Change Series Part 2 – Change Tantrums

By Craig Johns

Dealing with an organisational environment where complexity, competition and technology are increasing at a rapid rate, requires a leader to bring their ‘A Game’ to ensure the organisation remains relevant. Change is eminent and commonly a normal part of organisational life. Being able to prioritise change, be proactive in planning for potential challenges and reducing resistance to change are important qualities that leaders require to ensure that change processes are successful.

This article is part two of a four part series discussing transformational change from a variety of different angles and providing an insight into some of the organisational changes I have personally experienced. Part one considered why change is important for organisational success, ways to manage change, and organisational impact through change. This article (Part 2) takes a look at how to prioritise change, while investigating the challenges and resistance faced during change. Part three, highlights factors for success during change and implementing a continual change culture. Finally, part four will bring to light effective communication strategies during a change process.

Prioritizing Change

Whether an organisation is achieving successes, failures or both, there are always many opportunities for change. Being able to remain relevant and compete in an ever increasing marketplace, requires leaders to never become complacent by ensuring the organisation continues to evolve. So how do you, as a leader, decide what changes to prioritise? Anand & Barsoux (2017) note that leaders need to fully understand three aspects of each change:

  1. The catalyst for transformation (pursue value)
  2. The organisations underlying quest (choose direction)
  3. Leadership capabilities required to see it through to full implementation (develop leaders)

An organisational transformation is triggered by the pursuit of value, which usually entails both improving efficiency and reinvesting in growth. If improving efficiency doesn’t enhance growth then the value to its stakeholders can affect the organisation. In a similar vein if growth is fostered in an inefficient environment, it won’t be sustainable. Many change transformations are derailed when either one becomes the focus in neglect of the other.

Once the organisation understands that it requires change, then it must identify and define a quest that will lead to greater value generation. In an article written by Anand & Barsoux (2017), they established that most organization change transformations “are either derivatives or combinations of five prototypical quests”:

  1. Global presence – increase market reach, and become more international in the way the organisation is led, nurtures talent, incorporates best practices, cultivates innovation and enhances capabilities
  2. Customer focus – understand customers’ needs, and provide enhanced insights, experiences and outcomes rather than just products or services
  3. Nimbleness – accelerate or simplify processes to become more strategically, operationally and culturally agile
  4. Innovation – exploit new opportunities through incorporating new ideas and approaches
  5. Sustainability – improve the organisations approach to eco-friendliness and social responsibility

Discipline is required by the organisation to ensure each quest has its own unique focus, enablers and derailers. Each quest requires the organisation to look at how it can add value to its operating model, customers, partners, internal processes and/or resources. The leader will need to ensure team members face the reality and need for change, communicate choices and ensure healthy debated of priorities takes place. For a change process to be successful it is valuable to achieve a consensus during the prioritising phase.

It is advisable for organisations to complete a gap analysis of its human resource capabilities to ensure whether it has the current or potential future leaders of change internally. To ensure sustained transformation the organisation will need to develop leaders who can see the whole change transformation through to full implementation.

Case Study – Thanyapura

I arrived in Phuket in August 2012, to commence working at Thanyapura as their Director of Sport Academies. Thanyapura was at its infancy of developing the worlds leading integrative sport, mind, health, education and hospitality facility and resort. With such an ambitious idea, projects were instigated on a regular basis with many competing for financial, human and physical resources. At the time of arrival the  following projects were a sample of those in progress:

  • Sports Hotel was in pre-opening phase
  • Integrative Health Clinic was being considered
  • The 14 inter-related businesses were being consolidated into 10
  • An international sales team was being reformed
  • Integrative packages (health, sport, mind, education) were being developed
  • An events team was being developed
  • The merchandising shop was being formed
  • The human resources were being restructured
  • An integrative database for membership, merchandise, food & beveridge, rooms, services and more was being considered.

As part of the senior leadership team, it was challenging to find consensus on prioritising change, managing the change processes, and ensuring that daily operations were continuing to improve, especially since we were in pre-opening phase. With 500 employees, from 20 different nationalities, and a variety of different industry sectors, the viewpoints of the team members varied a lot. With so much disruption, changes in staff and uncertainty on how Thanyapura was evolving, all leaders and managers were being tested. 

Struggling With Change

There are always challenges during a transformational organisational change process. Three fundamental difficulties associated with change are integration, navigation and human factors. Collaboration between people with different skill sets are required to ensure that strategic, social and technical components are aligned and integrated. Navigation through change is all about continuous adaptation throughout the process, due to the regular influence from a variety of changing contexts. People are resistant to uncomfortable situations, such as change, especially when they are used to ‘this is the way we have always done things around here’.

According to Anand & Barsoux (2017) transformational change usually fails at the quest stage, when teams lose focus on the value which is worth pursuing or take on more change than the capabilities can withstand. The three main failings that are observed are: neglecting the quest; being seduced by the wrong quest; or focusing on multiple quests.

Ron Ashkenas (2013) believes the following three questions are important to ask yourself if your organisation or a section of it if is struggling with effectively implementing a change:

  1. Do you have a common framework, language, and set of tools for managing significant change?
  2. To what extent are your plans for change integrated into your overall project plans, and not put together separately or in parallel?
  3. Who is accountable for effective change management in your organization: Managers or “experts” (whether from staff groups or outside the company)?

It is important that you, as a leader, show clear visibility during the change process especially when juggling multiple simultaneous changes, are managing multiple teams and have to differentiate the needs for multiple sites. You may need to look at how you can harmonise processes, so it is easier to track controlled change, ensure that changes are implemented consistently and the impact is constantly assessed.

Updating documents is very important during a change process, especially when there are multiple changes or teams involved. The documents need to be tightly controlled, appropriately reviewed, transparent and have adequate audit trails.

If your change isn’t going to plan you may need to reverse the change. This can be quite a challenge, depending on how far down the change process the organisation is and whether a contingency plan was developed in case of unforeseen circumstances. Planning a solution that helps you effectively plan, assess and implement a roll back in cases there is a situation where you need to reset back to the organisations prior state.

Case Study – Thanyapura

Here is an insight into the challenges Thanyapura faced, through Ashkenas’s (2013) questions to ask during a complex change management process.

Do you have a common framework, language, and set of tools for managing significant change?

There was no Strategic Plan at the beginning as Thanyapura was organically evolving on a daily basis. Therefore we didn’t have a clear purpose or vision to align projects. We were developing something that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, and it was all happening at a very fast pace. It was a very exciting time as all 500 staff were pioneering a new future. 

We didn’t have a project and change management system in the beginning and therefore was difficult to align all projects to ensure that everyone was working in a cohesive manner. We did implement Base Camp in 2013, which helped to reduce the complexity of monitoring the myriad of change processes, although not all projects were included. Not all projects were being channelled through a central leader, which added to the complexity of allocating and sharing human resources. 

To what extent are your plans for change integrated into your overall project plans, and not put together separately or in parallel?

Predominately the change processes were planned in isolation or in small clusters of projects. A lack of clear alignment of processes made it confusing for team members, especially those whose roles inter-linked between the different organisational sectors. We relied on daily 30minute briefs from different departments to ensure that we had a strong understanding of how projects were progressing.

Who is accountable for effective change management in your organization: Managers or “experts” (whether from staff groups or outside the company)?

In the beginning the owner was very hands on making it a challenge for the President and CEO to have a full oversight of change projects. There were a lot of consultants involved before pre-opening due to the wide range of industries involved. From 2012,  the number of consultants reduced and the organisation managers were accountable for change management. This ensured there was a higher level of quality control and fusion of changes into the organisational culture. As some managers and leaders were involved in multiple projects, it was, at times, a very complex environment to work in.

Impact on People

One of the biggest reasons organisational change fails is a lack of thought and planning in regards to the impact on people. People are the heart and soul of an organisation; therefore it is the responsibility of the leader to ensure they are at the centre of every decision made in relation to the change. You need to understand who is losing what, accept the reality and importance of subjective losses, and don’t be surprised to an overreaction when there is disruption to peoples ‘ways of doing things’. It is helpful to acknowledge losses openly, with sympathy and where possible compensate for the losses.

To lessen the impact, it is valuable to inform people on a regular basis, define what is and isn’t part of the organisation going forward, and you are clearly outlining the endings. Make sure that you treat the ‘way we used to do things’ with respect, allow people to take a piece of the past with them and communicate how the endings show continuity of what really matters to the vision of the organisation.

Leader Impact

As a leader there will be impact on yourself that you need to plan and prepare for. There will be emotional stress and feelings of guilt in relation to decisions made that have powerful consequences on your team members lives. You are likely to be the centre of attention for team member’s anger, fear and mistrust as the change process evolves. Your empathy skills will need to be at their best as team members will bring more emotional and personal problems to your desk, with many quite difficult to solve.

When change occurs your attention maybe diverted to addressing staff morale, discipline, motivation, complaints and interpersonal conflicts. During periods of challenging change clear communication is your number one friend as messages can be easily misunderstood, misinterpreted and even not listened to as effected team members have clouded judgement.

It is possible that you will feel a greater weight on your shoulders, as you feel the added responsibility for your team member’s productivity and reputation when resources are reduced, especially when you are implementing changes that were decided from above, that you may not agree with. You may feel a loss of self-esteem if the quality of team member’s performance declines and especially when there is job insecurity within the organisation. A feeling of loneliness and isolation may result as you find it more difficult to find personal support within your organisation, more specifically when you are a manager and the senior leaders are overwhelmed and unavailable.

When a change management process hasn’t effectively planned for changes in workload, you and your team members risk burning out if too much work has been taken on, work hours are increased, breaks aren’t taken and holidays are delayed. Burn out may also occur if team members are worrying about work at home, are experiencing insomnia, have unrealistic expectations and are focusing too much on perfectionism. During these times you are likely to feel added stress as you find it a challenge to delegate tasks as team members are already overloaded with work.

Case Study – Thanyapura

Due to consistent disruption, multiple projects competing for resources, regular changes in staff, and a constantly evolving organisation, there was a large impact on both team members and leaders. For me I loved the intensity and challenge of such complexity, although as a leader of multiple change projects, I was tested on a daily basis. 

The impact on staff was quite high, especially at times when organisational restructuring was taking place or they were involved in multiple projects with conflicting deadlines. My empathy, compassion and sympathy skill sets were being utilised on a regular basis as I supported, motivated and consoled team members, during challenging times. With high levels of change and complexity, it was very difficult to define endings and ensure projects were even going to be completed. This meant many of the team members were on edge and quite often I felt like more of a counsellor than a leader. 

Dealing with changes in staff, especially those who we had to release was very difficult, emotionally. Over time I was able to deal with the stress and emotions during staff restructuring, a lot easier, but it always had an effect. I felt quite lonely at times and with so many changes it was difficult to judge whether you had the team members trust. 

It took me quite a while to learn how to deal with the complexity of competing priorities and an ever increasing workload. Over two years, I absorbed the following departments and in some cases, roles: Kids Club, Membership, Fitness Centre, Mind Centre, Performance Shop, Elite Junior Sport Academies, Boarding Dorm, as well as developing integrative programs. I learnt to develop a clear delineation between work and home life, and once I got back into a regular exercise routine, I was able to sleep more effectively and improve my productivity.  I learnt a lot about leading and managing complexity, and how to say no so the right projects can prosper without being distracted or side-tracked.

Resistance to Change

In the world of great change we know there is great resistance and is one of the biggest challenges that leaders face. So how do you lessen the impact of reduced output, employees quitting, transfer requests, in-house quarrelling, hostility and the constant barrage of reasons why stakeholders think it won’t work? By involving team members and encouraging them to participate in areas that bring out their strengths can reduce resistance, although if not done well can negatively backfire. You need to understand that resistance is generally associated more with social change rather than technical change, and develop strategies accordingly.

As a leader it is your role to identify and manage resistance. Team members previous experiences that relate to the technical change maybe negative, so it is important to involve them in discussions and create opportunities for them to challenge their ways of thinking around the change. Set fears to rest and provide the more reluctant members of the team with certainty. Emphasising new standards of performance and team member attitudes is important in building trust from team members who haven’t got on board yet. Remember, confidence is frequently contagious.

“Doubts are roadblocks in the process of change. You can get a lot further on this road with patience and clear, constructive guidance.” Anonymous

You need to be aware that resistance to change should not always be viewed as negative, because it might be showcasing red-flags that need to be attended to. (Lawrence, 1969) Therefore, it is important to listen and observe first, before reacting or acting to resistance to change. You might be able to save yourself and everyone else a lot of hassle if it is a red-flag.

Having a greater understanding of the challenges you may face and how to deal with resistance allows you to manage a change process with greater confidence. Being proactive in planning a change process that is based on open and transparent communication will provide solid foundations in achieving success. In part two, which will be released next week, I will identify a number of challenges and resistance you may face when implementing organisational change. The next article (part three) highlights factors for success during change and implementing a continual change culture.

Did you miss part one? Click here


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