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The evolution of change

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Involve people in change

Tracy Whybrow explains how to avoid failed change programmes, and instead help companies to evolve and develop.


Companies around the world are required to evolve and undergo change faster than ever, whether it’s a re-branding exercise, the result of an acquisition or the appointment of a CEO with a new strategic vision.

Classically, what happens in these circumstances is the development of a new vision, strategies and values, which add further layers of complication to an already burgeoning organisation.

“Too many companies hold the view that business change is a move from one state to another that has to be controlled and managed in a consistent, structured way.”

The change management consultants then arrive to turn this into a huge change programme, to manage and control the process and move the organisation from A to B. A year later, after generating initiative overload, the programme is going nowhere and begins to flounder and die.

Evolution not change management

Too many companies continue to hold the view that business change is a move from one state to another that has to be controlled and managed in a consistent, structured way. While it is true that some IT implementation projects need this level of control, in my experience, strategic change is no longer about a specific end state, or about a select group of people working on a complex plan in a dark room in corporate HQ.

Instead strategic change is about ongoing company evolution, constant adaptation and modification, all of which requires corporate agility, flexibility and responsiveness. This calls for a fundamental rethink of the change management concept and a move away from the ‘let’s control it’ mentality, to a new style of change strategy which helps companies constantly evolve and develop.

New approach

With this new approach, leaders still need to set direction, establish a framework for change and identify the successful outcomes required. To build the conditions for evolution they also need to build a flexible, responsive organisation from top to bottom, and from bottom to top.

The way to do this is to get people involved at all stages of the journey – leaders in setting the direction, managers and employees in how to make it happen. Leaders need to invite input, ideas and inspiration from all people within the company, so they start to digest it, own it and want to make it happen.

“Leaders need to invite input, ideas and inspiration from all people within the company, so they start to digest it, own it and want to make it happen.”

I am not just talking about a simple engagement programme that brings the change to life. I am talking about true involvement – helping all people take part, helping them to decide and agree how they are going to make change happen in their part of the company.

This type of strategy spreads ownership and responsibility for the change across the company, and in doing so builds a workforce that can more readily adapt to new ways of working in a constantly evolving world.

By contrast, the old change management mentality sets up a programme run and owned by a select few, usually impossible to deliver by many!

Go with the flow

One concern leaders often have with this approach is that they feel they are losing control.

My view is, embrace it. One sign of people being truly involved in delivering a change is challenge to the original plan. This should be welcomed, as it demonstrates people interacting with the content of a plan and taking ownership for what needs to happen. Leaders need to value different opinions, provoke discussion, not shy away from the hard facts or hide behind a glorious plan.

Get rid of gobbledygook

It needs to be kept simple. Too many organisations baffle their employees with a plethora of different expressions of direction for their business. An organisation’s ambition, strategy, brand proposition, vision, values, objectives, and so on, may all be relevant, but to your average employee will seem complex and confusing. When trying to create clarity, you may well be causing exactly the opposite reaction.

What is the simple message that will resonate and be memorable? Identifying this will help align an organisation with a single cause and remove misinterpretation. It will help people focus and then realise how they can make a difference

So the moral of the story?

Stop managing change – help it evolve. Involve all your people in making it happen – let them take part. Release your hold on control – keep some but not all. And finally, keep it simple.


Top tips for effective change

1. Stop talking about change programmes and change management – they say processes, procedures, rules, machines. Start talking about differentiation, evolution, corporate agility, flexibility and responsiveness.

2. Start at the top and get the leaders 100% on board. Get them to talk about the change repeatedly and loudly, so people believe it. Then get your people on board and truly involve them – don’t just engage them.

3. Do away with organisational gobbledygook. Stop confusing people with visions, strategy, values, principles, competencies, blah, blah, blah. Make it simple so that people get it and get on with it.

4. Keep talking, involving and doing. Say it six times, six different ways and you might just start to get through.

5. Don’t try to control everything. Let go. Involve. Be very clear on where you’re heading but ask your people for the ‘how’ and listen to them.

6. Go with the flow. Once people are involved, welcome mutation to the original plan. An OK plan owned by everyone is better than a brilliant plan owned by no one!

7. Keep it real. Change is about results not activity. Improvement not charts. Go for customer-facing results fast and tell everyone about them when they happen.

Tracy Whybrow is partner and change strategist at INVOLVE

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