creating new links in the brain. So if you focus people on solutions instead of problems, they will have their own in-sights, come to their own conclusions and forge their own new links.

All this is useful but at the  end of the day, as a change manager, the choice is yours!   Do you want to engage with fright, flight, resistance and negativity?   Wouldn’t you rather share the task, go for active engagement and make the change a more positive experience for all!