How much change is too much? Thanks to new research, we now have an answer. Guiding an organisation through a huge shift is never easy, but one expert has a unique take on the change management process.
The fast pace of change in today’s businesses coupled with increased pressure on human resources to keep the wheels turning can spell disaster for organisations that don’t have a great change management process in place.
“We lag behind our international peers when it comes to this, and we are only trending downwards,” says Aaron McEwan, human resources advisory leader for CEB. “It’s one of the things that’s dragging us down, and some aspects of the HR function are not well-designed to deal with this.”
A big pain point when it comes to change management process is the price tag. According to CEB research, poorly implemented change initiatives cost Australian businesses $41.8 million year.
Much of this comes from lost productivity and employee burnout, because constant course corrections are exhausting. On average, Aussie workers experienced five major company changes in the past three years. If we take into consideration other research about change initiatives, a few of those probably failed, as 66 per cent of change initiatives don’t get off the ground.
“While organisational change is increasing, few businesses have been able to implement or communicate that change effectively,” McEwan says. “As a result, workers aren’t able to adapt quickly enough, resulting in lost productivity and low morale.”
Most organisations will use a top-down approach in hopes it will produce consistent, scalable, efficient and fast results. The problem with this, says McEwan, is it’s predicated on employees waiting to be told what is happening.
“Organisations need to use a change management process that arms employees with the capabilities to work through the disruption,” he says. He adds that focusing on helping employees maintain or improve performance during a change initiative is much more effective than getting employee buy-in alone.
How does this work? One suggestion McEwan has is to create what he calls an ‘open-source’ organisation. The idea is that rather than put the onus on managers to get employee buy-in, employees facilitate the change management process themselves. Think of it working like Wikipedia – everyone contributes and it works in real-time.
The concept is defined by three things:
- a co-created change strategy;
- employee ownership of change implementation plans; and
- communications that ‘ask and talk’ instead of ‘sell and tell’.
“It’s a much more collaborative way to get employees onboard and transition to a change-adaptive workplace,” McEwan says. “It’s important that organisations involve employees in change, and not just impose change on them.”
Ongoing CEB research shows that an open-source change management process – instead of a top down change strategy – is likely to double the probability of change success and speed up the implementation of change initiatives.
“This all folds into the general trend of the gig economy becoming more prevalent in even traditional, more conservative industries,” McEwan says. “Many workplaces are becoming decentralised, which is another reason why having a single point of control – like in a top-down approach – doesn’t work well. You need an ecosystem that allows people to interact in an organic way.”
McEwan says that to increase employee capability and sustain performance through change, organisations can do a couple of things.
- Ensure the availability of tools, information and people: Provide employees with resources to help them construct a new understanding of their job. Leaders can make this easier by developing specific tools and training, promote sharing and collaboration across peers, and monitoring progress.
- Increase employee self-confidence: Remind employees of past achievements and promote peer progress to build employee assurances.
The lesson here seems to be that change management is a bit of an oxymoron. “We act like change has a beginning, a middle and an end,” McEwan says. “When you are operating in a complex space like today’s business environment, you realise that ‘control’ is an illusion.
“Organisations have to trust employees more, because in some cases they might be better at driving a change management process than leaders.”