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Stephen Archer

Spring Partnerships


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From good to great: how to effect positive workplace change


Most people come to work with a set view of themselves and then proceed to work within those pre-defined boundaries.

This behaviour is generally perfectly acceptable and there is even value in its consistency.

The problem is, however, that it also betrays a certain mentality and state of being in which employees have ceased to learn or strive for self-improvement. It also indicates that their managers are failing to get the most out of them.
But even the most ardent ‘followers’ are capable of learning something new and grateful for the opportunity to do so. In these circumstances, people often say they get a new lease of life and feel a sense of rejuvenation which, in turn, positively influences their performance. When they learn something about themselves that is of use in their everyday lives, the experience is even more powerful.
So how can HR directors best support positive behavioural change and ensure that it becomes embedded in corporate culture?
Expand employees’ imaginations
Finding ways to expand employees’ imagination is not as hard – or as patronising – as it sounds. The fact is that most people’s imaginations become limited by the narrowness of their day-to-day experiences and the lack of pressure to broaden those experiences out.
But in a workshop scenario, open questioning can be used to help employees’ rediscover what they know but have not necessarily connected with the reality of their working lives. They will find that applying a knowledge of their role and the business, in combination with insights gained from their own life experiences, can lead to positive change in both their own behaviour and its outcome.
In a team situation, judicious use of peer pressure can also generate imaginative solutions. So brain storm by all means, but do so using examples and stories. It is these kinds of tools that really help to trigger change.
Prove that change is possible
Providing workers with proof that change is possible by citing examples from within the organisation, similar organisations or even from quite different but analogous situations offers them something to which they can relate.
Stories about how challenges were met and what benefits were generated will resonate and help them believe that they can do likewise. This approach is particularly powerful if people are ‘walked through’ previous case studies as if they were taking part in the process.
This makes the concepts appear more real and helps employees connect with the thought processes behind problem-solving activities in order to improve their own performance.
Provide opportunities for hands-on experience
‘Tell me – I will listen. Show me – I will understand. Involve me – I will learn’.
To help staff prove to themselves that they can achieve more, there is no substitute for hands-on experience and practice.
So create some practice scenarios based on real-world problems that may need fixing. This approach will enable workers to practice new activities without feeling under pressure or getting caught up in the baggage of a real situation.
Set up some ‘easy win’ lead-ins to help get the process started and enable staff to see that open thinking and open team-working can and does create some remarkable effects and outcomes.
Offer reassurance
At this point, it is useful to ratchet up activity by asking employees to deal with real-world challenges. A framework to keep the mission tight and focused is essential, but this should not be a problem if the activity is outcome-based.
It is important to give people reassurance at this stage, however, as most will inevitably become fearful. They are likely to lack confidence and may not feel that they have the authority to make decisions that could affect the entire organisation.
If they are to succeed, it is crucial that they do not they do not perceive either you or their line managers as judgemental and that they are given the freedom to do what they have been asked to do.
Draw a line under old ways of working
Assuming that the above steps have worked, there will be new things that inevitably need doing, but also activities that will have to be stopped.
Failing to stop the old way of doing things is, in fact, one of the biggest reasons why change initiatives do not succeed. People believe that the old way works and lack confidence that change will be a good thing – no matter how rational it is.
HR directors – ideally backed by all levels of leadership – must be aware of this dynamic, however, and actively push through behavioural change in order to ensure that it becomes embedded into organisational culture.
Stephen Archer is a director of business improvement consultancy, Spring Partnerships.
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Stephen Archer


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