FOR AN ORGANISATION TO REMAIN COMPETITIVE, or improve upon it, it must adapt and improve itself continuously. Nowhere is this more important than in China, where barriers to entry and occasionally ethical business practices, are lower than in the West, and where to ‘copy’ is not seen as a weakness of creativity, but a strength of strategy. However, while no strategically minded leaders would challenge the need to change, few business leaders are successful in implementing this change without creating tension, or worse.
Take the incident at Shanghai Shinmei, for example. According to the South China Morning Post, in January of this year more than 1,000 “furious migrant workers” besieged the Japanese electronic appliance maker, holding 18 Chinese and Japanese managers against their will for more than a day. Their grudge? A new factory policy over toilet breaks. The paper reported that it took more than 400 police officers to free the managers.
Another example of poor change management occurred in October of last year, when approximately 3,000 to 4,000 production workers in Zhengzhou went on strike after their employer, Foxconn, demanded that factory workers work during the holiday and be subjected to “overly strict demands on product quality” without additional training, according to New York based ‘China Labour Watch’.
So if change is necessary, for the survival of the organisation, but it results in unrest what can a business leader do in order to reduce the resistors to change?
Working towards positive change
When staff do display hostility towards change, it is an easy excuse for management to blame it on ‘poor attitude’ or ‘The wrong mind-set’. However, this boils down to passing the buck. Alan Chapman, founder and editor of Businessballs.com states that, “Responsibility for managing change is with management and executives of the organisation. They must manage the change in a way that employees can cope with. The manager’s role is to interpret, communicate and enable a change, not to instruct and impose”.
Adopting a dictatorial approach to change management and attempting to steamroller a change through will almost certainly lead to feelings of distrust and animosity from staff. As humans, when we are leaned on or pushed, our automatic response is to push back to avoid losing our balance. This reaction is mirrored when we perceive change to have been forced upon us. A manager who seeks to impose a change will be greeted with negativity, both vocal and passive, and staff’s energies will tend to focus on reasons why the change is a bad idea rather than examining any benefits there may be for them.
Dealing with resistance and resistors is part and parcel of change management. In his article Managing Change: Managing People’s Fear, F. John Reh writes that,
“An individual’s degree of resistance to change is determined by whether they perceive the change as good or bad, and how severe they expect the impact of the change to be on them”.
It is vital that managers take into account the self-centred, yet fully understandable way in which staff will evaluate any proposed change. Regardless of how clearly the need for change is explained by senior management, every employee will look at organisational change from the standpoint of how he or she will personally be affected.
Increase buy-in with involvement
If you meet a stranger and they tell you that they are ‘trustworthy’ we immediately treat the statement with suspicion. However, if we meet a stranger and decide of our own volition that they are trustworthy then, as we made the decision ourselves, we believe it. Successful change management is no different. If we allow staff to take part in the planning process, they will automatically look more favourably on the ideas as they have been given partial ownership of the change. This feeling will give them a greater incentive to assist in the success of the change. Alan Chapman reduces this idea into a simple sentence when he says that,
“Change must involve people. Change must not be imposed upon people.”
Communicate your change
Louise Fisher, the European HR Director for Xerox Global Services writes in her article ’10 Keys to the Successful Management of Change’ (www.xerox.com/thoughtleadership) that managers should “launch an intensive ongoing communication plan. You can’t help people adapt to change unless you communicate with them constantly and maintain an open, two-way dialogue. Effective communication helps to build broad-based support, and solicit the honest feedback that drives continuous improvement.” This is not to say that managers should avoid making any decisions before consulting with staff. In the same way that imposing change on employees can lead to resentment, being perceived as never making a decision without approval from staff will damage the credibility of management and would create a rather anarchical company structure. It is down to individual managers to decide when a process would benefit from input from staff.
On the occasions that managers do seek out the opinions of staff members, they should do so in a face-to-face environment. E-mails and memos are by their nature less personal than meeting staff in the flesh. In addition to this, seeing a senior manager making the effort to deal with his or her staff in this way will increase the feeling from the staff members of being valued by the company as well as emphasizing how important the senior management views the change. Some methods of eliciting feedback on proposed change include:
- Workshops and Town Hall meetings which offer managers opportunities to speak to large numbers of employees, but remain consistent with the personal approach.
- One-on-one meetings with specific staff members whose buy-in will be essential to the success of the change management process.
- Setting up anonymous feedback channels
It is highly probable that you judge some of the feedback which you receive from staff to be of little use and possibly even illogical. However, as F. John Rey says, “Don’t waste time wishing that people were more predictable. Instead, focus on the act of opening and maintaining clear channels of communication with your employees so that they understand what is coming and what it means to them. They will appreciate you for it and will be more productive both before and after the change.”
Avoiding ‘us and them’
It is important that senior managers avoid falling into the trap of viewing staff as ‘The enemy’ when planning the implementation of a change. How will they resist? What difficulties will we have persuading them it is a good idea or necessity? Thinking in this way immediately creates a ‘us and them’ mentality. This often causes managers to play their cards close to their chest as they fear the reaction of staff to their plans. It is far better to have the mindset of ‘how can we all work together to make this a success?’ This promotes a teamwork approach rather than that of two gangs squaring off against each other.
The final comment on this issue goes to John Kotter. As a former professor at the Harvard Business School and author of ‘Leading Change’ which is widely regarded as the bible of change management, John Kotter is considered to be one of the most influential thinkers in the field of change management. On the value of clear communication to the change management process he says in ‘Leading Change’ that “Effectively communicating the change vision is critical to success. This should seem obvious, yet for some reason, executives tend to stop communicating during change, when in actuality they should be communicating more than ever. This includes communicating via different types of forums and over various channels, and two-way communication. Change is stressful for everyone. This is the worst possible time for executives to close themselves off from contact with employees. “