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Jackie Lanham


Global OD Director

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Three things to avoid when facing change


There is a wealth of fantastic knowledge available on how to lead and manage through change. All of which I have found to be essential when navigating some tricky waters. But the best lessons I have personally learned from have been those based on experience. Every role that I have held has included some form of change, from continuous improvement through to transformational change.

And while every organisation and situation has been different, I have found the need to avoid three things to be true in every one.

1. Been there, done that

As much as I have found my experience useful, it can never accommodate every event. Going into any situation with a “been there, done that” approach is likely to alienate those you are working with. Approaching change with curiosity and humility is much more likely to elicit support and enable more effective change. Finding time for those who will be impacted and listening to those who have experience is never time wasted.

When considering a new way to test the robustness of the talent pipeline for a former employer, I was met with the response that it would never work. It had been tried before and failed. So I listened to those who were the most disgruntled, those who would actively set out to undermine the work and those who had worked on the former approach. Their experience enabled me and my team to approach the task in a very different way from first envisaged. It got the detractors onside and led to what was considered to be a successful implementation.      

2. Abdication

Leading change when also required to deliver short-term business results is a tough challenge, and in these circumstances it can be tempting for leaders to abdicate responsibility for the change to HR or change teams.

I have seen this happen to the extent where independent change teams and change champions have been established – ‘doing change’ to others. In my experience this leads to ineffective embedding and unsustainable change. I have also found that scope creep can set in, with the change team assuming people leadership and HR responsibilities.

Unbelievable, you may think; but in organisations of scale with largely de-centralised budgets, this does happen. And it can often take the need to slash budgets or a change of leadership for this to surface and be dealt with.

So to achieve sustained and cost effective change, leaders must been seen to walk the talk and actively coach and inspire through change. And those being ‘done to’ must be fully involved in making the change happen.

And as much as HR should not take control of change from leadership, the function does have a major role to play in ensuring the organisation can successfully deal with change.  For many, the VUCA world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity is ever present, and we in HR must ensure that we are recruiting, developing and retaining those people who can successfully thrive in this environment.

In Rexam, we have focused on creating critical success role profiles that help us evaluate and determine the development requirements of our potential successors. In developing these we have engaged with our strategy team to ensure that we fully capture future business requirements. And as with most organisations, the ability to lead and inspire through change is an essential. We have also held workshops and developed pragmatic change toolkits to enable all those that work in Rexam take charge and make the best of change.

3. Lack of discipline

I am a big supporter of the use of consistent tools and processes when approaching change. This makes the best use of everybody’s time. There is no reinventing of the wheel and this approach effectively joins major change up across silos, with people speaking the same corporate language and using the same documentation. 

And as much as I would advocate against change teams, I do have a very high regard for the value of independent programme offices  when instigating and working through major change. With a focus on planning and logistics these teams play an essential role in challenging and ensuring delivery. They enable those who are responsible for the change to fully focus their efforts on where it is needed most.

But when looking at process don’t stop at the change implemented stage. It’s quite usual for habits, behaviours and practices to regress post change. Post implementation review teams, audits and surveys all help to mitigate this tendency.

When implementing a new shared service model for a former employer, establishing a post implementation review team ensured that HR Business Partners were able to quickly feed back customer issues and achieve a more timely resolution of those issues. The review team was also able to identify changes in how to measure the overall effectiveness of the service given the challenges that were raised post implementation. An additional customer survey was created, feedback tracked on a monthly basis and, over time, targets set to ensure a focus on continuous improvement.  

Been there, done that. Abdication. Lack of discipline. The three things that I try hard to avoid when creating successful, sustainable change.

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Jackie Lanham

Global OD Director

Read more from Jackie Lanham

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